With a regional focus, creative spirit, and small operational scale, craft maltsters are uniquely positioned to offer brewers and distillers an ever-growing range of the most flavorful malt.
The purpose of this page is to help craft maltsters focus on flavor. Check out the resources below to learn more about how to evaluate malt flavor and incorporate sensory evaluation into a malthouse QC program.
Sensory evaluation is a common method of evaluating beer as well as its raw ingredients, such as malt. Sensory evaluation is conducted by individuals rather than instruments and equipment. When performing sensory evaluations, four different aspects of beer or wort are examined: appearance, aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel.
Appearance is the way an object looks on the outside and, with regard to beer and malt, references the color and clarity of wort or beer. There are a variety of historical methods and conventions for describing malt color, but today two main methods are used: the ASBC’s Standard Reference Method (SRM), and the European Brewing Convention (EBC) color method. SRM is determined from a congress mash wort analysis. Clarity is determined visually and described as either clear, slightly hazy, or hazy.
Aroma is one of our major senses and makes up a large part of what we consider to be flavor. Aroma is an extremely important component of beer and malt. Malt aroma can range from bread dough and water crackers to coffee and dark chocolate.
With our taste buds, we sense five different tastes- sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and savory (umami). These tastes, combined with aroma, are responsible for our perception of “flavor.”
Mouthfeel refers to the attributes of beer that produce a tactile sensation in the mouth. The three main attributes in beer that comprise mouthfeel are carbonation, fullness, and aftertaste. It is unlikely to encounter wort that has been carbonated, so most mouthfeel analysis in malt sensory focuses on attributes such as body, astringency, and aftertaste.
Malt Flavor Evaluation Tools
Hot Steep Method
The Hot Steep Method is the first malt sensory method validated by the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC). This new method of malt sensory was originally developed by scientists Cassie Poirier (formerly Briess Malt & Ingredients Co.) and Lindsay Barr (DraughtLab).
To see the method in action, check out this instructional video from the Brewer’s Association.
Looking to make your own Hot Steep Kit? Check out this curated shopping list put together by the MSU Barley, Malt & Brewing Quality Lab.
Flavor Maps and Sensory Software
Flavor Maps are a sensory tool created by DraughtLab to assist maltsters, brewers, distillers, and others within the craft malt supply chain and allied industries in describing base and specialty malt flavors.
The Base Malt Flavor Map makes describing malt flavors easy and approachable to all levels by using common flavor descriptors and breaking flavor down into three color-coded categories. The Base Malt Flavor Map also features step-by-step instructions for performing the ASBC’s Hot Steep Malt Sensory Evaluation Method.
Similar to its base malt counterpart, the Specialty Malt Flavor Map from DraughtLab lays out the sensory terms for specialty grains. It is a tool that helps breeders know what flavors they are targeting, maltsters know what flavors they are producing, and brewers know what flavors they are selecting.
In addition to flavor maps, DraughtLab also offers sensory software for building a malthouse sensory program.
Other Sensory Resources
Aroxa Flavor Standard Kits– These spiking kits can be used for training on specific malt-derived aromas.
SRM Reference Cards– These cards are also helpful for in-house color reference of Hot Steep wort. (Note: SRM is measured using Congress Mash wort, which will vary slightly from Hot Steep wort. These cards should not be used to determine SRM color but can be helpful for internal reference.)