Chewing on malt is a decent way to get a first impression of malt flavor, but the astringent husk and starchy endosperm can distract you from what flavors will actually show up in your beer.
Last year, Briess came out with a malt sensory method that has become increasingly important to maltsters and brewers alike to get a more accurate picture of malt flavor contributions. And it’s still fast and cheap enough for someone to pull off at home.
Briess calls their in-home version the Hot Steep Method, and it is really just that. You mill your malt, heat up your distilled water, and combine them in your Thermos for a 15 minute steep. Then pour them through the filter/funnel and end up with some sweet sweet wort.
We tried this test with a comparison of Maris Otter malt from both Warminster and Crisp, as well as a Golden Promise and Briess 2-row malt. We were impressed at how unique the flavors were in each jar of simple sugar water, and how different from the taste of the kernels.
Besides being a cool experiment, the malt sensory method is a really important step in our understanding and articulating of malt flavors.
While researching our Maris Otter article, we were struck by how many brewers could only describe the flavor of Maris Otter as more malty than the rest. What if we only described beer by its level of beeriness?
Thankfully a new lexicon of malt descriptors is coming together to help you form that word on the tip of your tongue. For example, this spider web diagram shows the spectrum of flavors in Briess’ caramel rye malt.
The major industry organization for craft malthouses, the Craft Maltsters Guild, has even set up a Malt Sensory Ambassador program to help train brewers in these methods. You can fill out the contact form in the link above or reach out to one of these ambassadors near you to potentially set up a training.