GALLERY: Malt, 1955–1969

The Other Fellow’s Job No. 10: The Maltster’ by Richard HiltonHouse of Whitbread, Spring 1955, with photographs by P.M. Goodchild.

In these mod­ern times, when machin­ery has large­ly replaced the hands of the crafts­man, one might think that the ingre­di­ents of beer are large­ly sub­ject­ed to numer­ous mechan­i­cal process­es in the course of their evo­lu­tion. And many of them are – but the malt­ing process is one that has stood the test of time, and remains the secret of the crafts­man who trans­forms the corns of bar­ley into that most valu­able ingre­di­ent of all – malt.”

A man with a specially designed wheelbarrow.
“C. McCabe car­ries the bar­ley in a spe­cial­ly designed malt bar­row.”

When a new load of bar­ley arrives at the malt­ings, the first men to han­dle it are the gra­nary hands. It is their job to dry the bar­ley to about 12 per cent of mois­ture so that it can be kept in bulk with­out dete­rio­r­i­a­tion; next, they clean and ‘screen’ it to extract the small or bro­ken grains… Typ­i­cal of the gra­nary hand at the Whit­bread malt­ings in East Dere­ham in Nor­folk is Chris McCabe. An Irish­man, 64-year-old McCabe start­ed with Whit­bread­’s eleven years ago, and takes great pride in his work.… Before he came to East Dere­ham he worked in large malt­ings in Ire­land.”

A man in flat cap and overalls.
“As fore­man of the East side of the Dere­ham malt­ings, Wal­ter Lam­bert has many respon­si­bil­i­ties. Here, he is adjust­ing the oil burn­er on one of the bar­ley kilns.”

Con­tin­ue read­ingGALLERY: Malt, 1955–1969”


Unlike some (Melissa Cole, p6; Mark Dredge), we don’t object to the use of the terms ‘malty’ and ‘hoppy’ as over-arching descriptors, but one thing does bug us: ‘malty’ shouldn’t just mean ‘not hoppy’.

Malt flavour is a pos­i­tive addi­tion to the flavour of a beer, giv­ing it anoth­er dimen­sion. The best hop­py beers – that is, those with a pro­nounced flow­ery hop aro­ma and/or bit­ter­ness – also have malt flavour, usu­al­ly sneak­ing up as a bonus in the fin­ish.

These are the kind of things we think of (no doubt via Michael Jack­son and oth­ers) when we spot that taste:

  • toast­ed nuts and seeds
  • fresh bread
  • crack­ers

It’s dry as in crisp, savoury but not salty, and just down­right whole­some.

The best of the lagers we men­tioned yes­ter­day all have ver­i­ta­ble malti­ness, as do many of the pale-n-hop­py c.4% cask ales at which North of Eng­land brew­eries seem to excel. Our local equiv­a­lent, Potion 9 at the Star Inn, is defined by bright cit­rusy hops, but it’s that bread-crust and cream crack­er snap that ulti­mate­ly makes it so sat­is­fy­ing – the bun with­out which a burg­er would­n’t be half as enjoy­able.

A beer with fair­ly restrained hop char­ac­ter might allow the malt to take cen­tre stage, and that can be good too.

But some beers aren’t hop­py or malty – they’re just sug­ary, grit­ty, veg­e­tal or (worst of all) watery.

Don’t blame malt for that.

Living Beer and the Rhetoric of Whole Food

Wholefood store scanned from a 1970s cookery book.

We haven’t drawn any firm con­clu­sions on this sub­ject yet, but see what you make of these quo­ta­tions. (Our empha­sis through­out.)

For this rea­son ‘whole’ corn meal, which con­tains the germ, will have a greater life-con­tain­ing, life-giv­ing qual­i­ty than the ‘degermed’ corn­meal found in super­mar­kets. Whole corn­meal is a “live” food – it spoils when the oil in the germ becomes ran­cid. Degermed corn­meal is a ‘dead’ food, as it lacks the germ (of life). Hence, it can be kept on gro­cery shelves for months with­out spoil­ing, though like all milled grains it does become stale.” Edward Espe Brown, Tas­sa­jara Bread Book, 1970.

…‘nat­ur­al foods’ now threat­en to replace ‘gourmet cook­ing’ as the main top­ic of food con­ver­sa­tions… More than just a revival of old famil­iar food fads, this is part of the gen­er­al con­cern now felt about the dete­ri­o­ra­tion of our envi­ron­ment. Bore­dom with too much smooth, bland, over­processed and sweet food has helped to attract not only the expect­ed fad­dists, hypochon­dri­acs and axe-grinders, but at least a pro­por­tion of sci­en­tists, espe­cial­ly nutri­tion­ists and con­ser­va­tion­ists.” ‘From Cranks to Nuts’, The Times, 7 August 1971.

We opt­ed at first for a high strength bit­ter brewed just from malt, hops, yeast and water. As well as being more whole­some this would also be sim­pler to pro­duce.” Mar­tin Sykes recall­ing the found­ing of the Sel­by Brew­ery in 1972, Called to the Bar, 1991.

…the adul­ter­at­ed sludge that is glo­ri­fied under the name of keg.” Michael Hard­man, CAM­RA’s What’s Brew­ing?, June 1972.

The first dis­tinc­tion that must be made by the dis­cern­ing drinker of draught beer is between keg, top-pres­sure, and tra­di­tion­al (the Real Thing)… tra­di­tion­al beer is alive while keg ber, like most bot­tled beer, is dead.” Richard Boston, ‘The Quick and the Dead’, The Guardian, 25 August 1973.

British brew­ers are prac­ti­cal­ly free to tam­per with their beer as much as they want, unlike their col­leagues in West Ger­many, who are for­bid­den by law to use any ingre­di­ent oth­er than malt, hops and water… For­tu­nate­ly, many brew­ers in Britain have kept faith­ful to nature, and beer brewed and served nat­u­ral­ly can be found in near­ly every cor­ner of the coun­try.” Michael Hard­man, Beer Nat­u­ral­ly, 1978.

 ‘Real ale’ is the pop­u­lar name for tra­di­tion­al beer brewed for cen­turies in Britain from malt­ed bar­ley and hops, with hun­dreds of region­al vari­a­tions in recipe and taste… Many brew­ers, big and small, use adjuncts in the brew­ing process. Flaked maize, pota­to starch, pas­ta flour, rice grits, malt and hop extracts will prob­a­bly do you no harm but they are detri­men­tal to the flavour of the beer.” CAMRA Good Beer Guide, 1978.

Poor, faith­ful old sug­ar, writ­ten out of his­to­ry

The Corrections

Boak: This has a real­ly nice malt flavour – that grainy, chewy breadi­ness

Near­by Bloke: Err… cor­rec­tion! It’s obvi­ous this is made from only pale malt which con­tributes exact­ly zero flavour to a beer.

Boak: Well, I’m think­ing of the malt flavour you might get in a good lager like–

Near­by Bloke: That’s hops! If there’s flavour in a pale beer, it’s hops. (Face red­den­ing) PALE MALT DOESN’T ADD FLAVOUR!

Boak: (Real­is­ing she can’t win, hop­ing he’ll go away) Uh-huh.

Near­by Bloke: (Sens­ing that he’s being humoured) No, seri­ous­ly, and I should know. I’m a beer expert myself.

We some­times move in geeky cir­cles, it can’t be denied, and we geeks occa­sion­al­ly strug­gle with some ele­ments of human inter­ac­tion. Aggres­sive­ly cor­rect­ing peo­ple is one of the worst habits of the hard­ened geek.

Near­by Bloke could have start­ed the above con­ver­sa­tion with: “Excuse me, I was inter­est­ed in what you were say­ing there, because I’ve always under­stood that pale malt con­tributes lit­tle flavour to a beer.…”

Even if you are one hun­dred per cent sure you’re right, what is to be gained from enter­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with a bull­ish cry of WRONG! and a hec­tor­ing tone? It leaves you nowhere to go but red­der, shriller and weird­er.

PS. Anoth­er bad habit of geeks: refer­ring to large groups of peo­ple as ‘sheep’ or ‘idiots’.

The Many Variables That Make a Beer

Packets of hops.

When we asked how Bel­gian beer could be so cheap, Matthew Cur­tis sug­gest­ed on Twit­ter that their ten­den­cy towards rel­a­tive­ly con­ser­v­a­tive hop­ping could be part of the answer.

This got us think­ing. After all, though hop aro­ma is not some­thing we espe­cial­ly asso­ciate with Bel­gian beer, it is cer­tain­ly not the case that Bel­gian beer is bland or homoge­nous.

Hops are great – we love them – but their amount and vari­ety are far from being the only vari­ables a brew­er has to play with.

In fact, two beers made with sim­ple pale malt and ‘bor­ing’ Fug­gles could end up tast­ing and look­ing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent, and equal­ly mind­blow­ing, if the fol­low­ing vari­ables were care­ful­ly manip­u­lat­ed by a skilled brew­er. (Or screwed up by a lazy one.)

Dark or clear? Unre­fined? Caramelised?
Long boils to darken/caramelise sug­ars in the wort.

Strain selec­tion.
Fer­men­ta­tion tem­per­a­ture.
Blend­ing of mul­ti­ple strains.
Refinement/customisation in the lab.

Mash liquor chemistry/softness.
Boil liquor chemistry/softness.

Custom/homemade malts.
Cre­ative ‘mis­use’ of spe­cial­ty malts.
Belgian/German/British/US ver­sion of stan­dard types, e.g. Pil­sner malt.
Mash tem­per­a­ture and tim­ing.

Heather (as in Williams Bros. Fraoch).
Salt (as in gose).
Spices (e.g. corian­der).
Lac­tose and oth­er unfer­mentable sug­ars.
Soured/stale/aged beer.
M&Ms, otter spit­tle, Mr Kipling apple pies, and so on.

Car­bon­a­tion lev­els.
Wood age­ing.

And final­ly…
Hop freshness/age.
Tim­ings of hop addi­tions.
Extract, pel­let or whole leaf?