Congress at Home: Basic Malt Evaluation for Homebrewers

BYOB by | Jul 2017 | Issue #126
Illustration by Ellen Crenshaw

If hops are beer’s braggadocious sting, malt is the mollescent curative that allows us to tolerate the tasty yet pernicious weed. And like any good support system, malt never gets its chance to shine until some sappy song plays at the funeral.

Yet while some prepare to bury our presumed supporting player, a quiet revolution has been fomenting a malt-based coup in the name of rediscovery. Across the US, we’re seeing the continued rise of the “craft maltster” with their interesting varietal wares.

But like playing six-pack roulette with our newest breweries, you and I don’t want to risk blowing a brew day using ingredients we don’t know or trust. (I can seriously taste Domestic Pale and Maris Otter malts in my sleep). Instead of wasting a whole batch, though, we can make small-scale batches of wort for sensory evaluation, just like breweries with an actual QA department. Almost.

A proper congress mash, which is done to assess malt quality, requires expensive gear and stirry gizmos that most homebrewers won’t have at hand. Last year, Briess Malt & Ingredients Company shared a home-style technique using hot water, a thermos, and a coffee filter. Since I have multiple malts to try and only one thermos, I modified the process, using a sous vide circulator to keep Mason jars precisely heated.

It’s simple: Start by grinding malt, husk and all, into a fine powder with a coffee grinder. Mix and mash for 15 minutes, then strain and cool. Finally, let your nose and taste buds build a flavor profile without expending hours of effort.

Basic Malt Evaluation

55 g base malt, any variety (or 27.5 g base/27.5 g specialty, or 46.8 g base/8.25 g roast)
400 ml water, heated (149°F)
2 Mason jars, with lids
1 #4 cone coffee filter (and stand)
1 sous vide circulator

• Heat a water bath to 149°F with your sous vide machine. Weigh down one Mason jar and allow to heat with water (while remaining dry inside).
• In a bladed coffee grinder, mill the malt for 30 seconds. Allow the dust to settle and add to the warmed Mason jar.
• Add 400 ml of heated water. Lid the jar tightly and shake for 20 seconds. Put the jar back into the water bath and wait 15 minutes.
• Place coffee filter in its stand and set on top of the second Mason jar. Carefully filter the mash through this cone. Use a little bit of the runnings to clean the mash jar.
• Lid and cool the finished wort to room temperature. Smell, taste, take notes, and enjoy!