The basic malting process has remained virtually the same for thousands of years. Many large malt houses employ a more automated technique of malting. Riverbend Malt House retains the tradition of the original three-step process: steeping, germination and drying. We feel that the artisan characteristics of traditional malting techniques provide an artisan quality malt.
During steeping, water is absorbed by the raw barley kernel and germination begins. Steeping starts with raw barley that has been sorted and cleaned, then transferred into steep tanks and covered with water.
For the next three days, the raw barley is submerged and periodically uncovered, allowing the grain to rest and respiration to take place. The absorbed water activates the enzymatic process. This process in turn initiates growth of the acrospire (sprout).
Steeping is complete when the barley has reached a sufficient moisture level to allow uniform breakdown of the starches and proteins. One visual indicator that the maltster uses to determine the completion of steeping is to count the percentage of kernels that show “chit”. Raw barley that has been properly steeped is referred to as “chitted” barley”, the “chit” being the start of the rootlets that are now visibly emerging from the embryo of the kernel.
The chitted barley is transferred from the steep tank to the germination floor. Germination, which began in the steep tank, continues in the compartment where the barley kernel undergoes modification. Modification refers to the break down of the protein and carbohydrates, and the resulting opening up of the seeds’ starch reserves. Good modification requires the barley to remain on the floor until it is fully modified. Turning the barley periodically keeps the grain bed from becoming too warm and rootlets from growing together, or felting.
Germination is halted by drying. If germination continued, the kernel would continue to grow and all of the starch reserves needed by the brewer would be used by the growing plant. Once the green malt is removed from the germination floor it is dried sufficiently before being kilned at a significantly higher temperature that is considered proper to produce the ideal base malt. Specialty malts are dried in a kiln at higher temperatures for longer periods of time, roasted, or both. Varying the moisture level and time and temperature of drying develops the flavor and color characteristics of each specialty malt.