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Malt Insider: Mining the Might of a Magical Mold

Could koji malt open new doors to flavor for creative brewers? Some researchers and a few breweries already are tinkering with the versatile molds responsible for sake, shōchū, and more.

Ben Keene Nov 28, 2022 - 13 min read

Malt Insider: Mining the Might of a Magical Mold Primary Image

Image: Courtesy Aline Brito

Inspiration can come from unexpected places. For Aline Brito, a doctoral student in food technology at Brazil’s State University of Campinas, inspiration came from a blog post by a famous Danish restaurant.

Late in 2019, Brito was taking a course on fermented foods and drinks in Asia. Hunting for more information online, she stumbled across a homebrewing forum with a discussion about making beer with koji—a fungus commonly used to saccharify rice for the production of sake and shōchū.

“It immediately got my attention,” Brito says. “Digging deeper, I found the Nordic Food Lab website, where the chefs at Noma restaurant in Copenhagen maintained a detailed record of their experiments. They had roasted barley koji, achieving some exciting flavor notes. That blew my mind with possibilities.”

In search of a source of inspiration for her doctoral project, Brito landed on the idea of kilning koji malts at different temperatures to accelerate the malting process and potentially produce new flavors. While traditional malting typically takes five to seven days, koji-malting takes only three: two for growing koji, and one for kilning. Plus, Brito says, she’s found that it requires less water than traditional malting, which could be appealing for environmental reasons.

Her intention was to start with barley and eventually expand to other grains and starches.

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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.