While the previous steps – which you can find below – were pretty straight forward, there are different ways to move forward after kilning. If you want to create base malt, you can actually stop here. The process is done.
But as a malt house that loves Specialty Malts, there are some additional steps you can do. The malt can be roasted (a process we will dive into next time) or caramelised. Caramelising is exactly what it sounds like. By heating or slightly roasting the malt, the starch is converted to smaller sugars that are then caramelised. This provides a golden to light brown hue, depending on the settings. It also imparts a slightly sweeter taste palette.
The most important tool here is our state-of-the-art drum roaster. This is a dynamic process, where the drum continuously rotates. The blades inside ensure that the product is mixed homogeneously. The roaster gives us the chance to closely monitor every aspect of the way. We can distribute and control temperature and moisture, to create the product we need. Saccharification and caramelisation are even across the total batch, meaning every kernel gets the same attention.
Our range of speciality caramel malts (also known as Cara or Crystal) is called Gold Swaen. These are roasted with the utmost care, to provide complex flavours, from slight caramel sweetness to soft toffee notes. The process also ensures beers of a fuller body and mouthfeel, and better foam stability.
With our roaster we can also create black malt. But that is a story for another time…
When the germination is finished – or rather, when we want it to be finished – the malt will be kilned. Since last year, we have a brand-new kiln (a specialized oven) that enables us to produce higher quantities without losing any quality.
To understand kilning we need to go back a step, because it all starts at the germination process. We established the fact that we want the grain to come to life. But at the same time, we don’t want it to undergo the entire process of natural germination.
For the right amount of fermentable sugars in your malt we need to stop the process in time. This is done by kilning, which means the germinated malt is first dried and then heated to become the right building block for your beer. In this phase, we also make sure the malt develops the desired flavour and colour characteristics. This is called modification, a measure of enzymatic activity.
We have a state-of-the-art kiln that allows us to create large amounts of malt, while still being able to make the tiniest adjustments. For example, Swaen Pilsner will need another procedure than what will become Gold Swaen Brown. The first needs the right amount of fermentable to become the perfect base malt, while the second needs to be prepared for roasting and focusses more on flavour and colour.
After the malt has been kilned to the desired specifications, it is cooled to prevent further development and stored in our silos. This is the final step in the malting process for our Swaen base malts. But if you want Gold Swaen cara or Black Swaen roasted malts, there is one additional step. These malts will undergo treatment in our special roaster.
But that is a story for another time…
After the steeping process we saw last month, it’s time to bring the malt to life. Quite literally, because the next step of the Journey of Malt is germination.
In short, germination is the natural process of a grain that starts to grow. In the malt house we reproduce these effects in a closed environment. Here at The Swaen we call it the science of malting, where traditional art and innovation meet.
In our germination boxes the soaked grain will start to sprout. Creating the best circumstances, The Swaen regulates the temperature and humidity. To make sure every kernel gets the same attention, the grain is slowly turned by huge screws.
This way, we can ensure the quality of each malt we create, from base malt to our prestigious Platinum Swaen range. The colour of the final beer depends on the treatment the malt gets here.
That is all quite technical, but why do we germinate? Simply said – enzymes. These are essential for brewing beer as they convert starches into fermentable sugars. Not only is this important for alcohol content and taste, it also improves the body and mouthfeel of the final beer.
When the germination period – with an average of around 3 days – is done, the malt wil be transported to our brand new kiln. But that is a story for another time…
Last time, we saw how important farmers are for The Swaen. It all starts with the right grain. Now we will take a look at the next chapter in malting – steeping.
First, we need to allow the grain to rest. It will be stored and dried for a few weeks. We also make sure the grain is clean and all excess material is removed. Don’t worry, we don’t throw anything away – the collected product is used as animal feed.
Now the grain is finally ready to go through the malting process. The first step is called steeping. This means the grain will be soaked in big tanks full of water to increase the moisture content. Here it is moved around to make sure every kernel reaches its ultimate potential.
Just soaking the grain isn’t enough though, there need to be dry periodes in between. Otherwise, you would simple drown its potential. While it seems that water is the main component here, the right amount of oxygen is just as important. It allows the grain to breathe.
Steeping will awaken the enzymes needed for brewing beer or distilling whisky. This part of the process usually takes between one to two days. When the right moisture content is reached, the grain is ready to germinate. It will be transported to one of our germination boxes. But that is a story for another time…
As a brewer you should already know that grains must be crushed to have access to the starch and produce fermentable sugars during the mash. Crushing malt for your homebrew will make your life easier, since you don’t have to visit your homebrew shop each time. As you can buy the malt in bulk and don’t have to pay for the milling, it also saves you money. Besides, it gives you more control over your recipes. All in all, properly crushed malt is one of the most important steps to brew the perfect beer.
Ideal crush opens the husk and pulverizes the inside of the kernel. The more you can get access to the starch grits, the higher yield you have. The husks act as a filter in your mash when your beer wort flows through the “grain cake” during lautering and sparge. What if you brew with flakes or wheat? Just add a few handfuls of rice hulls to replace the missing husks. Flakes being mentioned, you don’t need to let them through the mill.
What kind of equipment to choose? For general homebrew volumes a two-roller mill should work well. You only need to adjust the gap to find the right level of crushing. Should it be too tight, your grist will be floury, could cause stuck sparge and result in a hazier beer. In case it’s too loose, kernels would not break optimally, thus your extract yield will be lower. Best result is to have cracked husks and pulverized grist (see on the picture). Feel free to use a bankcard to set the right space between the rollers.
Before you crush the whole package, it’s wise to do a trial by running a handful of malt through the mill, so you can check if your grains are crushed optimally. You can do some exercise by manually crushing your malt, but an electronic drill could be a big help. Just start gently and make sure it is not set to the top speed then, otherwise milling would be more intense than required.
What else do you need? A scale to properly weight your grain bill, a bucket for the grist, a grain hopper, which usually comes together with your equipment. That’s all. The process may be very dusty, so you’d better do it outside. And make sure to clean all the equipment you used.
What if you grind your grains, but decide to use them later? How long do they last? The fresher the better – for the best results crush your grain right before you brew. Otherwise, milled grain can be stored for even a year in an air-tight bag with proper sealing, but you’d better use them within 2-3 months.
Let’s crush the malt!
The best malt starts with the best grain. Barley, wheat, rye and any other varieties are the building blocks of any beer. To turn a humble kernel into liquid gold is quite a process, but it all starts with the art of farming.
Since 2001 our malt house in Kloosterzande connects with local top growers in Zeelandic Flanders. The aim of this cooperation is the improvement of barley crop and creating an optimal chain structure. From this collaboration evolved Growing The Swaen, that focuses on sustainable agriculture.
High and consistent quality raw materials will provide the best beer. Currently 30 to 40 farmers are growing for The Swaen on 200 to 300 hectare per year with an average yield of 8 ton per hectare.
The partnership enables us to trace the quality in every production stage, and to store all barley separately: per variety, per region, per supplier. This guarantees the constant availability of high quality malting barley.
At the end of the growing cycle – after the crop is ripe – the barley is harvested. It will then be transported to The Swaen. Here it is stored in huge silos, waiting for its time to shine. The malting process is now ready to begin. But that is a story for another time…