Experimentation is much of the appeal of brewing, and methods of integrating alternative ingredients such as spices or assorted sugars into a recipe are fairly clear cut. Unmalted grains, on the other hand, are a bit more complicated, and are essentially useless handled incorrectly.
Mashing is the fundamental brewing process whereby grain starches are converted to fermentable sugars by enzymes (amylase) contained in malt. It is nothing more than crushed grain mixed with water and held at 150 degrees F (give or take) for one hour. Since unmalted grain (either raw or flaked) contains none of the magical enzymes, they must be used in conjunction with malted grain, typically barley.
Some consider it heresy to use many unmalted grains, given the negative connotation attached to the word “adjunct,” specifically the notion that the sole function of adjunct grains is to make lighter, cheaper beer. On the contrary, these additions can enrich beer in many ways through flavor and effect, and brewers must consider both the type (wheat, corn, rice, etc) and form (raw, flaked or torrified) when using them.
This column is geared towards partial or full-mash brewers, since steeping these alternative grains for extract brewing, as one would specialty grains, will contribute only unwelcomed, insoluble starch. The objective is to render them fermentable, and take advantage of auxiliary characteristics, like head and body augmentation.
Perhaps this information will serve to demystify non-malted grains, however unusual, and provide a little impetus to those who want to delve into some experimentation with classic or indigenous beer styles.