How Do You Produce and Process Specialty Grains During Beer Brewing

Specialty grains are the main ingredients in beer recipe kits. While barley is the most common of these brewing grains, the umbrella term of specialty grains is quite complex. But before we can go into that, we will need to address the issue of malt. It is one of the key ingredients used in all beer recipes, such as craft beers. Basically, malt is a grain that is converted into sugar, and that sugar is then consumed by the beer yeast in order to create alcohol, in a process known as fermentation. In other words, the grain becomes malt, which then becomes beer. 

Malt is the beer ingredient that adds the color, aroma, and flavor to the beer. It also contributes to the body of every lager or ale, setting each beer recipe apart from one another. Even though there are a variety of specialty malts that are used for brewing beer, barley is still the preferred specialty grain used in the process. However, barley, by itself, can’t be fermented into alcohol. As such, it needs to be converted into malted barley by a process known as malting. As mentioned, there are a wide variety of specialty malts that fall into two broad categories. Firstly, there are malts that need to be steeped, which is good for extract brewing. Second, there are malts that need to be mashed, which are used for all-grain beer recipes. 

What Are the Base Malts? 

Base malts (grains) are the basis for all-grain brews as they provide the highest extraction potential of all other malts. However, using extract with specialty grains may lead to a lack in the distinctive flavor and color profile of specialty malts. Also, base grains’ sugar can only be extracted through mashing. These base malts are not useful when it comes to steeping specialty grains, as is the case with extract beers. Some common base malts include the following:

  • Barley malts – Pilsner malt, pale ale malt, mild ale malt, etc.
  • Non-barley malts – Wheat and rye malts.
  • High-kilned malts – Munich and Vienna malts
  • American base malts
  • British malts

What Are the Specialty Malts? 

Specialty grains, or specialty malts, don’t need to be mashed. Specialty malts will undergo a special heating process that allows the enzymes to convert the starches found in these specialty grains to turn into sugars inside the hull. And because these types of sugars are soluble, the character of these specialty malts can be extracted by steeping, instead of mashing. That said, there are several types of specialty malts. These include the following:

Caramelized Malts

Also known as crystal malts, caramelized malts are typically used to add color and sweetness to extract beer and all-grain brews. Their name is usually based on their color. As a general rule of thumb, lighter-colored caramelized malts are sweeter, whereas darker ones have a caramel flavor that is more “roasty” and “nutty” in addition to the added sweetness. Dextrine malts also fall within this category and are at the extreme light end of the caramelized malts spectrum. 

Toasted Malts

Also known as kilned malts, toasted malts are typically used in low quantities to contribute their unique flavor but not overpower the overall taste. In this category of specialty malts, we can include the following:

  • Biscuit malt – It contributes with a light, saltine cracker-like flavor. 
  • Aromatic malt – It is deeper and maltier than biscuit malt. 
  • Brown and amber malt – Both brown and amber malt are toasted in a similar manner. The difference between them is that brown malt is darker and more “toasty-flavored,” whereas amber malt has less of a pretzel-like flavor. 
  • Victory malt – This is another lighter option that sits between biscuit malt and amber malt but holds characteristics of both. 
  • Special roast malt – It has a slightly darker and reddish color with a deeper, fairly strong berry-like taste.

Roasted Malts

Roasted malts are specialty grains that are roasted at high temperatures. They can be either steeped for extract brewing or can be mashed for all-grain beer recipes. When used in low quantities, they can add plenty of color and complexity to beer recipes. But like the toasted malts above, roasted malts should only be used in a proportion of a maximum of 10 to 12% of the grist. Common varieties of roasted malts include: 

  • Roasted barley – Made out of roasted but unmalted barley, this type of malt adds a strong roasty character, similar to coffee. It’s best limited to 2 to 10% of the grist.
  • Black malt – Also known as black patent malt, black malt is significantly darker than roast barley, giving a dry, roasty flavor. It’s best to keep it below 3% of the grist. Otherwise, the taste becomes burnt and ashy. 
  • Chocolate malt – It is a key beer ingredient used in many porter recipes, but it also works well with brown ale or dark mild ale. Aside from the taste of roasted coffee, it also adds tones of nuts, cocoa, and dark chocolate. A good range in most beer recipes is between 3 to 12% of the grist. Chocolate malt also tends to work well in combination with black malt.  

Adjunct Grains

These are unmalted starchy grains, but they can also include other things such as pumpkin, potatoes, or other starchy vegetables. Unlike caramelized malts, these adjuncts don’t have sugars, so they can’t be steeped for extract brewing. And unlike malted grains, they also don’t have the enzymes to turn the starch into sugar. As such, they need to be mashed. Common types of grains from this category include:

  • Maize
  • Flaked barley and oats
  • Torrified wheat
  • Rice

Processing Specialty Grains

Processing specialty grain for beer brewing involves a process known as malting. This is where the specialty grain is germinated, then dried in a kiln to stop the process after the sprout has emerged from the hull. The purpose is to develop the necessary enzymes, then halt the process before the starches are converted and the sugars are all used up. All-grain beer and malt extract require these enzymes in the mash tun to convert the starch into sugar. The malting process requires three steps: steeping, germinating, and kilning. However, the entire specialty grain processing includes a couple more steps. These are as follows:

  • Cleaning – After the specialty grain has made it to the brewing facility, it needs to be cleaned for any kind of impurities such as dust, straw, and broken or foreign grains. This helps increase the yield and maintain quality. 
  • Steeping – This is the first step in creating quality malt. The process involves immersing the grain in water, followed by an air rest period. This allows for the water content in the grain to increase. The absorbed water activates the enzymes and stimulates the grain to develop new enzymes. The steeping process varies, depending on the grain type and size, but it usually takes place over a period of 24 to 48 hours. 
  • Germinating – The second phase of the malting process continues with the germination that started with steeping. This is where growth and modification of the specialty grain occurs. The breakdown in protein and carbohydrates resulting in opening the grains’ starch reserves usually takes between 4 to 6 days. During this time, specialized brewing equipment, such as a temperature controller that also controls the moisture levels with a uniform water spray and regulated airflow. The grain is also separated through periodic rotation to avoid clumping, non-uniform heating, and different rates of germination. 
  • Kilning – The last step of the malting process uses a convection heat treatment to dry the green malt in order to prevent further germination. If it continues, the kernels would just keep growing, using up all the starch reserves. This drying process reduces the moisture content and prepares the malt for flavor and color development. 
  • Malt roasting – When the grain reaches a moisture level of 15%, it will start changing its color. Depending on the desired color, the roaster will determine the degree of roast and will start cooling down to avoid further reactions. 

Throughout this entire specialty grain process, the question of transporting the delicate material between the different processing and brewing equipment will require a conveyor system. To prevent any degradation, contamination, or waste, tube and cable conveyors are the best option. Cablevey conveyors are specifically designed to handle such fragile materials, including barley, wheat, and other specialty grains. The different types of grains are transported gently, reaching each phase of the process in the precise size, mix, and quantity they need to be. Due to their tubular design, there is no material waste, which is a key concern for many brewers. The enclosed tube systems provided by Cablevey Conveyors are also critical in keeping the material clean and safe from any external contaminant. 

You can also track the journey of the grain through the clear sections of the tube, ensuring that everything is running smoothly. These systems are great for moving both wet and dry grains across all steps of the beer brewing process. These tube and cable conveyors offer a great deal of flexibility and customization, fitting both the unique layout of the facility, as well as in terms of the quantities of material needed to be transported on a daily basis. By using these conveyor systems, you will ensure that the processing of your specialty grains will take place as seamlessly and as effectively as possible.