Homebrew Basics: All About Malted Grains

This month, we’re kicking off a series of blog posts that take a closer look at each of the four main ingredients in beer: malted grains, water, hops, and yeast. Each of these four ingredients plays an important role in beer and can greatly affect the final outcome of a batch. As a homebrewer, the better you understand the science behind each ingredient, the better you will be able to make informed decisions when tweaking or troubleshooting a recipe.

Let’s take a closer look at malted grains.

What Are Malted Grains? What Role Do They Play in Beer?

Malted grains are the building blocks from which beer is made. Malted grains are to beer what grapes are to wine or apples are to cider. Malted grains provide the sugars (mainly maltose) that fuel yeast during fermentation. Malted grains can affect the flavor, aroma, and body of beer.

There is a lot of science behind the malting process during which grains are dried and heated in such a way as to make key starches and sugars more readily available for brewing. If you’d like to dive into the biological minutiae of the malting process, this guide will be able to fill in the details.  During the malting process, grains can be modified to accentuate certain characteristics for use in particular types of beer. You can find a further breakdown of popular malts here.

After malting, grains are then crushed or milled before they’re ready for brewing. If you’re purchasing grains for your homebrews, you should request that they be crushed or milled prior to shipment (unless you have the capabilities to do this yourself).

Base Malts vs. Specialty Malts

Malted grains are typically broken up into two main categories: base malts and specialty malts. Base malts are thus named because their high sugar potential makes them ideal for providing the majority of the fermentable sugars in beer. Barley is the most popular base malt. While their high sugar potential makes base malts a popular option, they do have a downside. Base malts tend to have a boring flavor note.

On the other hand, specialty malts feature much more flavorful notes but lack the robust sugar potential of base malts. Specialty malts tend to be used in conjunction with base malts and have a larger impact on beer’s final color. Typically, the darker a beer’s color, the more specialty malts were used.

Mashing

While technically malting is the first step in the brewing process, the vast majority of homebrewers won’t malt their own grains. After malting comes mashing.

Mashing is the process of soaking malted grains in hot water which provides the right conditions for their enzymes to convert starches into fermentable sugars. All Synergy Brewing Systems come with a mash tun designed for the mashing process.

Extract vs. All-Grain Brewing

If you’re a new homebrewer, you should stick to using malt extract for your first few homebrews, at least until you get the hang of it. Malt extract is made from malted grains that have already been mashed, so you don’t have to perform that step yourself.

If you are purchasing malted grains yourself (all-grain brewing), you’ll need to go through the mashing process.  

That completes our basic overview of malted grains. Hopefully, you enjoyed it. Make sure to watch out for next month’s blog as we give a rundown of another basic ingredient and check out our great homebrew systems and homebrewing equipment!