From mountaineering to model trains to homebrewing, there is a point in virtually every hobby beyond which there is no turning back. If you’ve decided that you need to read a malt analysis sheet, you’ve probably reached that point. Congratulations—you’ve gone off the deep end!
In some ways, an analysis sheet is to malt as source code is to software: It gives you a glimpse under the hood to better understand what’s going on and how to optimize your process. Unlike source code, the malt can’t be changed to suit your needs, but you can change the way you use that malt to get the most out of it.
Most malting companies will gladly provide an analysis sheet for their products if you ask. Some post the information directly on their websites or attach the data sheets to sacks of malt as a courtesy to brewers. Here are the major pieces of information you’re likely to come across.
Color is the piece with which you’re probably already familiar. American malting companies express color in degrees Lovibond (°L) or as Standard Research Method (SRM) units, which are pretty much the same thing. European malts will express color in European Brewing Convention (EBC) units, which are not the same. Lovibond and SRM values as low as 1.5 are typical for Pilsner malts, while roasted malts can be upward of 600.
Moisture content is provided on a percent by weight basis. High moisture content means more water, which means you need more malt to achieve the same extract as a drier malt. Generally, 4 to 6 percent is where you want to be. Higher than 6 percent, and you’re paying for more water than you need to, and the malt may be vulnerable to mold.
Extract potential refers to how much sugar can be released when the malt is mashed, and there are three terms you need to know:
- FGDB (Fine Grind, Dry Basis) is a measure of how much extract is produced when the malt is milled very finely and mashed in a laboratory setting. This quantity is pretty much the upper limit of what the malt can do, and it’s unlikely that anyone would ever achieve this number under real mashing conditions. Look for 80 percent or higher.
- CGDB (Coarse Grind, Dry Basis) is also a measure of how much extract is yielded, but using a coarser grind and conditions more akin to what you’ll find in a brewery setting. Look for 77 percent or higher.
- FC/CG difference is the difference between the FGDB and CGDB values. This figure is an indicator of how modified the malt is. The closer this number gets to zero, the more modified the product. One percent and lower means that a single-temperature infusion mash will work well, while higher numbers (2 percent or higher) may require a protein rest.
Diastatic power (DP) is a measure of enzymatic strength. Expressed in degrees Lintner, the higher the DP, the more conversion potential lies within the malt. Look for DP values of 30–50 for British base malts, 60–100 for Continental Pilsner malts, and upwards of 130 for North American two-row. North American six-row might be higher than 150, which is why it is so frequently combined with maize: Six-row has more enzymes than it knows what to do with!
Protein levels tell you about the potential for chill haze and lautering difficulties. There are several quantities to consider:
- Total protein (TP) is the total amount of protein in the malt, usually less than 13 percent.
- Soluble protein (SP) refers to the amount of protein that is actually soluble in water, typically 5 percent or so.
- SP/TP ratio is the ratio of the two above numbers. Look for a ratio of 35 percent or higher for single infusion mashes. Malts with lower numbers may benefit from a stepped or decoction mash.
- FAN is Free Amino Nitrogen and is an indicator of how much nitrogen will be available to yeast during fermentation. Look for 180 parts per million (ppm) or so.
Mealiness and Friability
Mealiness and friability are two sides of the same coin. Mealiness refers to the degree of malting and is usually expressed as percentages:
- Half glassy
- Glassy (also called steely or vitreous)
These aren’t terribly important other than to recognize that the mealier the better, at least in terms of degree of modification. Ideally you want higher than 95 percent mealy for a single-infusion mash. Mealiness of 90 to 95 percent probably needs a step mash, and lower than 90 percent is not suitable for brewing.
Friability is basically another way to express mealiness and refers to how readily the malt crumbles when crushed. Look for a friability higher than 85 percent for single-infusion mashing.
You may never have to touch a malt analysis sheet. But if you do, being able to decipher the acronyms and make sense of the numbers will help you better understand the ingredients that form the backbone and soul of your beer.