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Taking Malt for a Test Drive: Pilot Kits Help Maltsters Show Brewers What’s Possible

It’s not standard equipment in every malthouse, but many maltsters large and small are using their own pilot breweries to test, demonstrate, and help customers get the best possible malt for their needs.

Ben Keene Jul 6, 2021 - 12 min read

Taking Malt for a Test Drive: Pilot Kits Help Maltsters Show Brewers What’s Possible Primary Image

Pioneering brewer Teri Fahrendorf manages Great Western’s Malt Innovation Center and brews test batches on its pilot kit. Photo: Courtesy Great Western Malting.

When it comes to malt color and flavor, sensory tests are a good way to get an idea about the character of a given variety. In particular, the hot steep method has gradually won over a growing number of brewers due to its simplicity, affordability, and effectiveness.

Yet, at the end of the day, there’s no substitute for tasting how malt expresses itself in a finished beer. Sure, your senses know what to expect from the base malt in your core beers—but what if you want to try something different, or what if supply-chain issues force your hand? What if you want to brew with a regional heirloom grain or a new specialty malt that sounds intriguing?

Would you rely on a Certificate of Analysis (COA)? A sensory test? Another brewer’s recommendation?

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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.