Every year right about now we are furiously testing the multitudes of barley samples that show up at our Gladfield malting facility. Param, our laboratory manager has her work cut out keeping the data in front of Caleb (our production manager) and myself as we select which lines of barley we will except in for delivery from our 150 plus contracted growers.
It’s not as simple as it sounds because of a natural phenomenon of barley called Dormancy. Dormancy is the ability of the matured grain to resist germination despite given the required stimulation of moisture, warmth and aeration to start growing.
The barley is finally harvested and looking beautiful, but we can’t start malting it yet! This is frustrating, it is a bit like being engaged before you get married, in other words, you’ve got yourself a nice horse, but you’re not allowed to ride it!
Dormancy is important as it stops the grain from prematurely germinating in the field once it has ripened during times of wet weather before the farmer has had time to harvest and store it.
Dormancy disappears or breaks over time. Each year the length of Dormancy is different from the year before. It can take as long as a few weeks or a few months.
We test the dormancy by carrying out a water sensitivity test in Petri dishes with 8ml and 4ml water samples over 72 hours. The number of grains that germinate is counted and recorded every 24 hrs. These tests are carried out repeatedly until the two counts between 4ml and 8ml samples become similar. This tells us that the line of barley sampled can begin the malting process and is no longer water sensitive (or otherwise known as) no longer dormant.
This year the Dormancy is short mainly because of high temperatures during harvesting and dry conditions. But every line from every individual grower is different and still needs to be tested. A requirement this year has been to cool the barley quickly once it reaches storage by blowing large volumes of cool air through it. Failure to cool the grain causes sweating in the silo creating off flavours, mouldy aromas, reduced germination and graininess in the beer.
The downside of Dormancy for the maltster is that we have to carry large amounts of barley stock on hand from year to year and it is always a juggling act to make sure we don’t run out before the new season’s barley is ready to malt. However the bit I love the most is the pressure of having to quickly learn how the new season’s barley will malt and adjusting our process accordingly to make sure you, the customer continues to have the same high quality and consistent malt as we change over to a new vintage. We strive to make your job of brewing easy.
That’s what makes us a true craft malting company. We have years of experience backed up by a modern professional laboratory, high-tech malting equipment and a passion like no other which allows us to make truly high-quality, crafted malt for the discerning Brewer and Distiller.
We love our trade, and we love pleasing our customers ………..This week we finally get to ride the horse as the first batch of new season’s barley is going through the plant, Yee-Haw! This is what we live for.