Industry All Access Exclusive

Dialing It in: Making the Case for a Malt Sensory Program

Independent brewers are prolific consumers of malt, increasingly nudging growers and maltsters into more characterful varieties. What’s lacking is wider adoption of programs that can evaluate and analyze that character—and then communicate it to drinkers.

Ben Keene Jun 3, 2021 - 12 min read

Dialing It in: Making the Case for a Malt Sensory Program Primary Image

Photo: Courtesy Tröegs Independent Brewing

Mention a trip to Yakima or the Willamette Valley, and a brewer’s eyes will light up. There’s a certain romance to hop selection—walking the field, plucking plump cones from the bines, rubbing cuts of exciting new varieties. Sampling experimental hops has the power to inspire new recipes, potentially ending up in a future flagship pale ale or IPA. As breeding programs have accelerated their research and development, the beer industry has gained a common vocabulary for describing hop aromas and flavors.

Malt, on the other hand, hasn’t enjoyed the same limelight—and that affects how both brewers and drinkers think and talk about this foundational ingredient.

For years, the industry favored malt that had a relatively low flavor impact on beer, driven by the uniform needs of the largest breweries. Breeders and growers concentrated on agronomic targets such as yield and disease resistance, while maltsters focused on flavor stability, favoring barley varieties with more diastatic power and free amino nitrogen that were easier to modify. Depth and diversity of flavor were not the goal.

Access All of the Brewing Industry Guide

Subscribe today to access all of the in-depth brewing stories & advice you won't find anywhere else (including this article). Subscription includes unlimited access to every brewing report, brewing course (60+), article, video (55+), magazine issue (40+), and more.

Author of The Great Northeast Brewery Tour, a contributor to The Oxford Companion to Beer, and former editor of BeerAdvocate, Ben Keene has judged beer competitions across the US and has spoken at industry conferences and conventions. He lives in Seattle.