When it comes to brewing ingredients, there is a significant level of inequality at work. This is true in terms of flavor contributions, cost per batch, difficulty of use, and more, but it’s most true in the context of how much we talk about them. We read (and write) a lot about water: water chemistry, adjustment, the water profile of classic brewing centers, etc.
We read (and write) even more about hops: experimental varieties, whirlpooling vs. dry hopping vs. both, IBU thresholds, ad nauseam. We look at yeast the way a golfer looks at a new driver, as if just buying and using it will create the ester- and phenol-fueled weizen of our dreams, and so we scan the features and characteristics and reviews and vital stats of dozens of yeast strains. But do you know what we almost never discuss? Malt.
Sure, we’ll get into the details of fermentability of crystal malts and whether Crystal 60 makes your beers oxidation- prone. We have a solid handle on diastatic power, protein levels, and free-amino nitrogen (FAN) in a batch of grain. In fact, when you get right down to it, we know a heck of a lot more about how and why malt tastes as it does than we do hops… we just don’t care that much. We walk into the homebrew shop and just ask for “Maris Otter,” even though there may be three or four maltsters from which to choose. Maybe one in ten brewers will have a brand preference, but most can’t explain why (“I’ve just always used it”), and the rest don’t care. Why?