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The Ultimate Guide To Malted Barley For Brewers

Malted Barley for Brewers

Brewing beer is like making your favorite dish. And like every dish you make, there are key ingredients. Over the years, barley has been identified as a key ingredient in beer brewing; Brewing beer without barley is like making wine without grapes. 

What, then, is malted barley, and why is it important in beer? 

In this guide, we’ll take a deep dive into the world of malted barley, exploring what it is, how it’s made, the different varieties available, and how it affects the flavor and aroma of your beer. 

We’ll also cover the potential health benefits of malted barley, and answer some frequently asked questions. So, let’s get started!

What Is Malting? 

Malting is the process of converting raw barley grains into malt, which is then used to make beer. The barley grain is soaked in water during the malting process and allowed to germinate or sprout. 

This process is crucial to activating the grain enzymes that will later be used to convert starches into fermentable sugars during the brewing process.

Barley Malting

Malting Process 

This process involves several steps that are essential to the production of beer. The malting process begins with the selection of barley grains, which must be of high quality and free of any impurities. The brewing process of malting happens in three stages: 


The process of steeping begins by soaking the barley in water and allowing it to absorb moisture. 

After a few hours, the water is drained, and the grain is exposed to air. It passes through several stages of humidification and oxygenation (to activate the embryo). 

Steeping lasts a few days and ends once the grain moisture content rises to an average of 45 percent. 


Once steeping is done, it is time for germination. During germination, the barley is soaked in water for a period of time, allowing the grains to swell and the enzymes to become active. 

This process converts the barley's starches into sugars that can be used for brewing. The germination process typically takes between 3-5 days, depending on the type of barley and the environment. 


The kilning process begins with the germinated barley being spread out in a kiln and heated to a specific temperature. Kilning is important because it can impact the barley's color and flavor and stop the seed from growing into a plant. 

The heat helps to dry out the barley, and it also helps to break down the starches into simpler sugars, which can then be used by the yeast during the fermentation process.

Malting Process

What Is Malted Barley?

Barley is a cereal grain, much like wheat and corn. Just like barley, you can malt any grain. For corn, it becomes malted corn, and the same goes for wheat. Malted barley, therefore, is a grain that has been processed through a process called malting. 

The malting process helps enhance the grain's flavor, aroma, and color. It also breaks down the starches in the grain, making them more available for fermentation. 

Shapes Of Barley

Barley is available in two-row and six-row varieties, as well as winter two-row and winter six-row. Each variety has its unique characteristics and can affect the beer's flavor, aroma, and color.


Two-row barley is one of the most popular types of malted barley used in brewing. Two row barley is a type of barley with two rows of kernels on each stem. They are larger in size and present a more uniform appearance compared to six-row barley.

Two-row malt is a light-colored, highly fermentable malt used in many different beer styles. It is often used to create light-colored ales, lagers, and some darker beers. They produce less protein content but higher flavor malt extract.


Compared to two-row, they’re much thinner in size and present a less uniform appearance with a higher protein content and a slightly lower starch content. This grain is popular for many brewers due to its higher yield and extract potential.

Six-row barley malt is typically used in lagers and light-bodied ales. The higher protein content of six-row barley helps to create a fuller body, which is ideal for these beer styles. Six-row barley malt lowers starch content and also helps create a crisp and refreshing beer.

Winter Two-Row

Winter Two-Row barley is typically shown in the fall and allowed to grow over the winter months. The cold temperatures and shorter days cause the plant to enter a dormancy period, allowing it to survive the winter months. It is a two-row barley variety known for its high protein content, making it ideal for brewing beer.

Winter Six-Row

It is a hardy variety that can survive cold winter temperatures and is well suited for outdoor cultivation. Winter six-row barley is a popular choice among brewers because of its ability to produce a variety of beers. 

It can be used to make pale ales, stouts, and lagers. Because of its high protein content, it is also often used in the production of high-gravity beers. 

Why Use Malt Barley When Brewing?

Brewing beer is an ancient art that has been around for centuries, and malted barley has been an essential ingredient in the process since the beginning. 

Malted barley is the most common grain used in beer brewing, but it isn’t the only one. Other grains such as wheat, rye, oats, and corn can be used in brewing, but malted barley is the most popular choice due to its wide availability, affordability, and its wide range of flavors and aromas. 

Without malted barley, beer wouldn’t be the same. It is an essential part of the brewing process, and brewers should always use the highest quality malt for the best results.

Types Of Malts

Each type of malt has its own unique flavor and aroma and can be used to create different styles of beer. You can leverage the different malts listed here to guide your homebrewing process.

Base Malts

Base malts are the foundation of any beer recipe and provide the majority of fermentable sugars, body, and color to the finished product. They are made from grains that have been malted, meaning they have gone through a process of steeping, germinating, and kilning. Base malts are the most common type of malt and are used in almost every beer recipe. 

The most common base malts are

  • Pale Ale Malt
  • Munich Malt
  • Pilsner Malt

Specialty Malts

Specialty malts are malts that are used to add flavor, color, and aroma to beer. These malts are made from grains that have been kilned for longer in the malting process to enhance their flavor and color. Specialty malts can be used in small amounts to add complexity to a beer, or in larger amounts to create a unique flavor profile.

The most common specialty malts are 

  • Caramel Malt
  • Crystal Malt
  • Chocolate Malt

By understanding the flavor and color profiles of specialty malts, and how they interact with other ingredients, brewers can create unique and complex beers that are sure to please.

Kilned/Roasted Malts

Kilned/Roasted Malts are malts that are heated in a kiln to varying degrees. This process is used to produce a range of malt types, from light to dark. The degree to which the malt is kilned will determine the color, flavor, and aroma of the malt. The more intense the kilning process, the darker the malt and the more intense the flavor and aroma.

Caramel And Crystal Malts

Caramel and crystal malts are two types of malt that are used to add a range of flavors, aromas, and colors to beer. Caramel malts, also known as crystal malts, are made by roasting unmalted barley in a kiln. 

This process causes the starches in the barley to break down into simple sugars, and the resulting malt has a sweet, caramel-like flavor.

Crystal malts are subdivided into several varieties: light, medium, and dark.

Types Of Malts

How Does Malt Affect Your Beer?

Malt is an essential ingredient for brewing beer and it affects the beer in several ways:

Sugar Content

The sugar content of malted barley is determined by the amount of starch that is converted to sugar during the malting process. Starch is the main component of malted barley and is converted to sugar by the enzyme amylase. This conversion process is known as saccharification. 

Adds Aroma And Flavor

Adding malted barley to your beer is a great way to add aroma and flavor to your brew. Malted barley is made by germinating grains, then drying them with hot air. This process creates a range of complex flavors, from sweet and nutty to bitter and roasted. Malted barley can also be kilned, which helps to develop more intense flavors.

Adds Color 

The color of the beer is determined by the type of malt used, the amount of malt used, and the amount of time the malt is roasted. The longer the malt is roasted, the darker the beer will be. 

The color of the beer can range from light yellow to almost black, depending on the type of malt used. The most common malts used to add color are pale, Munich, crystal, and chocolate. 

Malted Beer

Final Thoughts

Malted barley is an essential ingredient in the brewing process. It adds flavor, aroma, and color to beer. However, It is important to note the shapes of barley because they possess different characteristics that can impact your beer. 

With this comprehensive guide to malted barley, you are now ready to make the perfect beer. But, if you’re having a hard time on how or where to start, kindly contact us at Spike we’re always willing to help. Happy brewing!

For additional information, please read:


What Is the difference between malted and unmalted barley?

The main difference between malted and unmalted barley is that malted barley has gone through a process of germination and kilning that activates the enzymes in the grain and makes them available for use in brewing. Unmalted barley has not gone through this process, so it does not have the same level of enzyme activity.


What is the difference between malted barley and malt extract?

Malted barley is the raw material used to create malt extract, while malt extract is a concentrated syrup made from malted barley that has been mashed and then evaporated to remove most of the water content.


Is malted barley gluten-free?

Malted barley contains gluten, so it is unsuitable for those who are gluten-intolerant or have celiac disease. However, there are some gluten-free malted barley products available on the market, such as malted millet and malted rice.

What is the best way to store malted barley?

Malted barley should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. It should also be kept away from direct sunlight, as this can cause the grain to become stale. Malted barley can be stored for up to a year if stored properly.

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