As homebrewers, most of us have a deep understanding of the level of skill and care that goes into making a well-crafted beer. But not everyone realizes that this attention to detail and love of craft extends to the so called “raw materials” that are used to produce beer. And ultimately, no ingredient is more painstakingly crafted than the malt that we use to make our beer.
As with beer, where you have macro-beer, you also have mega-malt. This malt is grown in vast fields, harvested and shipped hundreds of miles to gigantic industrial facilities by railcar. At the malthouse, it is steeped in water, sprouted, and kilned, then analyzed and blended (where the poor quality stuff is diluted into the better quality stuff). This malt is used, not just by macro-brewers, but by the food and pharmaceutical industry.
But there is also craft malt, which represents a tiny fraction of the malt produced in the world. It is produced in a handful of much smaller malt houses, run by family-owned businesses with names like Briess, Rahr and Weyermann. They often produce dozens of different, specialty products, and they carefully cater to the needs of craft brewers and distillers. The process is more hands-on, more laborious and more exacting.
I recently had the privilege to visit one of these craft malt companies, Weyermann Malting Company. Sabine Weyermann is now in a 4th generation owner of the plant, which is set in the picturesque Bavarian city of Bamberg. The Weyermann family has over 100 years of experience making brewer’s malt.
As I expected, they control every aspect of the malting process, from providing the right seeds to the farmers (so they know they are getting right variety of barley in return), to gently turning the malt as it sprouts, to keeping their drum roasters spotless, to carefully controlling the shipping conditions when they ship malt overseas. Their attention to detail at every step of the process results in a perfectly consistent product, which they achieve without the luxury of blending.
Weyermann actually operates a very special facility in the Czech Republic where their famous floor-malted Bohemian Pilsner malt is made. Floor malting is an amazing, extremely laborious process. It is essentially the same way malt was made 100 years ago, where the germinating malt is turned by hand. By people with rakes. There is simply no way to replicate this process with large scale automation, and the resulting product speaks for itself.
If you really care about the craft of brewing, whether you brew for fun or for your profession, you owe it to yourself to brew with craft malt!