As a homebrewer, one good way to make your beer a little more personal is to roast your own malts. Roasting malts is a surprisingly easy process that doesn’t take more than an hour and can add a unique quality to your beer that you would not have otherwise. Home roasted malt lacks the consistency that is present within professionally roasted malts, but honestly, the unique nature of home roasted malt more than makes up for this.
And of course, who wouldn't want to present a well crafted homebrew that was personally malted by you? It is very possible to produce high quality beer with home roasted malt.
If you plan to roast your own malt, the first step is to obtain the grain that you are going to roast. In general this involves obtaining uncrushed pale malt, which you can get from your local homebrew store or online.
If you are starting with raw barley, you'll need to germinate first. That's a whole ‘nother can of worms. If it's already been germinated and malted, you're good to go.
It’s important to let the grain sit for around two weeks before roasting, normally in a brown paper bag. This step can seem like a pain, but it is essential for that all harsh aromatics escape. If the grain is not left to sit, then it may give a negative flavor to the batch of beer.
The roasting reaction of malt takes advantage of a reaction known as the Maillard Reaction. This process results in the production of a range of both color and flavor compounds as the malt browns. The compounds produced act to stabilize beer, resulting in decreased levels of oxidation.
Basic Roasting Process
The process of roasting can be done within a normal kitchen oven, although a fan forced oven should be used if the option is available.
You can use a range of trays for roasting grains, but the most effective ones are stainless steel baskets, as these allow the temperature to be circulated evenly. However, if you are wet toasting grains, you may want to consider using a stainless steel pan instead.
If you plan to roast malt on a regular basis, it is advisable to always use the same amount of grains in each pan, and designate a pan only for grain roast. There's no need to get roast chicken or frozen pizza into your malt, although in a high volume of grain, it probably won't make much of a difference. This makes the outcome more consistent, making it easier to change little things about your recipe to fine tune it.
In addition you will need a thermometer to place inside the oven to ensure the correct temperature is being reached. As a general rule, it is a bad idea to rely on the thermometer that is present on the oven, as these are often unreliable and may give you incorrect results. Consistency is key if you want to learn to improve your malting process.
To actually do the roasting, the malt is placed within the pans and left in the oven until the time is completed. The specific temperature and time that are used depend on the recipe that you are following. For example, a temperature of 275 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour will produce a taste and aroma that is lightly nutty.
The final outcome will also depend on the specific variety of malt that is used, and recipes will often specify a particular type of malt.
Dry Toasting Versus Wet Roasting
There are two main approaches used for roasting malt. These are dry toasting and wet toasting. Wet toasting involves soaking the malt within water for around an hour before it is roasted. This process results in a slightly different final flavor. In particular, wet malt tends to produce a caramel flavor, as some starch conversion occurs. Additionally, wet toasting takes longer than dry toasting, and may take as much as two hours, depending on the recipe used.
Personally, I haven't tried roasting my own malt at home yet. I just moved and haven't really got my brewing stuff set up yet. However, eventually I'd like to experiment with growing my own hops & barley, roasting my own malt, and even experimenting with wild yeast in my area. For now, I'm sticking with all grain brew recipe kits.
photo credit: Bernt Rostad