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What malt buyers want

If you’re targeting the malt market, find out what your buyers want and what they’re planning to do with it

At malting companies like Rahr Malting, all of their contract with barley growers require barley samples to be prequalified as malting quality.

With certain contracts, storage payments will be provided if they don’t take the barley immediately, though the amount of time the farmer holds the grain is negotiable. It is rare that farmers would have their barley rejected as malting quality after storage, the most prominent reason for this being improper storage leading to poor germination rates.

Farmers selling barley are most likely to get malt quality if their grain meets the standards set by the Brewing and Malting Barley Research Institute (BMBRI) as available on its website (bmbri.ca):

  •  pure seed lot;
  •  at least 95 per cent germination;
  •  no of pre-harvest sprouting;
  •  moisture content up to, but preferably less than, 13.5 per cent;
  •  protein content of 11 to 12-1/2 per cent on a dry basis;
  •  uniform, plump kernels;
  •  fully mature;
  •  not weathered or stained;
  •  less than five per cent peeled or broken kernels; and,
  •  free of disease, toxins, chemical residues, frost or heat damage, insects, treated seed, admixtures, and odour.

The malting process

As Dr. Richard Joy, vice president of operations and technical director for Rahr Malting Canada, Ltd., says, “Malting is probably the only process that [needs] to have 100 per cent live seeds, therefore… it’s extremely important that [the barley] has as close to 100 per cent germination as possible.”

The malting process has four general steps: cleaning, steeping, germination and kilning. Steeping involves soaking the barley kernels to increase the moisture content to a uniform level. This step, which takes approximately two days, involves wet periods where the barley is under water, but with continuous aeration, and dry periods called air rests (where the barley is not immersed under water), but with aeration to maintain oxygen levels in the grain environment.

The kernels, now referred to as green malt, are then transferred to a germination vessel and germinated for four days. Growth is stopped with the final step, kilning, where the green malt is gently dried down. After analysis, cleaning, binning, and blending, it is sent to the brewer.

Some of the characteristics desired in barley, such as kernel plumpness, relate directly to the controlled germination process. Plumpness and uniformity of the kernels means that they will take up water at roughly the same rate. Grain with high water sensitivity is undesirable as it has reduced germination rates in excessive moisture conditions.

Other characteristics, such as protein content, relate to the amount of finished malt that is delivered to the brewer and the quality of the malt extract, or wort, created from it; too much protein could potentially lead to cloudy beer. Characteristics like moisture content, however, relate just as much to economics as they do to ease of malting or quality of the end product.

Dry grain means that the processor, who is purchasing the grain by weight, is not paying for water. At the same time, less moisture means better storability and a uniform moisture level in the barley.

Maltsters, according to Joy, are looking for “good quality malting barley that has good agronomy, good disease resistance, and thirdly good malt quality.” However, Joy says that “new varieties are of interest because we want to keep the producers interested in growing barley.” †

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