When water was turned into wine, it was considered a miracle. Your favorite Beer of the Month Club knows making beer from barley is equally amazing! A harvest of golden grain barley produces beer only as a result of profound and natural chemical reactions guided by skilled maltsters and brewers.
Cereal like barley and wheat developed from tall grass. Barley is unusual because it has a husk. Early brewers soon found this husk acted as a natural filter in the brewing process. Other cereals, like wheat, have no husk and can clog up pipes and machinery in the brewing vessels. And, barley has the highest “extract” of fermentable sugars, producing a cleaner-tasting beer.
The two most commonly used forms of barley are two- and six-row, so named for the number of rows of kernels that are visible from the top of the stalk. Two-row is generally used for ales, six-row for lagers.
Barley is grown wherever other grains are grown – in cool regions such as our Pacific Northwest, Canada, Bavaria, Britain, Ireland and Tasmania. The finest two-row, known as “maritime barley” grows close to the sea in rich, dark soil. Ale brewers prefer winter barleys – sown in the autumn and able to withstand frost and snow – for their robust character; while lager brewers use spring varieties, which possess softer, lighter qualities.
The first step of beer brewing is malting the raw barley, a process that converts the starchy insides of the kernel into soluble sugars, accomplished by stimulating the natural germination process with moisture. Most often, professional maltsters do the processing, and sell the malt to the breweries.
To recap: If you crush grapes, nature can make wine. If you crush barley, absolutely nothing happens! It takes the gentle skill of the maltster to transform raw grain into malt. Beer-making is an art, as well as a science.