Malt flavors in beer are traditionally described as toasty, roasty, sweet, nutty, caramel, coffee, or chocolate. These flavors come from the kilning and roasting of the grain. But what happens if you brew a beer with malt that hasn’t been kilned or roasted? Green-barley malt has a flavor profile that centers on cucumber, melon, and cut grass, with a slight astringency. The aromatics are similar to a summer’s day after a rain shower.
Horton Ridge Malt and Grain Company is a small craft (floor) malt house and nano brewery in Nova Scotia, and we make a beer from unkilned (green) malt. Our first green-malt beer came as a result of the St. Patrick’s Day green-beer idea. The thought process was that bars around the world add food coloring to make their beer green, but we’re a malt house, and we have green malt. Why couldn’t we make a real green-malt beer? A quick Internet search revealed a 1963 scholarly article from S. R. Duff entitled Use of Green Malt in Brewing, which reached the conclusion that “acceptable potable beer can be produced” from green malt. Fueled by enthusiasm from knowing it was possible, we set out to make a green-malt beer. The first step was easy—picking a style. A pale ale seemed like a good idea; it would limit the number of variables and keep it simple.
The first challenge made itself quickly known: milling. Green malt has a moisture content ranging from 38 to 45 percent, which leads to two main problems. First, the green malt clumps together and bridges in the hopper. Second, the high moisture content causes the rollers to turn the green malt into a sticky, doughy mess. After disassembling the mill, cleaning it, and further trial and error, we developed a system that solved both problems. Using a feed scoop to slowly but constantly hand feed the green malt directly onto the mill rollers resulted in an acceptable squash. For any sort of large-scale production, a high-moisture grain mill would be ideal, but for small batches, a roller miller and some (actually, considerable) patience will get the job done.