Tuesday, 8 November 2011

In praise of MALT

HOPS HOPS HOPS, it's all we get nowadays isn't it?


I love em of course but malty beers don't get as much of a look in. The mass of new converts to beer seem to progress along a pretty steep curve, as demonstrated thus...


I was training a couple of new staff the other day and found myself dwelling for some time on the subject of malt. Of course my North 'mega beer talk' always starts with malt, it's where all beer starts, it is the main ingredient, beer is essentially seasoned, fermented malt juice! But it did prompt me to get something on t'blog that I've been meaning to do for some time.

Hops have taken centre stage for some years but I feel a clarion call for malt coming on and it all goes back to balance... You see the other day we tried a few beers and yes we had a bunch of hoppy beers on, great beers but the paler beers lower alcohol British beers really didn't come over to the new kids as well as the stronger, sweeter more malty beers.

Case in point 1: trainee A doesn't get the hoppy blonde british ale (we'll call it 'plantagenet') at all  - too bitter. But give her a 10% double IPA from bleeding Norway, (we'll call that 'oris') and she's after another one. Now there's a ton of exotic hops in both beers but oris has loads more than plantagenet, but it is also DAMN STRONG and the only way you can get extra strength in beer is by mashing up loads of extra malt.  oris is also, a much more balanced beer, now I'm not sure whether it is easier to achieve a better balance simply by putting in more of everything and thus gaining a stronger, bolder and subsequently less nuanced flavour but that perhaps is too much fiddle-de-de. What I'm saying is that my friend that has a very limited knowledge of beer is more charmed by the mad strong beer than the lighter very hoppy beer and the reasons for this are malt and balance.

Case in point 2: The Roosters brewery in Knaresborough is famous throughout the world of brewing for a very specific type of beer. It's the type of beer that really brought British brewing to the fore and that beer is the pale ale. Specifically it's a type of beer that dragged so many drinkers back to cask due to the trick that looks quite like lager and whilst complex is not challenging. Every first generation UK micro has one of these beers, Roosters have taught a lesson through Sean Frankiln's strict adherence to the use of pale malt as a canvas to show of the qualities of aromatic hops. Roosters standard hop presence is ultimately restrained by many of todays standards and has occasionally been denigrated for being too restrained by those new to the scene who have had access to so much extreme beer that they have become... Hop zombies.

What Sean has achieved through his brewing is balance, if you're gonna use pale malt you can't bang in so many of those ultra citric US hybrid hops else you'll loose the character of the malt, and that is a part of the beer that is, just as, if not more important than hops.

Now here's a thing, has balance in beer changed over the years, does it change according to where you're from? Perhaps so or perhaps just truly great brews achieve balance. For me i've been beginning to tire of solely hop led beers - ALL the truly great, extremely hoppy beers are only great in my book because they have a heavy malt presence, very pale thin bitter beers fail to carry me past a pint.

In addition many of the great beers that people hark to in the past seem very much less led by the hop and these great beers are the British tradition and that tradition is balance.


  1. Excellent post and sums up my thoughts on the subject perfectly.

    Don't get me wrong - IPA is probably my favourite beer style, but I find a lot of the new hop-forward beers both unbalanced and one-dimensional (I'm not biased, but I find this to be the case with a lot of the US hop-forward craft beers that I've tried).

    For me, something like Worthington's White Shield represents the absolute perfect balance between hope and malt.

    That said, after a Summer of drinking nothing but pale ales and IPAs, it's lovely to sit by an open fire and appreciate malty beers like Hook Norton Old Hooky in the Autumn & Winter.

  2. Nice use of a graph, I like this a lot :)
    I think I have learnt something new today. I already knew that certain beers don't 'do it' for me and that some of those beers are lovely and hop fuelled, but I could not understand why this was the case. I am one of the new kids to the beer party and have to say that I have followed your graph like a moth does its trajectory to a light bulb, and have to admit that there have been occasions when I have nodded in approval of hop-monster beers just to fit into the crowd, when what I actually wanted to do is order a different beer. It is clear to me now that the word 'balance' that I have readily banded about in my blog when reviewing the odd beer, actually means something. Cheers

  3. This is brilliant. Even beers people think of as defined by their hop character -- Pilsner Urquell, for example -- are really as much about malt as hops. It's just that, as your palate develops, hops are easier to spot and differentiate between.

    The beers people think need more hops often need more *everything*: they're watery and sugary and chucking hops in wouldn't necessarily fix them.

  4. good post. entirely agree- malt is the soul of beer, hops are the spice. There needs to be a balance between the two. it kindof reminds me of when new world wines became popular - pretty big and brash and not always balanced. They did, however, educate people about wine flavours and opened up a traditionally closed category to "normal" people. Maybe hops are doing the same and eventually people will educate their beer palates enough to recognise when blanace is lacking. Just my theory.

  5. Absolutely, couldn't agree more, Matt, and it's interesting to get your side of the story. Balance in all beer should be the key - yes, every once in a while we want something that is purposefully unbalanced; in malt or hops; but what makes beer drinkable isnt hoppiness, or sweetness - its the perfect blend of both. That, not how many late hops he can jam into a barrel or keg, is the brewer's art. Hops are fashionable, that's all. so they get the headlines. I'll say this, too; unbalanced beers don't lend themselves to food matching; scroll back through TGS and the recipes on there; you won't find many hop-bombs going in with food....

  6. Well said! We need more malt in these over-hopped beers! The focus on getting the IBU level so high sees the malt bill forgotten about. The best beers in the world have a balance of their flavours.