Malted Grains

What does it mean for a grain to be “malted” as in the process used to make whiskey?

Sorry…meant to post in GQ

While we’re waiting for the mods to move it, Wiki sez:

It means the grain has been allowed to germinate, or produce the actual grain, which produces “malt enzymes” that break down the cell walls, changing the structure of the endosperm (which contains most or all of the starch).

Basically it’s just a process to make it easier to get to the starches and sugars in the grain, which are needed by the yeast to produce the alcohol.

Let me just move that for you.

Ahh, makes sense, thanks!

… and (please correct me if I’m wrong) barley is most often used in European- and American-style brewing because barley is relatively high in the enzymes previously mentioned.

To expand a little. Starch can be viewed as a very long chain of sugars. An ungerminated grain is a little powerhouse of stored energy. But in order to make use of that energy a growing seed needs to cleave those long chains into sugars that can power it growth. So a germinating seed creates the enzymes that break the starch down. Other living things that are lining up to use that stored power need to break those chains down as well. (Saliva contains enzymes that will so so as well.) The yeasts that we use to brew with can get to work if the grains have been allowed to germinate enough start creation of the needed enzymes. Once the growth has progressed enough the seed is killed, and dried. Those malted seeds have a characteristic sweet taste. Grind them up a bit and mix them up with water, add some yeast, and away you go. The malt enzymes will continue to convert all the starch to sugars and the yeast will ferment those sugars to alcohol. Distil the result and you get whisky (and whiskey). The act of malting and drying the grains trends to create a lot of other flavours with some pretty strong natures. So the resulting spirit can be heavy on flavour. However a malted barley grain contains enough malt enzymes to convert the starch in many times its own grain’s content, so you can add unmalted grain to the mix, and its starch will add to the final product, and the overall flavour will be much milder. A whisky made from only malted gain is a known as a malt whisky, whilst one made from a mix adulterated with unmalted grains is a “grain” whisky. A malt whisky that is made from the one distilled product (ie is unblended) is a “single malt.”

A whisky that has to be filtered through charcoal before it can be safely drunk is only suitable for cleaning drains.

And the smokiness of Scotch Whisky is imparted, in part, by the peat that is burned to dry the malted barley. You can get unpeated whiskies that use only hot air. The barrel will still give the whisky (or whiskey) some smokiness.

Correct-ish. 6-row barley doesn’t have that much. That’s why it is mainly used for animal feed, 2-row, OTOH, is a powerhouse of enzymes. 2-row can convert the starch in corn and rice like a champ, allowing American mega-brews to prosper.