Hay is for Horses, Barley is for Beer
Beer gets its color, alcohol, and much of its body from grain. There are plenty of different types of grain used in beer, but none are used more than barley. Hordeum vulgare (that’s what plant nerds call it) provides three very important functions when making beer. It has an outer hull protecting all of the goodies inside that also acts as a natural filter in the mash. This keeps your beer from becoming super hazy and astringent. Starch and enzymes are also crucial to beer production. The starch needs the enzymes to convert it into sugar during the mashing process, lucky for us, barley has both. Yeast will eventually consume those converted sugars to make alcohol. We think beer is more fun with alcohol, so give it up for barley! *breaks for applause*
From Pilsner to Patent: A Story of True Lovibond
You may be thinking, “That isn’t a lot of ingredients to make such diverse, delicious beer styles”, and you would be correct. Like grain alchemists, maltsters convert plain old grains into a plethora of different products through steam, kilning, smoking, and other wizardry. Just like making toast, there are varying outcomes based on how long, and how you cook it. ~Someone once told me that bread is just raw toast, and that really messed me up for a bit~
Anyways… The longer you kiln grain, the darker it becomes (color of grains are measured in degrees Lovibond), and the flavor changes as well. A lightly kilned grain will lend grainy, floury, cracker notes, and may impart a honey-like sweetness. A great example of that is our Bruce Banner APA. It uses Pale Malt as the entire grain bill to provide a crisp beer with a slight sweetness and a light color. If you stew your grains a little longer with some added moisture you will end up with crystal/caramel malts. As the name implies, these grains will give beers like our Dakota Common Amber Lager a slight caramel flavor as well as an amber/red color. If you have no regard for humanity, you burn your toast intentionally because for some reason think that tastes good. That would be most similar to black patent/roasted malts. These have little to no sugar because most of it has been cooked out of them, but they provide a large amount of chocolate/coffee/roasty flavors as well as making beers dark to black. These grains are usually reserved for stouts and porters, but in small additions can create depth to the flavor of beers that aren’t as dark. Scope out our Smokewagon Coffee Stout, Buzzard’s Roost Black IPA, or Stormtrooper of Love Imperial Stout if you’re trying to embrace the ways of the dark side.
Some beer styles even require smoked grains, such as Rauchbiers, Lichtenhainers, and Grodziskies. If I had a dollar for every time someone came into the taproom looking for a Lichtenhainer, I would have… well… zero dollars. Your best bet is to look for a Smoked Porter if you’re looking to experience this unique beer flavor.
Want to learn more about malt in beer? Stop by our taproom and chat with one of our weirdo beertenders. They’re nice enough. We also sell books in our taproom, and online if you’re really looking to nerd out. Click Here to peruse our humble library.
Adjunct-ion Junction, Here’s their Functions
Barley isn’t the only player in the grain game. Brewers also use wheat, rye, oats, corn, and even rice to make beer. Here’s a snapshot of what these adjunct grains impart on our favorite beverages:
Wheat– Packed full of so much protein that you’d think it was a body builders breakfast. Expect a thick, lasting head, fuller body, possible tartness and haze from wheat heavy beers. Want to taste wheat in action? Check out our Hefeweizen, Dunkelweizen, Liar’s Chair, or Lord Grizzly.
Rye– Rye is usually like a fine-tuning knob on your receiver. It can add that little extra complexity, or that note you didn’t know you were missing. It can help to sharpen flavors and produce a drier beer. Rye imparts a little spice note that is usually the giveaway (think of rye whiskey, and most bourbons). Check out our West River Rye-PA for a crash course on this spicy grain.
Oats– Not to be confused with everyone’s favorite 80’s pop/rock duo, Oats impart an ultra-creamy mouthfeel, and help add more body to a brew. Oatmeal Stouts (surprise) have a good portion of oats in them to give them their signature, silky smooth character. Gas Bandit, Poet’s Table, and many of our Hazy IPAs can show you the creamy power of oats.
Rice– A cheap sugar alternative, rice imparts little to no flavor, but may help dry out a beer. Usually only used in Light American Lagers found in gas station coolers (you know the ones).
Corn– Another economic ingredient used in a lot of Light American Lagers, corn may impart a slight sweetness, and lighten the body of a beer. Check out our Mexican Lager, it maize surprise you. (I’m contractually obligated to have at least one pun in every post, write my boss if you don’t like it.)