Scroll Down

In mid-April, malt fans abroad were introduced to the groundbreaking collaboration between Crisp Malt, the proprietor of historic floor maltings in Norfolk, England, and Admiral Maltings, an artisanal malthouse in Alameda, California. This international partnership’s first leg revolves around the journey of Hȧna barley as it traversed an ocean to be floor-malted in California. Now we dive deeper into the malting process at Admiral Maltings and explore the sensory and quality characteristics of the resulting malt.

On the Floor at Admiral Maltings

Curtis Davenport, head maltster at Admiral, had the honor of overseeing the malting process of this well-traveled barley. Admiral’s facility is designed for traditional floor malting but with a modern twist featuring glycol-chilled floors to keep the grain bed cool during germination. Their malthouse provided a unique environment to showcase the characteristics of this heritage grain.

“We followed Crisp’s steeping protocol pretty closely,” Davenport explained. “But for germination, we did an extra day, a total of six days instead of our usual five.” This extended germination allowed the Hȧna barley, which is slower to modify due to its heirloom genetics, to develop the desired characteristics without over-modification.

In the kiln, Admiral Maltings applied a “low and slow approach” gradually raising the temperature to 185°F (85°C) over 3 hours and then maintaining this temperature throughout the rest of their 24-hour total kilning period. Davenport noted that kilning in this fashion creates a more pronounced crackery note in the final malt and drives off any undesirable DMS (dimethyl sulfide) precursors, which are considered an off-flavor in malt. This kilning process, shorter than Crisp’s 48-hour cycle, resulted in a malt that balanced old-world character with new-world techniques.

Davenport pointed out that the Hȧna barley had a distinctly aromatic quality after steeping. “I feel like barleys are most aromatic when they leave the steep tank,” he said. “Different lots, even of the same variety, often have a signature aroma. The Hȧna had an especially kind of floral fragrance, which was cool.”

Despite the challenges of working with a new grain, the malting process proceeded smoothly, a testament to the skill and adaptability of Admiral’s team. Davenport attributes this success in large part to the open communication and collaboration from Crisp Malt’s team throughout the project.

Sensory Properties of the Malt

To evaluate the sensory profile of the Admiral-malted Hȧna barley, Tim Decker, Admiral Maltings’ sales and marketing director, conducted a blind tasting using the ASBC Hot Steep method. Decker was joined by industry professionals and certified beer experts to conduct the sensory evaluation.

The hot steep method is a simple, easy, and consistent method to extract and evaluate flavors, aromas, mouthfeel, and colors from malt that could translate into full brews of beer. The basic steps of the hot steep are to mill the malt, steep it in hot water, filter out any solids, and finally evaluate the liquid with sensory. Designed to be repeatable and accomplished with basic equipment, the method is used by brewers and maltsters to compare malts when selecting brewing raw materials for recipes, among other uses.

“For this unique batch of Hȧna, we wanted to make sure that our analysis was done blind so that we could, to the best of our ability, eliminate bias or preconceived ideas about what the hot steep would taste like,” he said. To that effect, three hot steeps were conducted: one of Admiral Pils, one of Admiral Felblume, and one of the Hȧna collaboration malt.

Decker described the Hȧna malt sensory characteristics as “bready, doughy, and reminiscent of dried hay.” Compared to Admiral’s flagship Pils malt, which tends to be more floral, and their Feldblume malt, with its bread crust character, the Hȧna malt stood out with its medium body and balanced sweetness. The earthy and grassy notes, while not unexpected, added depth to the malt’s profile.

“Hȧna is an old variety that lends a classic European lager character that can be hard to find in North American grown barleys,” said Decker. “Admiral works carefully with varieties that grow well in our region and we feel like we can obtain some of that classic Pils malt character through our floor malting.”

With that in mind, Decker noted, the Admiral team was excited to see how their malting process would perform when applied to a classic European heirloom barley variety. “Each malthouse creates house flavors based on the microbiome in the building and choices made by the maltster,” he said. “This batch of Hȧna provided an incredible opportunity to see how Admiral’s malting process changes the flavors in the finished product and how our locally grown new world barley compares to old world varieties.”

A Quality Comparison with UK-Malted Hȧna

After malting, samples of Admiral-malted Hȧna were sent to Hartwick College’s Center for Craft Food and Beverage for quality testing. The resulting malt certificate of analysis (CoA) revealed a relatively modest extract of 77.9% (coarse grind, dry basis) and a color of 1.46 SRM, reflecting the malt’s light hue. The beta-glucan content of 446 mg/L, higher than modern malts, indicated the need for a more attentive mashing process, such as a step or decoction mash, to fully realize the malt’s potential.

Crisp Malt’s technical director, David Griggs indicated that the CoA reveals a quality not too dissimilar to that of malt produced from a modern malting barley variety, considering that Hȧna is a landrace selection made back in the middle of the 1800’s not the result of deliberate crossbreeding to produce a superior genotype.

“Hȧna has less extract available than the modern-day malts that brewers are familiar with, delivering a low color and a moderate level of protein modification,” said Griggs. “The β-glucan content is higher than would be expected from a modern-day malt, but the overall level of modification is manageable through a temperature programmed or decoction mash.”

Comparing the California-malted Hȧna to its UK counterpart, Griggs noted, “When we have malted the same batch of Hȧna barley on our floor maltings, we have achieved very similar results,” underlining the consistency of the barley’s character across different malting environments.

While a side-by-side hot steep comparison was not feasible at the time, Decker explained initial impressions from chewing the Admiral and Crisp-malted version of Hȧna malt at the 2024 Craft Brewers Conference suggested that the UK-malted Hȧna had more bread and dough notes, while the California version leaned towards cracker and dry straw characteristics. These subtle differences likely stemmed from variations in malting techniques and local environmental factors.

Griggs emphasized that the Hȧna malt’s strength lies in its suitability for classic lager styles such as Pilsner, Kolsch, or Helles. “The modern-day brewer who may only be able to perform isothermal infusion mashing might appreciate the beta-glucan content being a little lower,” he added, acknowledging the practical considerations for contemporary brewing practices.

Next: What’s Brewing?

The collaboration between Crisp Malt and Admiral Maltings has yielded a fascinating exploration of Hȧna barley’s potential. Through the lens of traditional floor malting techniques, both maltsters have the opportunity to showcase the unique characteristics of this heritage grain, offering brewers a glimpse into flavors of the past.

As brewers begin to experiment with the Admiral-malted Hȧna barley, North American beer enthusiasts can look forward to tasting the results of this transatlantic partnership. The malt’s distinctive sensory profile, with its bready, earthy notes and balanced sweetness, promises to add depth and character to a range of beer styles, particularly classic lagers.

Beer drinkers eager to taste the results of this transatlantic malting collaboration won’t have to wait long. On June 29th, Admiral Maltings will host the “It’s the Malt! – Craft Malt Festival,” showcasing over a dozen beers brewed with the Admiral-malted Hȧna barley. This malt-focused beer festival will provide a unique opportunity for craft beer lovers to experience the impact of this special malt on a variety of beer styles, all while celebrating the artistry and innovation of the brewing and malting communities. Don’t miss this chance to be among the first to savor the fruits of this historic partnership. Tickets are available here.

Stay tuned for future updates on this ongoing collaboration, as we follow the journey of the Hȧna malt from the malthouse to the breweries and, ultimately, to the glasses of discerning beer lovers.

About the Author

Jesse Bussard is a writer and a marketing communications professional based in central Pennsylvania. Through their business, Cowpunch Creative, they collaborate with agricultural and craft food and beverage brands, adding the punch they need to stand out.

Find out more about Jesse Bussard here.

Read More
View All

Back to top