About Malt

Contributed by the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre's Peter Watts.

Beer is made from four core ingredients: barley, hops, water and yeast.

While many beers include additional ingredients like roasted barley, wheat malt, spices, and fruit, these four ingredients remain the foundation of virtually all beer around the world. 

So what exactly is malt? Malt is barley, or other grains that have been steeped, germinated, and kilned (dried), used especially for brewing or distilling.

The malting process converts hard cereal grains, usually barley, into malt.  Barley is bred specifically for its natural enzymes used to convert starch into sugar (for fermentation) and proteins into amino acids which together are functional for brewing, distilling or food manufacture.

Ten Malt Facts

  1. Barley malt is the foundation of beer: it provides flavour, mouth feel, colour, foam and the sugars that make alcohol.  
  2. Almost all beer in the world uses barley malt as its base, with some exceptions such as gluten-free beer.
  3. Malted barley was used by the ancient Egyptians over 4,000 years ago to make mead, or honey beer.
  4. In the malting process, barley is soaked in water and sprouted to convert starches to sugars, and to breakdown proteins and cell walls to prepare for brewing.  After being dried it is considered malt, and looks similar from the exterior to the original malting barley – the changes have mostly occurred on the inside.
  5. The starch in barley converts to sugars which ferment into alcohol. The protein in barley assists with foam production and stability.
  6. Canada is one of the world’s largest producers of malting barley, which is used to make malt, supplying about 10% of the world’s needs.
  7. Canada is also one of the world’s largest manufacturers of malting barley into malt, processing some 700,000 tonnes annually.  About one third is used by the domestic brewing industry while the balance is exported.
  8. Canada exports malting barley and malt to dozens of countries around the world and is recognized for its high quality.  If you are drinking beer in China, Japan, Mexico or Guatemala, there is a very good chance it has Canadian malting barley in it.
  9. Malting barley is a uniquely complicated crop to produce and supply as it must arrive at the malt plant in a living state with a minimum of 95% germination, quite a feat when the barley is harvested in Saskatchewan and used in Sichuan.
  10. The domestic malting and brewing industries in Canada fund research into the development of new malting barley varieties to ensure we continue to grow top quality malting barley to make the best malt and beer.