What’s Brewing? ‘Tis the season for the extra taste of malted grains
Beer is made up of four main ingredients including grain, water, hops and yeast. How much of each ingredient is used will change the taste. This gives brewers an unlimited palate from which to create. Grains are the foundation of beer! They lend color, flavor, aroma, mouthfeel, as well as the sugars needed for the yeast to convert into alcohol. Without grains, we wouldn’t have beer. Although brewers supplement wheat, rye, oats and other grains to make various styles of beer, malted barley is the most popular grain used to make beer.
When talking about craft beer we often hear people refer to the grain as “malted barley” rather than simply “barley.” This is because barley can’t be used to brew until it’s malted. Malting is the process in which the grains are soaked in water and allowed to germinate which creates the right fermentable sugars for the yeast to convert into carbon dioxide and alcohol.
Once germination starts it is immediately stopped with heat. This next part is where it gets interesting for craft beer drinkers. Depending on how long the grain is roasted (or heated) will determine the color, flavor, aroma and mouthfeel that it will produce in the beer.
For example, a lightly roasted barley will produce a much lighter color and flavored beer than barley that has been roasted until it is practically black. Lightly roasted barley can be used to create a light-colored beer with sweet notes and aromas of cereal while darker roasted barley can be used to create a black-colored stout with notes of coffee and bakers chocolate.
And then there’s everything in between like ambers, doppelbocks and brown ales. It’s the same principle as cooking a steak on your grill. Take it off quickly for a rare steak or leave it on a little longer for medium rare.
You can imagine all the various types of colors, flavors and aromas that grains can produce depending on the temperature and for how long they were roasted. Good stuff to know, huh?
‘Tis the season
I decided to write about malts because we just entered the fall season a few days ago. For many of us, including myself, it’s a time of year when darker beers start to hit the shelves more regularly. We’re in the middle of Oktoberfest and the sweeter tasting beers associated with the annual event are all about “the malt.”
Soon many of us will be drinking the amber-colored beers with a slightly roasted flavor around a campfire on a cool night, or a dark stout brewed with pumpkin. We won’t discuss those for a few more weeks even though they’ve been on the shelves since some of us were building sandcastles on the beach. Sorry, I don’t do Christmas in July either.
If possible, try to get out to Greensburg Craft Beer Week that’s happening now or any of the Oktoberfest celebrations. Here are a few beers on the maltier side that you might want to sample. Cheers!
Helicon Brewing Co. (Oakdale)
Festbier (5% ABV). Deep gold color with malt aromas and flavors. A full-bodied lager that finishes crisp with a slight lingering flavor of biscuit. A Bavarian beer worth celebrating!
All Saints Brewing Co. (Greensburg)
Dark Angel Dunkelweizen (4.1% ABV). A deep amber- colored German wheat beer with characteristic aromas of banana, clove and spice. Light bodied with complex maltiness and clean finish.
Penn Brewery (Pittsburgh)
Oktoberfest-style Beer (5.5% ABV). A rich, copper- colored Munich-style fest beer. Malty and medium-bodied. Features nutty, toasty, slightly roasted and caramel characteristics with well-balanced hop bitterness.
412 Brewery (McKees Rocks)
2 Hour Delay Honey Brown Ale (8.6% ABV). Imperial brown ale brewed with honey. Aromas of toasted molasses and raisins with flavors of sweet malt, molasses and raisin with a distinct breadiness. Medium-bodied with a lingering toasted bread finish.
Hitchhiker Brewing Co. (Mt Lebanon, Sharpsburg)
Oktoberfest (5.2% ABV). Brewed with Vienna and Munich malts. Notes of toasted bread, biscuit, apple skin and caramel.
Mark Brewer is a Tribune-Review contributing writer. He’s the author and illustrator of “Brewology, An Illustrated Dictionary for Beer Lovers.”