Ask any passionate homebrewer about the hops that he uses. He'll likely be able to tell you the variety, its alpha acid content, where it was grown, and maybe even the name of the farmer. Now ask that same homebrewer about his malt. You'll probably get blank stares when you ask where it was grown, or where and how it was malted. In these days of meticulous hop selection, finely-tuned water chemistry, and constant yeast health analysis, most folks brewing beer at home know surprisingly little about where their malt comes from.
It's not a phenomenon that's easily explained. Malt is undeniably more important to beer production than hops—malted grain not only provides the foundation for beer's flavor, but it also imparts the essential sugars necessary for fermentation. Without malting, there is no beer. I have certainly been guilty of this lapse in knowledge, so I took a trip to Golden, Colorado, to see what I could learn.
The word around Golden is "Coors, Coors, Coors," and for good reason. The tiny mountain town is home to the world's largest single-site brewery. But what most don't know is that the MillerCoors compound is also home to the country's 4th largest malting facility. The MillerCoors malthouse produces 530 million pounds of malt every year. Not a bad place to witness malting firsthand.
About the author: Mike Reis is a Certified Cicerone and Co-Director of Beer at the Monk's Kettle and Abbot's Cellar restaurants in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @beerspeaks or find him behind a pint near you.
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