Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A rainbow of grain flavors

There's a reason why home beer- and wine-making catalogs invariably contain sections on equipment for roasting your own coffee beans, or making your own vinegar or soda. The fundamental truth beyond even the lure of cheap alcohol is simple (and just think what those catalogs would look like if they legalized home distillation): most of us home/craftbrewers are for all intents and purposes control freaks. Beyond anything else, we seem unified by the desire to make something from scratch while tweaking every variable along the way. So why stop at simply hybridizing styles and trying to add color without flavor? I mean, it's not like you're some Beer Machine-using loser. With all the variables already in play, why not throw another wrench into the works by trying to grow all your own ingredients?
Even if you're short on time and acreage and don't feel like killing old John yourself, you can take control over your own malting if you're feeling frisky. Whether you plan on doing the whole shebang, from green barley to finished product, or if you just want to improve upon or experiment with finished malts, all you need is a good oven and a bit of free time to get cracking. It's just all about where you rank on the obsessometer.
Take for brown ale malt, for example. Some commercial maltsters have reintroduced this malt for brewers who want to recreate British brown ales in a more historically accurate way, but it's quite easy (and considerably cheaper) make it yourself with regular old 2-row pale malt. A brown ale made with a combination of 2-row and your own brown malt (rather than using crystal or chocolate malts to deepen the color) will succeed in producing a beer that's a) much more complex, toasty flavor and b) richly rewarding to the control freak side of you. And there's no reason to stop there. If you consider the number of grades of crystal malt there are, the room for experimentation is near overwhelming. But after you've had a pot of your home-roasted coffee, you might just have the energy to get to it.


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