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Malt: The Soul of Beer

Without malt, beer would be lifeless and flat. Hops bitterness only works in balance with malt sweetness, and yeast requires sugars and nutrients for fermentation, both of which malt-based wort offers. Here's a malt primer.

Dave Carpenter Apr 20, 2015 - 13 min read

Malt: The Soul of Beer Primary Image

Twenty-five years ago, Prof. Dr. Anton Piendl of the Technical University of Munich’s renowned Brewing Science and Beverage Technology program at Weihenstephan observed, “Malt is the soul, hops the spice, yeast the spirit, and water the body of beer.” Maltless beer would be an astringent, one-dimensional shell of itself. To study malt, then, is to peer deeply into beer’s very being.

What Is Malt?

Malt is simply a cereal seed that has been tricked into thinking it is about to grow into a plant and then abruptly denied the opportunity to do so. Mother Nature packs raw grains full of all the nutrients and enzymes a newborn plant needs before it grows old enough to photosynthesize its own food. Malting makes those nutrients and enzymes available to brewers. Just about any cereal grain can be malted, but some are better suited to brewing than others.


If malt is the soul of beer, then barley must surely be the élan vital, the qi, the aura. More than any other grain, barley means beer. Barley’s morphology and biochemical constitution make it the ideal brewer’s grain.

  • The tough outer husks that surround barley kernels protect the grains during malting, and they collectively form an effective filter during lautering (wort runoff).
  • Barley is rich in diastatic enzymes, which convert starches to sugars during mashing. In fact, barley is so rich in these enzymes that it can even convert the starches of other grains as it converts its own.
  • Barley’s low protein content enhances beer clarity and promotes easy lautering in the brewery.
  • Barley is low in lipids (fats) that can degrade head retention in the finished beer.

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