Why would you ever consider malting organic barley grain at home for home brewing beer?
Speaking for myself, I guess the #1 reason why I chose to malt my own organic grain at home, was for the simple fact, that I could. I also believe malting my own grain for brewing at home, is fun with a payoff at the end.
One very important reason a person maybe inclined to malt their own organic barley grains at home, is for the simple fact of availability. (or lack there of) It maybe more difficult for a person to get a hold of already malted organic grains.
For me, I brew at such a small scale, that I can malt grains on an equally small scale over and over, eventually producing 30 lbs of base malt and 10 lbs of specialty grains in the end.
My goal for this blog post is to give the reader all the recourses needed to help them get started malting ‘BASE’ organic grain at home. I will give, in addition, certain details that you may not be able to get online anywhere else. This blog post serves as ONLY A GUIDELINE to malting organic barley at home and is certainly NOT to serve as the ‘definitive solution’.
This blog post addresses ‘small scale’ base malting. You can obviously ‘upscale’ your organic malting operation to fit your needs using these guidelines.
By the way…
You can apply this home malting ‘guideline’ in malting organic non GMO corn to be used as a 2%-3% adjuvant, giving your organic home brewed beer extra ‘octane’ for increasing the alcohol levels of your beer
I feel that it is important first, to understand base malting at home before getting into the ‘home malting’ process of specialty grains. Home malting specialty grains, by itself, needs a separate blog post at a later time.
I would like to state up front, that I have ‘downscaled’ my own home brewing operation from producing six gallon batches, to only brewing two and a half to three gallon batches at a time. I call this ‘scaled down’ method ‘Bonsai Brewing’. I do this because, I don’t go through enough home brew to keg, plus, I prefer to bottle my home brew for aging purposes. ‘Bonsai Brewing’ is something I would like to address in a blog post later, as a separate topic unto itself.
Getting Raw Organic Whole Grains With Hull Attached
This can be tricky. In the Photo above I am able to get certified organic NON GMO ‘Alba’ two row grown in the state of Washington from Scratch and Peck Feeds However, there’s a catch. You have to buy the barley from a retailer who can get the raw grain from a distributor. A grain / feed distributor will only sell gain / product by the ton or pallet. (2000 lbs). This is one example where an organic home brewing ‘cooperative’ could really pay off for organic home brewers.
Fortunately for me, living in the Denver metropolitan area, an absolutely phenomenal ‘healthy pet’ store called ‘Hero’s Pets‘ orders the organic raw barley with hulls attached for sprouting.
A quick note. It’s not only healthy for humans to eat sprouted plants for the important enzymes they hold within them, it’s important that your pets ‘also’ eat sprouted plants, like barley, for their health as well.
When you purchase raw barley for home brewing malting, you have to make certain that the grain comes with it’s hull attached. Malting will NOT happen if this important part of the seed is removed.
Before Starting Your Home Malting Process
ONLY malt the amount of grain you can Kiln (heat) It’s important to know just how much grain your heating method can handle. You don NOT want to get stuck with ‘germinating’ barley grain parked somewhere, waiting to get heated because the heating / drying process takes a couple of days minimum. Your geminating barley may (most likely will) over germinate and will be no good while waiting for your kiln to become freed up.
Cleaning Debris From Grain
Fortunately for me, Scratch and Peck organic raw two row barley, which I use shown in both above photos, was extremely clean straight out of the bag. All I did was put X amount into a steel mesh strainer and shake what little debris was left, out.
It’s my understanding that raw barley can contain a certain percentage of debris consisting of other grains and parts of plants. If your grain falls into this category, I would find a ‘dry’ screening method to remove all the debris, BEFORE moving the gain to the ‘steeping’ step of malting. At the bottom of this blog post, you’ll find a video on malting barley grain that may help in giving you an idea on a ‘downscale’ method for cleaning higher debris grains.
Steeping and Temperature
It really works out for me that I malt my raw organic barley grain from November through April for two reasons. The least import reason of the two, is that in these months, I have the down time needed to malt. (using my method) However, you can malt grains in methods which won’t tie up much of your time.
The second and most important reason why malting from November – April, has to do with the temperature.
During this time of the year, I Keep my house at around 65F. Barley grains love sprouting at that temperature because, barley is a fall and spring sprouting plant. Ideally you would want to ‘germinate process’ your grain at the 65F (18C) temperature.
If you can’t germinate process in a room at those temperatures, one method I thought of, was to use a large ‘chest’ type of cooler. Somehow wall off inside the cooler, the grain from frozen plastic water bottles. I believe you could bring the temperature inside the cooler down to spring and fall temperatures within the cooler with this method. The only downside to germinate process using this method, is that you would have to stir and turn the grains by hand at least every couple hours or, as often as you possibly could.
Will barley grain sprout at high temperatures? I suppose they will however, it’s not what they tend to do in nature. So the question must be asked, will the higher temperatures effect the production of starches in the ultimate efficiency of the grain? I don’t have an answer for that. However, I’m sure home maltsters could experiment and find out. I have an educated hunch efficiency would be affected by geminating grains at higher temperatures. More on that below.
Steeping Your Raw Grain
Don’t confuse this type of ‘steeping’ with steeping a ‘mash’ (multi step). In the ‘germination process’. You’re submerging your grain in water however, you are NOT ‘raising’ the temperature of the water. Again temperatures of your should water should be around 65F (18c)
It is said that the ‘preferred’ water pH for the steeping process of germinating barley grain be ‘alkalized’. You can purchase a pH ‘meter’ rather inexpensively online. You can ‘alkalize’ your steeping water (I suppose) with Gypsum which you can purchase at your local home brewing store or online. I haven’t done this yet, though I plan to in the near future.
Below is a link which discusses this pH process in malting barley grain and much more.
Washing Submerged Grains
The ‘industrial’ rule of thumb says to submerge your raw grains in water for two to four days, until chitting occurs . During this time, it is recommended that you strain the submerged grains each of those days and rinse the grains before ‘re-submerging’ the grains in fresh water. By doing this you eliminate harmful bacteria that occurs during steeping. I would recommend washing your grains two times a day. Also, I would recommend allowing your grain to ‘breath’ out of water for about a half and hour before re-submerging the grain into your steeping water. This is called a ‘rest’ period, and allows your grains to release CO2
Here is where things get interesting because now, you are really on the clock.
Soaking the organic barley grain ‘should’ produce what is called a ‘chit’ as shown above at the grain’s far right end. These grain chits will look like white nubs at the end of the barley grain.
I need to say… that when I did this for the very first time my organic barley did NOT show any chitting after three full days of steeping and washing. Figuring that I had a bad batch of grain I never-the-less took the grain out of the steeping phase and put the non chatted grain into my organic grain ‘germinating tumbler’.
After you see chtted grain or, three days of soaking (steeping) and washing, place organic barley grains in a tumbler.
The ‘Almost Germinated’ Malting Process
My apologies for the blurry photo using my phone. What you have in the photo is a 5 gallon ‘food grade’ bucket that I drilled four vent holes on the bottom (shown) and in the lid. I took an old door screen and covered the holes. (glued on). I used four wooden (inch and a 1/2?) slabs that were throw outs at Home Depot (three shown in above photo). First I hot glued them in place but, after they came off the first time I used it, I have since ‘screwed’ them (ALL 4) into place.
Why Tumble Chitted Grain?
Once the steeped grain has formed a ‘chit’, the next step is to grow the ‘acrospire’ BEFORE it becomes a ‘shoot’, which I’ll discuss a little further down.
So, what you are now doing by ‘malting’ the grain in a tumbler, is actually ‘growing’ the grains with the goal of ‘growing ALL the grains’ equally.
In the malting process, your organic barley grain is moist, giving off heat and CO2 which needs to be released. I put the ‘vented’ lid on my 5 gallon malting tumbler and I simply roll the bucket a few revolutions per hour (or when I can). This a.) releases CO2 gas and heat build up. It also b.) keeps the grain from developing mold while, maintaining a humid environment need to germinate the organic barley grain.
In the resource section at the bottom of this post, there will be a video provided that demonstrates an ‘automated’ 5 gallon grain tumbler so you don’t have to roll the bucket tumbler by hand.
One other step you must take during the tumbling process is to use a ‘general purpose’ spray bottle which, you can buy just about anywhere, and spry a mist of water on your grains. I live in the SW United States where the climate is dry so, I give the grain a couple of spray treatments a day. I simply eyeball the grain as I spray and tumble to ensure it has a ‘visible’ coating of water around the grain. Then I simply put the lid back on and continue to roll the bucket by ‘hand’ as time passes.
Electric Barley Roller (How To)
The ‘art’ and nature of malting organic barley is to stop the growth (germination) of the barley grain at just the right time.
Ideally you want your grain to stop growing ‘just before’ the grain’s acrospire becomes a ‘shoot’. Meaning that, in a perfect world ALL your malted grain would stop growing just before the grain’s acrospire pops out at the top of the grain. The ‘art’ of malting really, is to get the majority of your grain to stop growing when the grains acrospire is at the ‘maximum’ ‘pre-sprouted’ stage of germination.
In commercial barley malting production (grain modification), the specifications on where to stop grain germination may vary depending on the type of beer being brewed. For home ‘base’ barley malting, I believe that taking the majority of the grain as far as you can go with it BEFORE ‘actual germination’ occurs, should be your #1 goal.
Where to stop growth of the ‘acrospire’ in the malting process?
Protein modification is really what we are doing by malting our organic grain. What that means to the home brewer, is that we are ‘increasing’ the amount of enzymes from the levels in a ‘harvested’ grain to the final ‘malted’ grain, with the goal (speaking for myself) to produce the most ‘efficient’ organic grains for home brewing beer by reaching ‘maximum’ enzyme levels across the board. In the video ‘malting at home pt1’, at the bottom of this blog post, the author gives you a great visual presentation on what your are looking for as far as when the grain is fully ‘modified’. This is the point where you need to stop germination of the barley grain.
You need to ‘kiln’ the grain 24 hours BEFORE it reaches maximum growth.
The Kiln Drying Process Of Malted Grains
In order to reach the maximum enzyme production of the grain, put the malted grain from your tumbler into your kiln 24 hours BEFORE the acrospire has reached it’s full growth (before actually sprouting).
Types Of Kiln Ideas For The Home Barley Maltster
Again, I want to stress that, you ONLY malt what you can Kiln at a time. You do NOT want malted grains ‘parked’ somewhere waiting to be dried.
A Home Oven
Even though this is how I am currently drying my grain, this is the ‘least’ desirable method I would recommend for drying malted grain. If you are ‘stuck’ using this method you are going to have to do a lot of ‘hands on’ time with your grains in order to dry the grain evenly throughout the drying process. I would recommend getting stainless steel mesh baskets where you ‘turn’ your grain every half and hour or so. This method does work if your actively engaging your drying grain but, you’ll be limited on the amount of grain you can malt at a time.
For ‘finishing’ grains, you will have to use an oven to bring temperatures above 120F (53c). I will discuss this process further on down.
Home Made Barley Kilns
One method to malt more effectively is to build a ‘kiln box’ powered by three 100w incandescent light bulbs. As a rule, the drying process of barley grains only requires a temperature of 120F – 130F (49C – 54C). Screen trays are layered shelves inside the box and a computer fan at the top draws the hot air to the top. I would suggest rotating the screen trays during the drying process.
Below is a video showing one of these homemade barley kilns in operation.
Below Is A Barley Kiln Made From A Clothes Dryer
Space during use and storage is an issue for me in dealing with a barley kiln. So, I am working out a kiln design that incorporates fireplace / stone oven ‘brick’ (no mortar) a mesh cylinder basket that rotates ‘slowly’ heated by thermal controlled hotplates. The idea is that I will be able to assemble the kiln when needed then, disassemble, and easily store it when I’m finished.
Drying Organic Barley Grain, The Process (For BASE Grains)
As you are malting organic barley grains in your tumbler you are keeping track of the growth of the ‘acrospire’ NOT THE ROOTLETS. Barley grain can and ‘will’ sprout with just a single chit.
The goal in barley drying is that you start your drying process 24 hours ahead of the maximum growth of the acrospire before it ‘sprouts’.
You need to put the grain at this time into your kiln and, for the next 24 hours, slowly turn up the temperature to 90F (32C)
Based off my research, it’s been known that protein levels in barley seem to increase when barley is sprouted in cool temps (spring) followed by above normal summer temperatures.
By slowly heating your grains in your kiln over the 24 hour period, the hot (not too hot) muggy conditions in the kiln, mimic this process in nature which seems to maximize your grain’s enzyme potential during the last 24 hours of acrospire growth. (My interpretation).
After this 24 hour heating period, you can now crank up the heat to temperatures 120F – 130F ((49C – 54C) and run you kiln for 12 to 24 more hours or, until dried. This will stop the growth of the grain.
YOU WILL KNOW THAT YOUR GRAN IS DRIED when it is no longer ‘spongy’ and ‘CRACKS’ easily.
The next step is to ‘cure’ your grain at temperatures 170F- 185F for 4 to 48 hours, depending on what your malting preference is going to be for the end product. For Example, I bumped up the kiln temperature to 180F – 200F for 4 hours to produce a ‘Munich’ style of base grain.
Lower curing temperatures of barley for shorter periods of time represents a pils style of grain.
I could never put in words how great the smell of FRESH malted grains smell, and I can’t wait until I brew with them.
at this point, and can be stored (in a cool dark low humidity place) until you either decided to brew or .
An Advantage Of Building A ‘Home’ Barley Kiln.
While your home barley kiln is drying ‘base grain’ you can use your oven to take some ‘green barley’ from your tumbler and use your home oven to malt ‘specialty grains’.
I will come back to this blog post after I have brewed my first batch of beer with the grains I have malted to give a report. I’ll have several people try it.
Here Is The Final Organic Barley Product
After your home organic barley has kiln dried, use a screen sifter to sift out the barley rootlets from the barley.
Rootlets from barley are easily removed by rubbing the barley in your hand in the sifter.
The Final Product. Home Made Malted Barley!!
The Malting Process Video
Thermostatic Control For Home Made Kilns
Malting At Home Pt1
Home Malting On A Larger Scale