Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Early Maltsters

Sprouted grain is called malt. It's used to make a number of food products: breads, porridges, sweeteners and fermented beverages. Hans-Peter Stika, in his recent paper, discusses the likelihood that preserved barley malt excavated from a 2550-year-old Celtic settlement was being used to make beer:

Early Iron Age And Late Mediaeval Malt Finds From Germany—Attempts At Reconstruction Of Early Celtic Brewing And The Taste Of Celtic Beer, Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, January 2011

The process of beer-making - from grain to beverage - seems labor intensive. The end result must have been a mighty motivator for early maltsters.

First they had to acquire a substantial quantity of grain, either through farming and post-harvest processing or through trading.

Then they had to germinate the grain, a process I know from experience requires care to prevent mold formation. It looks like some grain used in early beer-making wasn't germinated:
"A mixture of deliberately sprouted hulled barley as well as rye and oat grains, which were not germinated, was found. The three different cereals could have been used for brewing a typical mediaeval/early modern beer since the use of mixed crops for producing beer has been quite common." 1
Then they had to stop the germination process, which was accomplished by drying. According to Stika, the barley was initially soaked (germinated) in specially constructed ditches and:
"Grains were then dried by lighting fires at the ends of the ditches, giving the malt a smoky taste and a darkened color." 2
I'm lost after that. I guess they mixed the grain with water to create a mash then heated it:
"Heated stones placed in liquefied malt during the brewing process would have added a caramelized flavor to this fermented Celtic drink." 2
At some point they had to filter it, and flavor it:
"Unlike modern beers that are flavored with flowers of the hop plant, the [Celtic] brew probably contained spices such as mugwort, carrot seeds or henbane, in Stika’s opinion." 2
And of course ferment it:
"[Stika] suspects that fermentation was triggered by using yeast-coated brewing equipment or by adding honey or fruit, which both contain wild yeasts." 2

That reminds me of the time I used raisins as a source for yeast to make my sprouted wheat bread (shown).

This is an awful lot of work, but they persevered. I would love to try their end result. (Carrot seeds?)
1 Early Iron Age And Late Mediaeval Malt Finds From Germany—Attempts At Reconstruction Of Early Celtic Brewing And The Taste Of Celtic Beer, Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, January 2011
2 2,550-Year-Old Celtic Beer Recipe Resurrected, Wired, January 17, 2010

Photo of excavated, charred barley grains from an Iron Age Celtic settlement from Wired article. Thanks to BL.
Photo of raisins used to derive yeast: Bix.


caulfieldkid said...

This sounds a lot more similar to the way they make Scotch than beer these days. Generally, in my experience (again I'm no brew master), the grains go straight to the mash for boiling to create the wort. I don't think most brewers germinate their grains first.

On the other hand, Scotch is done almost exactly like this. They germinate Rye on big floors. Then they create a fire using peat. That gets circulated throughout the facility in order to dry out/stop the germination of the grain. That's where it gets a lot of it's flavors.

Humans have been fermenting all kinds of food for a very, very long time. It's interesting.


ElDoubleVee said...

From Wikipedia: "Wort is the liquid extracted from the mashing process during the brewing of beer or whiskey. Wort contains the sugars that will be fermented by the brewing yeast to produce alcohol.
The first step in wort production is to make malt from dried, sprouted barley."

caulfieldkid said...

I stand corrected. I never really thought about the grains being "malted." Indeed, the grains you purchase to brew with allow you to skip a step. To my (lame) defense, they don't look like they've been sprouted:

They look much closer to your previous 24 hour photo.

A quick google didn't give me the answer, so anyone with the know is welcome to chime in: Do large breweries malt their own grains? I don't ever remember seeing that step when doing light reading/watching documentaries.

On another note, you can cheat even more when brewing. You can use Malt extracts:

Anonymous said...

I have a buddy who eats the caveman diet. Says you shouldn't eat grains. Try telling him he can't have his beer! Its like a vegetarian eating meat every day saying it doesn't count.