Have you been reading about home brewing and found all the new terminology confusing? Fermenter, malt, hops…after a while it just seems too much to try to understand! So let’s get to discussing two most common, but least used terms, hops and malt.
There is no denying that a great beer has a unique flavor that is unlike any other beverage in the world. That artful blend of bitterness and the rich grain flavors can give you a beer that is bold and stout or one that is mellow and smooth. And while every component of the brewing process contributes important things to that unique flavor, the hops can make a huge impact on the outcome of your beer. That is why it’s good to understand the role hops plays in the brewing process and how you can control the taste of your home brewed beer by controlling the hops.
Hops are a natural ingredient that is actually a flower of the hop vine. One reason that hops give you so much flexibility as an amateur beer maker is that the varieties and origin of hops is very diverse. So you can find different hops to experiment with until you find one that gives you the perfect flavor for your beer.
How hops affect your beer is different depending on where the hops came from and how you use them. Some hops can introduce bitterness to your beer which is not a bad thing if it is part of the overall flavor. That “dry” flavor that many really enjoy in a good beer can came from the bitterness of the right kind of hops. But hops also give beer its deep rich aroma that is a flavor treat all by itself. So it’s good to research which of these flavors the hops you are buying will add to your beer and to keep some records so you know which hops work best for you.
Now when you go to the brewing supply stores in town or order from the internet, you can buy hops unprocessed and prepare them for brewing yourself. But usually when you are starting out, its easier to buy them pressed and packaged into pellets in the right measure to add to your brewing process at the right time. You don’t need a lot of hops to make a five gallon batch of beer flavorful and rich. About two ounces per batch is plenty. So be careful you don’t buy too much. For one thing, as a perishable item, unused hops could go bad before you get them used up. But also you may wish to buy very small quantities of hops so you can experiment with different ones to find the flavor you want.
Besides the origin and type of hops you buy, the way you use hops during the brewing cycle has the greatest effect on the changes to the flavor of your beer. Hops used to bitter a beer are usually added during the boiling process very early in the beer preparation cycle. This ensures that the boiling will take out any aroma from those hops and leave only the bittering effect that you want. Hops used for the flavor and aroma aspect can be added later in the boiling cycle or during fermentation. The later in the brewing process that aroma hops are introduced, the more the beer that is the outcome of brewing will have that strong hop flavor. To get a beer with the strongest flavor of hops, add dried hops late in the fermentation process and none of the original flavor will be taken out of the final beverage. But this can be a very strong beer so be advised.
Hops give you a lot of ways to experiment with the home brewing process to get new and interesting flavors. And the continuous growth and development of your home brewing skills and finding new ways to make your beers flavorful and rich is one of the things that makes home brewing so satisfying. And hops can be a big part of that fun.
Understanding the Malt of Home Brewed Beer
When it comes to beer, just about anyone can list the ingredients of home brewed beer as hops, malt, and grains. As such, part of our quest to familiarizing ourself with all of the aspects of home brewing is to explore what exactly the malt in beer is.
When you hear the word malt in regards to the brewing of beer, the reference is actually to malted barley. Malt is the outcome of the process of malting which starts with pure barley grain. And yes, it is the same grain you might use to make barley soup.
Even then the term malted barley is not specific enough. Malting gets right to the heart of how beer is made because the core ingredient of beer are what results when the sugars from malted barley are fermented. Those sugars are scientifically named maltose. So the malt used to make beer is actually the outcome of fermenting the sugars from malted barley. What makes brewer’s malt so useful in beers is that there are a wide variety of types of maltose sugars that result from the fermentation. Each of which can be brewed into a very unique beer.
How to Malt Barley Grain
The process of malting barley begins with jump starting the germination process that is nature’s way of preparing the barley plants to grow from seeds into sprouts. The barley is soaked and then they are drained fairly soon so the seeds will be stimulated to begin to germinate. The part of the germination process that is interesting to brewers happens when certain enzymes are released by germination. These enzymes are powerful chemicals that convert the stored sugars and starches in the seeds which become food to power the germination and growth of the plant. But it is those enzymes that the brewer is looking to capture.
The entire objective of malting is to activate those enzymes in the seeds and release them so the brewer can capture them for the brewing process. So as soon as the germination process starts, the grain is quickly dried so the enzymes are captured in that raw state to be processed into malted barley. Once the brewer has the malted barley in the condition we just went through, that malt is saturated in hot water. This stimulates and activates the enzymes and puts them to work again. Under the controlled conditions of the brewing process, the enzymes do their job of converting the starches in the barley to sugars. And as those sugars go directly from conversion to be boiled with hops and then combined into fermented yeast, the result is this little thing we call — beer.
Now this may all be interesting but it is usually too detailed for the home brewer. For our purposes, a malt extract is purchased from a home brewing supplier. By buying the malt in extract form, it is ready to go into your boiling water and then onto the next step quickly. As you add the malt, those enzymes will kick in and the chemical reactions needed to create great tasting beer will be well underway.