Simcoe, Citra and Mosaic are names beer enthusiasts are likely to know as the hops that flavor some of the most popular IPAs today.
But what about Ballad, Encore or Moonlight Serenade? If Chris Schooley has his way, those malt names will be just as likely to be uttered alongside a list of ingredients that add fruit and pine flavors to beer. Schooley, owner of Troubadour Maltings in Fort Collins, Colorado, wants beer drinkers to think as much about the grains used to make the base of a beer as they do the hops that provide easily recognizable aromas and tastes.
“If we continue to use generic terms to describe malt and its characteristics, then consumers aren’t going to go out of their way to think they’re special,” Schooley says. “We need to give them ideas to latch onto.”
Encore, for example, is his hybrid version of CaraMunich and Crystal malts, offering flavors of raisin, almond and toffee. Moonlight Serenade, prepared with a coffee roaster, is Schooley’s take on a chocolate malt.
As more beer drinkers pay attention to specifics of hops and yeast, it seems clear that malt is soon to get its due, too. America’s Craft Maltsters Guild counts 30 members across the country, and Schooley notes about 70 more in planning. Research is even being aided in higher education, with places like Michigan State University, Cornell University and Oregon State University getting involved.
The end game, Schooley says, is to customize and offer a level of knowledge for all of beer’s ingredients similar to how consumers have shown interest in learning about other “craft” products, from cheese to coffee to wine. Skagit Valley Malting Co. in Burlington, Washington, is working to revive heritage varieties of malt, and in Byron Center, Michigan, Pilot Malt House makes varieties like “Toasted Brown” and “PB Toast,” which aims to add hints of peanut butter to a beer.
“American brewers took beer styles from all over the world and adapted them, and the same thing is happening with craft maltsters,” says Steve Berthel, pub brewer at New Holland Brewing Co., where he’s used Pilot’s house varieties of PB Toast, Toasted Brown and others. “We’ll always have roasted barley or chocolate malt, but in the hand of a small malt house, they can work their magic to make it their own and set it apart from anywhere else in the world.” —Bryan Roth
Editor’s Note: This story is part of a special section on the future of beer, which appears in the March 2017 issue of All About Beer Magazine. This article contains sections on the future of water, malt, hops and yeast.