As one of the 4 primary ingredients in beer, barley is obviously very important. But what is it?
Barley is the seed of the barley plant and it looks a lot like wheat. Barley is mostly harvested in the U.S. and in Europe. There are dozens of varieties of barley, and each one has unique flavor characteristics for beer. A typical beer recipe can use one or several different strains of barley.
Malting barley is a critical step for the production of beer. Malting barley is the process of allowing the seeds to germinate for a few days, and then drying then to stop the germination process. The result is a kernel of grain that contains starches, sugars, and enzymes used during the mash process to create wort.
Most home brewers buy their malted barley from a home brew supply store. It is typically purchased by the pound and different malted barley grains are all added together in a single purchase. Next, the home brewer will use a mill to crush (well, really crack) the grains to expose the kernels. The end result looks like the picture on the left.
The most common malted barley used in many recipes is called 2-row. It has been dry roasted for the most minimum of time and appears light yellow in color. Malted barley that has been dry roasted at a higher temperature or for a longer time will appear darker in color, or even begin to crystalize. Mixing portions of these heavier roasted barley will product a darer colored beer, such as an amber or event a stout. Here’s a diagram showing different malted barley grains.
Mashing – Creating the Wort
The ‘mashing’ process is a critical step in making beer. It is the process we use to use enzymes to convert starches into fermentable sugars. This is done by steeping the milled malted barley grains in hot water (around 152 degrees) for 1 hour. Temperature and time are both important in this process. Mash at too high or low of a temperature, and you will get the wrong types of sugars in your wort mixture. Mash for too little time and you won’t convert enough starches to sugars. Mashing ends up looking a lot like making oatmeal. Here’s a picture of someone mashing in a lot of wheat with his barley to make a Wit Bier.
I happen to use a method called RIMS during my mash. RIMS stands for Recirculating Infusion Mash System. The RIMS process involves using a pump to drain wort out of the mash tun and pump it back to the top of the vessel. Additionally, during this process, additional heat is infused into the system to account for heat loss while the liquid wort is leaving the mash tun and travelling through the pump and hoses.
An alternative method is called HERMS: Heat Exchange Recirculating Mash System. In a HERMS system, the liquid wort is pumped through a coil that is immersed in hot water to regain the heat lost through the re circulation system.
Most home brewers complete their mash by using a simple rest solution. This can be done in an igloo cooler (or some other insulated container) to hold the malted barley grains in a hot water solution for the duration of the mash.
In the next blog post, we’ll complete our discussion of creating wort by examining the lautering and sparging process.