Malting Barley Grain at Home

by Brad Smith on December 5, 2009 · 56 comments

beer_barley_web

For the adventurous home brewer who wants to take all grain beer brewing to yet another level, you can malt your own grains at home. While most micro and home brewers start with malted grain, it is possible to purchase unmalted grains and go through the malting process at home. The equipment required is modest, and bulk unmalted grains can be purchased at a fraction of the cost of malted ones.

Unmalted barley is widely used for animal feed, so a good place to purchase unmalted grains in bulk is likely a local feed store. Usually it is sold in large quantities – typically 50lb to 100lb bags. Smaller quantities can be purchased from some brew stores, pet stores or equestrian specialty shops.

There is a lot of variation in unmalted barley quality. If possible, you want to choose a barley that is low in protein as high protein will result in cloudy beer. Inspect the grains if possible before buying to look for minimum broken grains, absence of mold or bugs, consistent color and general overall quality.

Steeping the Raw Barley

The first step in home malting is to steep the barley in water to begin the germination process. Start with a large bucket that can handle the grains plus enough water to float all of the grains. Add water until all of the grains are floating, and let the grains sit in the water for 2 hours.

Remove the grains from the water (a strainer is good for this) and let the grains air out and dry for about 8 hours. This step is important as if you leave the grains in the water they will drown and eventually die.

After the grains have dried for about 8 hours, steep them again in a clean batch of water for another two hours, and dry them again for 8 hours. You will likely have to continue this for a third cycle. Within 24 hours of starting, you should see small roots start to grow from the base of the kernel (called chits). Stop your cycles of steeping and drying once you have 95% of the grains germinated.

You should have added approximately 40-45% moisture (water) at this point. Assuming you started the dry grains with ~9-10% moisture content, adding 35% moisture will result in a weight gain as follows: 1 kg of grain has ~100 g of water before steeping. Adding 350g of water (45% water content) results in a total of 1.35kg. So if you started with a given weight of grains, you can stop steeping when the grains weigh 30-35% more than when you started.

Germinating the Grains

The grains must now be germinated in a cool, slightly moist, but well ventilated area to grow the small leaflet inside the grain called an acrospire. This generally takes 2-5 days. The ideal temperature for germination is 64F, or about 18C.

You want to keep the seeds cool, spread them out well and moisten them periodically with a little spray mist. The germination process generates heat, which can lead to bacteria or mold growth so its important to aerate the grains and turn them every few hours in a cool location to avoid infction. Many early malters actually spread the grains on a concrete “malting floor” to keep them cool and make it easy to turn them periodically.

You continue malting until the small leaf (acrospires) within the grain is approximately 80-100% of the length of the grain. Note that the acrospires is inside the grain, so you need to actually split the grain open with a knife or razor blade and look for the white leaf that is part of the endosperm and attached to the rootlets. Typically the external portion of the rootlet will be about 2x the length of the grain when it is finished, but checking the actual acrospire length is the best method to determine when to stop.

Drying the Malt

Drying the malt can be difficult as it requires a steady temperature of between 90-125F (31-50C). Drying at a higher temperature will destroy the enzymes needed for mashing. If you are fortunate enough to have an oven with temperature control that can go this low, then leaving it in the oven for ~24 hours is an excellent way to go. In some cases, even the oven light is sufficient to reach the 90F temperature needed, though it may take some time to finish.

If you live in a sunny dry climate, sun drying is also an option. Some care is needed to keep birds and other small scavengers away, but you can leave it out in the sun for 2 days which should be sufficient to dry the malt.

A third option is to use an actual food dehydrator. Inexpensive home food dehydrators are available for as little as $30-40 and work quite well.

You are targeting a finished moisture content of approximately 10%. Assuming you have not lost much material in the first two steps, this would mean the finished weight of the grains with their rootlets attached should be close to the total weight of the unmalted grains before you started the steeping process. Recall that we started with about 10% moisture content in the original unmalted grains. Therefore you can stop drying when the grains plus rootlets weight are back to approximately their original unmalted weight.

Finishing the Malt

The last step is to separate the dried, malted grains from the rootlets growing out of them. After the grains are sufficiently dry, the rootlets will simply fall off them with a little agitation. You can use a colander or some screen to shake the grains around and separate the dried rootlets. Note this is a bit of a messy process, as the rootlets tend to get on everything, so you might want to do this outside.

At this point you have pale, malted barley equivalent to that which you would normally purchase from your brew supply store. You can crush it and use it just as you would any pale barley base malt.

If you wish to make specialty malts from your pale barley, you can toast the malts in the oven to make varying shades of crystal, toasted, brown malts. For the lightest of crystal type malts, try toasting at 275F for one hour. For a medium crystal, try toasting at 350F for 15-30 minutes. If you toast at 350F for an hour you will come close to a commercial brown malt. You can also get different variants by toasting wet vs dry malts. A wet toasted malt will impart a slightly sweeter toasted flavor.

For more on home malting, her is an article on Bodensatz by Dan Carol which I used when malting on my own for the first time. Geoff Cooper also has a short article on roasting malts.

Thanks again for joining us on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. If you enjoyed today’s article feel free to use the buttons at the top of this article to vote for it or subscribe for regular email or RSS delivery

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{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

thargrav December 7, 2009 at 6:18 am

Great article. And no, I’m not trying to bash you – I believe that everyone should try malting his own grain at least once to understand how the process works.

But the commercial maltsers have gotten their process down to such a science that I don’t believe any of us can get close to their consistency. They control their process all the way out to the farmers, expecting them to grow & deliver grain with a protein content not above a particular percent and an exact moisture content range. Barley that does not meet these standards usually becomes cereal or cooking additives or animal feed.

Dee December 30, 2009 at 12:07 pm

I have a HVLP painting compressor that I use to dry the malt. I attach a garden hose to the compressor and the other end to a plywood disc with holes covered with window screen at the bottom of a 5 gal bucket. The clean compressed air (this is a turbine pump) flows up thru the malt and drys it in no time. You can put an engine block heater in the hose if you want more heat.

Too simple.

brewer February 6, 2010 at 11:02 am

Thought others might like this.

http://www.ehow.com/how_5956849_malt-barley.html

jay November 7, 2010 at 8:06 pm

Given my knowledge of the cereal grain growing system, the best place to purchase your grain is at a seed plant. Basically a seed selling company that sells to the farmers. The variety of grain is certified, and it is cleaned better than feed grain. They will know exactly which of the many varieties of barley are best suited for malting. They also size the grain so it is uniform and give a percentage of germination and timeline. The price is a little more than feed, but we are still talking about 10 to 12 dollars for fifty pounds.

Brad Smith November 7, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Jay,
Thanks for the info – I appreciate the great tip on getting grains from seed plants!

Brad

Yanqui Mike February 17, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Keep the comments comin´, guys! This is all excellent stuff.

I´ve tried my hand at malting before a couple times and have failed …but that´s not going to stop me. Success teaches you nothing.

Down here in Argentina, I have excellent access to beer barley (cebada cervecera) from “seed plants” that service all the giant breweries here. Malt extract here is all imported and the price is prohibitive. Barley malt is much more inexpensive. Malting your own is the key to free beer.

We need to learn how to do this.

When you malt your own barley, you are your own man.

It´s the next logical extention. I aspire to be a maltster.

Please keep helping.

Yanqui Mike
http://www.yanquimike.com.ar
011 -54 -9 -11 -3803 -7099 (cel)
312-235-2241 (VoIP)
yanquimike (skype)

Brad Smith February 18, 2011 at 9:40 am

Thanks!
Best wishes to you and thank you for the kind comments.

Brad

William February 19, 2011 at 11:03 am

If say someone is out of work and they can start brewing as soon as their malt is finished germination could he skip the drying step (except for specialty malt toasting for an hour or so in the oven) and go straight to brewing?

Brad Smith February 21, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Hi,
No – you actually can’t skip the drying step. It is important to reduce the amount of water in the malt before you brew with it.

Brad

dustin Busby March 25, 2011 at 2:13 pm

I malted my barley and it sprouted a lot faster than i thought and some of it sprouted a little to far. I dried it and then roasted it at 225 for a few hours. The only thing is it is Six row and ends up cloudy do you have any suggestions on keeping it from clouding ???

Richie Giannone March 26, 2011 at 5:48 am

Check this cool video out regarding the subject at hand. I’m in the process of trying this out right now. Wish me luck!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HauYECAEQ8I

Brian June 2, 2011 at 2:51 am

“Start with a large bucket that can handle the grains plus enough water to float all of the grains.”
just a tip only the bad grains will float to the top witch must be removed, the good grains will sink to the bottom.

TY August 1, 2011 at 6:41 pm

If you going to buy barley from a seed supplier, make sure it is UNTREATED! Unless you want to be poisoned…

Robin August 23, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Thanks for the article, I just bought 3000 pounds of Metcalfe barley to feed my milk goats (almost a years supply at the rate I’m feeding) and I thought I might attempt a little homebrew with it. (The low protein makes it better for homebrew than for goat feed.) I’ve never done all grain just partial. The barley looks good and should be appropriate though because the farmer sell to Coors and Miller. I got it for 10 cents a pound which is what it’s going for on the commodity exchanges right now so pretty damn good deal. Can’t beat commercial brewery prices :)

I took my dads dump truck out with two bean boxes (large steel containers that hold about 1500 pounds of barley each) and he filled them strait out of his combine. I can’t find a single image of a bean box on google which I find quite strange as they’re used quite a bit in southern Idaho. My wife, daughter, and I got to ride with him in the combine for a couple passes which was awesome. Those things are so fancy it makes you feel like you’re in the future.

Heidi October 13, 2011 at 3:05 pm

I am only a few steps away from making my first beer from scratch. I know, the ‘few’ steps may turn into many paths wandered, lost, and revisited, but at least I have already a lot of experience sprouting grains!

Mike December 28, 2011 at 12:26 am

How long do the malted hops keep for and is there a recommended storage technique?

Mike December 28, 2011 at 12:26 am

Also is the technique the same for barley?

Jeff January 12, 2012 at 1:49 pm

hey Brad,
Great article thanks for the info and clear steps. While I agree that commercially this is done to such precision that a home malter wont be able to come close, I am still going to give it a try. I recently started growing my own barley and other grains in very small batches, (even going to try hops) just so that I can drink a glass of beer knowing that I made everything in it. So even if I lose half of my grains to poor malting, It will still be worth it.

Thanks,
Jeff

lovenit March 17, 2012 at 4:02 pm

I have malted alot of feed barley.I can never get the same resaults twice.I have some made some of the best beers I have ever tasted then the next time they are not so good.I think the most important part is make sure you get all the rootlets out.Also make sure you don’t have any mold in you malted grain.I figure I can make 5 gallons of beer for under $5.00.My beer is incredible about 80% of the time.Your can get a rich taste with some of these feed type barleys that you can’t get with the malting varieties.

Ziggy May 5, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Brad,
Thanks for following up on the question about skipping the drying step, and going straight to mashing. I was somewhat confused by your answer though. Why is it important to reduce the water content in the malt when the next thing you are going to do is soak it in water during mashing?

Brad Smith May 9, 2012 at 8:00 am

You have to dry the malt for storage. If you left it wet for any length of time it would spoil. Now if you did a mash immediately you could probably cut out the drying time if working with simple pale malt. Obviously any specialty malt must be kilned or roasted to develop flavor.

Dave July 19, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Seems like you might also have trouble getting the rootlets to fall out if you don’t dry it – wouldn’t you?

Kola July 20, 2012 at 2:25 am

Regarding drying the malt before use, the spoilage issues are perhaps the most important reasons, as ecplained by Brad. Thus, the reduced moisture level ensures greater shelf stability. Beyond the storage imperatives, that is, even if you are not going to store the grains for any length of time, you still need to dry and kiln the grains in order to develop the rich malty flavor and aroma. Otherwise the undried malt will have a grassy aroma/flavor. Addittionally, the wet malt may not mill properly, as it may tend to be gummy. On the other hand, the freshly malted, wet, barley grains may contain a higher level of enzymes, as some of those original enzymes are destroyed by the drying and kilning heat. Hope that helps.

Kola.

SDbrewer August 30, 2012 at 10:46 am

Have malted numerous batches of barley. This time it appears to have stalled with acrospire at approximately 1/2 the length of the grain. Any ideas what may have caused the modification process to stop? I question the moisture, but did the same procedure as previous batches.

Brad Smith September 6, 2012 at 4:17 pm

I really don’t know – usually if you give it sufficient moisture it will continue to grow.

Barry September 27, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Thanks for the great article. I’ve been thinking about putting in a quarter acre or so of barley, and maybe eventually some wheat and oats to increase my overall options. Any thoughts about varieties of 2 row and 6 row I should be looking at?

Brian Sal September 30, 2012 at 8:13 am

Great article and forum guys and gals, I have malted lots of Barley in the last 12 months. I steep the grains in stainless steel colanders, inside stainless steel bowls.
I take them out and steep them usually 3 times, at that point the little rootlets are starting to protrude from the colander. I grow the seeds until all of them have a leaf inside, (you need to split the seed to see this), and this is usually when the roots are twice the size of the seed.
I warm the seeds in an oven tray in the oven for 3 or 4 hours just warming them to 50deg c, turning the oven off and on to ensure this low temp. After this the roots and sprouts are dried out, so I transfer them to an old clothes drier where they shed their roots and sprouts. The result is a malt high in carb and low in protein, which is what you want to make good booze, cheers Brian….

Dillon October 27, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Where do you buy the barley from? Is there a website that you can buy that from?

Brad Smith November 8, 2012 at 2:29 pm

As the article says unmalted barley is often sold in bulk at feed stores where you buy grains to feed animals. You do need to take some care to get good quality though, as not all of it has been stored properly.

Tim Westemeyer November 22, 2012 at 10:43 pm

I get my barley from Albert Lea Seed in Albert Lea, minnesota. http://www.alseed.com Good grain and clean. Conlon seed comes from North Dakota and is being used by many brewers. Give it a shot…

Mohan April 20, 2013 at 10:10 am

Having malted barley , dried and removed the rootlets, how do you get rid of the hulls before mashing ?

Brad Smith April 22, 2013 at 5:10 pm

If you are talking about the grain hull, you just crush the grains and leave the hulls in the mash. They help filter the wort when sparging.

jerry smith June 7, 2013 at 11:37 am

hello i am a farmer and i love beer and wine .i make lots of wine and i wanted to make beer from scratch .its alot harder than wine .anyway about the barley there is feed and beer barley they look the same on the outside but the proteins are different now you know

Yanqui Mike June 25, 2013 at 3:59 pm

BeerSmith Rocks!

Hey, guys …can you give me an opinion on this:

http://youtu.be/uXTfuMXehbs

Here´s my question: how different is this homemade grain dryer from a malting floor …if I were to add a hand-held laser thermometer?

I live completely off the grid on a place that looks just like this video. I have access to TONS of some of the best beer barley in the world, it comes in 100 lb sacks with the name of the destination brewery already printed on it.

I can sprout the grains with no problem (I´ve done it before.)

I´d like to put in a brewing operation for me and my friends …we drink lots of beer …AND I´d like to do it on a large homebrew scale.

This tremendous beer barley right from the grain elevator is almost free. If I can malt my own barley, I can make beer almost free.

The trouble is that I don´t have any electricity and propane is expensive …AND I´d like to malt the barley on a rather large scale so I don´t have to do it terribly often.

I´ve got LOTS of room and lots of wood and all the junk I would need to build a contraption just like in this video.

Since I don´t like to go into town very often (I´m 200 miles from the nearest big city with beer making supplies,) I´d like to malt barley with plenty of enzyme to enhance my fermentables. If I want to toast some of it a bit more for different characters, this rig should allow me to do so …I think!

I realize that kilning is not exactly drying …but how different is it?

The rig in the video looks like a small malting floor …and that is exactly what I need.

Please gimme yer thoughts …and CHEERS!
Mike

Yanqui Mike July 2, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Here’s a great primitive overview of malting barley from the great 1976 book, The Complete Guide to Self-Sufficiency, by John Seymour. http://www.yanquimike.com.ar/maltingbarley.pdf He suggests kilning over a perforated something or other …over a fire. I would imagine that would impart at least a little smokiness to the malt no matter how light. Whadda you guys think¿

Yanqui Mike July 2, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Sorry to bother but …something else just occurred to me regarding making beer from your own malt: “Let´s say, if you were ready to make beer …and, at the same moment, your malt was ready for kilning …could you put the unkilned malt directly into the mash?”

The reason I ask is: I´m very concerned with conserving as much of the enzyme as possible.

It seems to me that kilning the malt is to stop it from sprouting more …and to preserve it by drying.

I imagine that this would be the palest malt on earth! But the most enzymatic. I´m sure that I would kiln a good amount to a darker more caramelized state to add to the fresh green unmalted pale malt …simply to add character. But I wouldn´t have to worry that my mash lacked in enzyme.

Am I worrying TOO much about sufficient enzyme in my malt in my mash? I am really, really off the grid and, as such, I won´t always have access to buying enzyme powder.

Please give me your thoughts on this …whether or not you have ever malted your own barley.

Thanks,
Mike

Gerry August 30, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Uniformity, during germination.

Hi Guys … I have a couple of questions around germination.

I am trying to find a good description on germinating temperatures. What is the best temperature which will bring about mass UNIFORM germination in a batch of barley seed. I am using the sabastian 2 row variety with a protien % of 11.6 ?

Any batch i have tried to date results in a product with a variance of
- small chits emerging
- large rootlets with no leaf
- to large roots and the leaf emerging.

Does every one have this problem ? How do you get uniformity ?

What is seed-dormancy ?

Gerry August 31, 2013 at 5:12 am

During germination of a small batch in the kitchen. How do you control uniformity of roots in a batch. ?

billy October 9, 2013 at 10:19 am

love beer

Glory November 5, 2013 at 9:22 am

I’m thinking of trying this. I think just simply using the sprouter that I use to sprout grains and seeds anyway would work. Thanks for the information.

Bill December 16, 2013 at 4:16 am

Great article!

I’ve been malting feed barley and corn, along with store-bought wheat and rye for a while now. It’s 90 °F inside here in the summer, and they all sprout OK. Winter is better for barely because it’s cooler. But it’ll sprout when it’s hot too. You just have to stir and air it out more to keep it from cooking. Corn gets really hot when it sprouts. I tried sprouting some in an ice chest once and I couldn’t hardly put my hand in it. That’s why you spread out the grains when they are sprouting. Just to keep them from cooking.

I’m not sure if anyone can use this info, but here’s how I do my malting.

I can’t say it is the easiest way, but I just put the feed barley, or any other grain, in a big bedsheet and then soak it in the kitchen sink for a few hours. You can usually do 20 lbs of grain in a regular sink. I suppose you could do it in the bathtub too. After a couple of hours, it will soak up the water. Then, if you have a double sink, just move it over to the empty sink and drain it for a while. Soak and drain two or three times until it feels about one and a half times as heavy as it did when it was dry, then put the sheet on the kitchen floor (or in the garage, back patio, roof, wherever there is room) and spread the grain out on the sheet. Spread it in a layer about 1 to 3 inches thick if you can. But it’s OK if it’s a little thicker or thinner. Fold the ends of the sheet over to cover the grain and wait. After a day or so, there should be tiny white roots sprouting.

Stir the grain when you can. It’s easy to stir the grains by just lifting the corners of the sheet to make a big hobo pouch of the grains and roll it around. Then spread it back somewhat thin before folding the ends over. Do that whenever you get a chance, especially if the grain starts to get hot. I do it every 2-8 hours or so. If the grains are too dry, pour some water over them and stir with your hands. It’s really dry and hot here, so I add about a quart of water over them every day when it’s summertime. After 3-5 days, there should be lots of roots and the white stalk, under the husk, will have grown to about half the length of the kernel. If it is growing fast, it will have grown the total length of the kernel. You can see the stalk if you split the kernel open. I check a few and if they are between half and the full length of the kernel, I figure it is time to dry it out.

If you forget to check for a day and then you see the stalk coming out of a lot of the grains, you can still use it. By then, there isn’t much starch left to be made into sugar, but there are a lot of enzymes to change other starches to sugar. So, if it went too far, just add some boiled potatoes or rice or some cooked starchy thing when you do your mash. You can get sugar from that instead, and it will make OK beer.

Some of the green malt can be put in the oven at 150 °F, or so, for about an hour to dry it some, then baked at about 300 °F for another hour and a half or until it is golden brown (stirring every once in a while). This will turn the starches to sugar and make it a sweeter malt. But it won’t help convert other malt into sugar when you mash. It’s like crystal malt.

To dry the grain, I put two large plastic storage bins side by side. They are facing up, like normal. Then I put a window screen over the top of both them. Then I spread the malt on the screen and lay a box fan right on top of them facing down. I put half the fan over one bin and the other half over the other. That way, when I turn the fan on, the air blows through the malt down into the empty bins then flows back up towrd the malt again. I turn the fan on high for a couple of days to dry the grains and stir it whenever I get around to it. This seems ot be an easy way to dry the malt. And you don’t need a heater to do it, even when it is cold.

I don’t do anything to get the roots off. I guess there is a good reason for doing that, but after baking the malt, there really doesn’t seem to be many roots left anyway.

After drying the malt, I usually put it in the oven around 160-200 °F for a few hours to get it really dry. It can take up to 5 hours to get it really dry. It’s crunchy and tastes OK when you chew on it.

After roasting, I crack it in a hand crank corn grinder. They are about $20-40 at the sporting goods store. But, instead of the crank, I put a large bolt in the shaft and use a hand drill to turn it. It takes about 10 min to grind 20 lbs of malt. After that, I put it in a bin and use it when my beer keg is getting low.

A person can easily turn out about 20 lbs of malt in a week this way. With 15 lbs in a mash, I get about 1.040 OG on 5 gal from whatever feed barley is available. This may be low yield on the malting and mashing, and the beer may be a little cloudy unless it’s aged, but it gives 5-6 %ABV. At $10/50 lb bag. it comes to about 8 cents per 12 oz beer. Not too bad from feed grain.

Annie1948 May 3, 2014 at 5:09 am

When you say “steep” are you taking about HOT water or cold, cool, warm, or what? The article doesn’t really say. Also, what should I ask for, at the seed plant, when I want Barley seed to boil, swell, and EAT, or… if I want to SPROUT it to eat?

dee June 25, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Hi Annie1948, Steeping water temperature should be between 18 -22C and no more than 28C

Ed Ortman June 26, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Large quantity….50# to 100#….lol…… I commonly buy in 3 to 5 ton quantities for my winter grain for livestock. I bought 8 tons last year for feeding 15 hogs from 50# weeners to 325# pound slaughter hogs. Buying in bulk….. what I consider to be in the measure of tons, is much cheaper, I can get wheat and barley for around $200 to $250 a ton, oats at around $175 a ton. Usually I get it for ani9mal feed and to make our own stone ground flour, but now am getting into malting for beer making as well.

I guess for someone who owns a farm “bulk” has a bit of a different definition….

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