The Malt Bomb

16 09 2007

Brewers’ Malts
On Friday night, I was back again at Tria Fermentation School for a class taught by Tom Baker, who brewed at the now-defunct Heavyweight Brewing Company. The topic was malt, a particularly relevant topic in these times when beers are so absurdly hops-heavy. All sorts of malted grains are used by brewers to produce the sugary base that eventually gets fermented. For this class, then, it was time to think about the basics.

To get a sense of the malt base for beer, Baker started us off with a Budweiser(!) and a nonalcoholic, carbonated malta. I’m sure you know what Bud tastes like (i.e., slightly sweet water), but it provided a good start to the evening. After all, Bud contains so few hops that most drinkers can’t taste them at all; instead, we were confronted with a pretty straightforward—if blah—malt base.

I guess I’d never had a malta before, although I’d definitely seen them in the ethnic foods section of the supermarket. Maltas are quite popular in Latin America and the Caribbean. As for the taste, well, I enjoyed it. It was dark and sweet, with a flavor strongly reminiscent of molasses. It tasted, somehow or other, like I was actually drinking grain. I’d try a malta again, although I’m pretty sure there are about four million calories in a serving of the stuff….

After that, we moved on to the craft beers. I particularly liked three of them. First, there was a Castelain St. Amand French Country Ale, a bière de garde with a delightfully sharp and fruity smell and a subdued, sweet taste. Late in the evening, we had Heavyweight’s Old Salty Barleywine Ale from Baker’s personal stash. The bottles we had were seven years old, and the ale was showing some age (a funky, boxy aroma?), but it had a rich toffee/caramel taste—like a good barleywine. My favorite beer of the evening, though, was surely Paulaner Salvator, which I’ve had before. The Salvator is a doppelbock, and it pours a beautiful coppery color. Caramel, malty goodness!

To finish off the evening, we sampled Victory Brewing Company‘s new Baltic Thunder, a higher-alcohol, porter-style beer. It hasn’t actually been released yet (expect it October 15), and this was the first time it had been tasted outside the brewery (is that way cool or what?). I’ll be interested to see what it tastes like after it has aged a bit more—the bottles we tasted were about four months old. According to my tasting notes, I thought our sample had a strong taste of, er, field peas.

It looks like I won’t be back at the Fermentation School for another month or so. Who can I buy a beer in the meantime?

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