Have you heard? Malt is back
Here at MMB we're usually reaching for something pale and hoppy during the warm and sunny summer months. There's something about a soft and juicy pale ale brimming with tropical and stone fruit hop aromas that perfectly complements the blue-skied afternoons and balmy evenings that suddenly seem so long ago.
Now the days grow shorter, and cooler, and we find ourselves yearning for something more comforting, more wholesome. For us, that means a beer with the depth of character and flavour you can only get from the addition of coloured malts.
So what is "malt" and what does it contribute to the beer?
Malt, or malted barley, is a fundamental ingredient of pretty much every beer. By the time the barley grains reach our brewery they have already been through another traditional, "craft" process - malting - which unlocks their natural goodness for us to use to create beer. By carefully controlling the parameters of moisture, temperature and time, the maltster "tricks" the grains into thinking they are growing into a new plant. At the very moment that the grains start to sprout, the process is halted by heating them in a kiln.
The temperature of the kiln, and the time that the grains reside within it, determines the properties of the freshly produced malt. Most brewing malt is kilned lightly for a short time. It is relatively pale in colour, and full of readily accessible starch. These are "Pale Ale" and "Lager" malts and, as their name suggests, they will produce beers that are pale, golden or straw-coloured with a light malty character.
On brew day, the grains are milled and mixed with soft Mourne mountain water in our mash tun. The water has been heated to a specific temperature and over the course of an hour or so the natural enzymes in the malt will digest the abundant starch into more simple sugars that our yeast will eventually ferment into alcohol.
Back in the maltings, the maltster can turn the temperature of the kiln up further and add barley with a slightly higher moisture content to create a series of "crystallised" coloured malts. Adding 5-10% crystal malt to our pale ale malt grist produces a beer with amber to red hues as well as biscuit, caramel and toffee malt flavours.
Kilning hotter again and for longer periods of time creates even darker malts like Brown, Chocolate and Black Patent. As well as their deep red* colour, these malts provide wonderful flavours and aromas of coffee, liquorice and dark chocolate in our darker beers. Unmalted roasted barley is also used in some of our stouts for that unmistakeable bite.
*Worth mentioning at this point that your favourite pint of "black stuff" isn't actually black. It's very very very dark red. Shine a torch through the glass next time you have the opportunity.
It has been fun spending as much time formulating the malt grists for our latest releases as we would have done with our hop grists during the summer, and we hope you enjoy savouring the depth of flavour in these beers.
Escalator is a 6.5% alcohol by volume West Coast-style American IPA. As well as malty depth, this brew sees the welcome return of another of our favourite characteristics - hop bitterness. A touch of amber and light crystal malt helps to balance the assertive hoppiness of the Cascade variety, with a dry hop made up of Citra, Cascade, Chinook and Simcoe. Escalator is also a climb on The Tower on Hen Mountain.
Travelling Tales is a 5% alcohol by volume hoppy Irish Red ale. This is a proper malt-forward brew that positively glows red in colour. Featuring a fine blend of coloured malts, it's not too bitter, but we did give it a light dry hop of fruity Mosaic and piney Simcoe which play well with the sweetness of the crystal malts and the dryness of the roasted barley. The Travelling Tales climb can also be found on the Tower at Hen Mountain.
Bear Grease is a 7% alcohol by volume Double Oatmeal Stout. You might remember it from last year? It has an incredibly full mouthfeel and is impossibly dark in colour. You could try shining a torch through it, but it'll need to be a bright one. We were fortunate to get hold of two very special malts to brew this year's edition - traditional floor-malted Maris Otter Pale Ale malt, and limited edition small-batch Smooth Chocolate malt. As its name suggests, this malt provides a lovely dark chocolate flavour in the beer. Thanks as always to Geterbrewed for supplying these fantastic Crisp Malt products - if you're a homebrewer you should definitely check them out and buy some great ingredients for your next recipe.
Cans of all three beers have shipped to our NI distributor Nelson Sauvin so keep an eye out for them in your favourite independent off sales over the next few weeks.