How do you make malted barley taste like breakfast cereal, chocolate or coffee? You might be surprised by the answer.
“We’re not adding any of those flavours, it’s just time and temperature,” says Matt Hamill of Red Shed Malting. The custom-made malt plant in Red Deer County, Alberta, produces five tons of local, traceable, specialty malts per week for breweries, distilleries and homebrewers.
Matt, alongside his brother, Joe, have quickly become experts in their craft with the help of resources from far and wide.
According to Hamill, the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre (CMBTC) is the place to learn about everything to do with malting. “On the roasting side, it's a little bit more challenging to find information. We did lots of reading, lots of online research, and spent a good bit of time learning from people that roast coffee,” he says.
The brothers travelled to Turkey and spent time learning about the roasting process from Toper, makers of coffee roasters. They came home with two new pieces of equipment – a big malt roaster, which can produce up to 120 kg per batch, and a little coffee roaster that produces one kilogram per batch. “It's not designed for malt, but it allows us to dial in some recipes and do some experimentation,” Hamill says.
Back in Alberta, they visited Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters and gleaned even more information. So how does roasting coffee compare to roasting malt?
“My humourous answer is that roasting coffee’s a lot more lucrative,” Hamill laughs. “Even though it’s similar equipment, the price difference between green beans and roasted coffee can be as much as 10 dollars a pound, whereas the difference between what we charge for our base malts versus our roasted malts is about 50 cents a pound.”
The time differs significantly, too. Malt will take between one and three hours, whereas coffee takes eight to 12 minutes.
Developing different flavours
Time is a key factor in developing different flavours of malt. Processing base malts in the roaster is how specialty malts are created. Most beers are a combination of both. “Eighty-twenty is a normal breakdown,” Hamill says. “In general, base malt is providing the sugar and the enzymes that will get fermented into alcohol. Specialty malts provide a different flavour or add some colour to the beer.”
Joe Hamill explains how their popular biscuit specialty malt was developed: “We knew it would be a light roast to add the toasted cereal flavour, since we are starting with the base malt that has some sweetness already. I didn't want to leave it too long to lose some of the sweetness. Then we watched it until we reached the balance of colour and flavour we wanted.”
Red Shed’s speciality malts give them an opportunity to differentiate from other maltsters. Before the Hammills got into the business, brewers would have to import virtually all of their specialty malts from overseas.
Their base malt also sets them apart. “We make each of the base malts specific to that variety of barley,” Hamill says. For example, they have an AAC Synergy-based malt. “We just want that variety and the flavour attributes that come from it to shine through.”
Traceability back to the farm
Hamill takes pride in the fact that the majority of Red Shed’s barley is sourced from the family’s fourth-generation farm. Their home-grown base malts provide traceability that is unparalleled in the industry; they can provide customers with specs on the farmer, field and variety of the malt.
“We're really big about traceability on our malts,” he says. “Every bag of malt that we sell has a little tag at the bottom and it tells you the quarter section of land that it was grown on.”
It’s clear the Hamill family is very proud and committed to providing craft brewers with the ability to use Canadian-only malt in their recipes, and to helping them achieve the flavour profiles they – and their customers – crave.