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Brewers increasingly add oats in their grain bill as they celebrate haziness and mouthfeel in creative, delicious ways. What is it about oats that is so different from barley and wheat, and why are malted oats a solid option to the raw and flaked versions in the exploration of new brews? I sat down with Dave Kuske, our VP of Quality, Innovation and Processing to chat with him about why he’s such a fan of malting oats. What he shared was a whole lot of ‘technical,’ and for the beer nerds out there, it’s a lot to consider! It’s really all about making your brew day easier.
Malted oat is different from both 1) standard “pre-gelatinized” oats and 2) rolled oat flakes:
Pre-gelatinized Raw Oats: In this case, whole raw oats are first short steeped to increase the moisture content and are then immediately heated to the starch gelatinization temperature for oats.
Rolled oat flakes: Here, whole raw oats are gelatinized as described above; next, they’re run through a roller system to flatten them and increase surface area.
In both raw and flaked oats, no natural breakdown of complex molecular structures occurs to free up the solubilization of these raw macro compounds.
Malted oats on the other hand are steeped and allowed to germinate (just like barley and wheat!), which naturally produces some enzymatic activity. This breaks down complex cell wall structures, carbohydrates, proteins, and nutrients, allowing those smaller structures to become more easily solubilized during a mash. The malted whole oat kernel is then gently dried to a shelf stable moisture to avoid imparting any toasted or malty notes, which keeps the sensory similar or nearly identical to a raw processed flake. The resulting whole intact kernel structure and appearance also provides a better and more consistent husk profile when the oats are milled, which aids in mash separation in the lauter tun.
The body and mouthfeel of malted oats remains intact, and the Beta Glucans and Arabinoxylans are not “consumed” during the malting process, so those compounds are more easily solubilized into the wort during mashing. What remains is a whole, intact kernel that produces the same “silky” mouthfeel character of oats while minimizing or eliminating the risks of stuck lauters and the potential to blind filters downstream in the brewhouse.
Proximity developed our malted oat product to provide a fully malted oat that rivals others available in the commercial malt market, since many brewers prefer it over raw oat flakes or rolled oats for all the reasons listed above. We mill our malted oats on an ‘as needed basis’ because storing kernels intact until milling deters insect activity and maximizes “freshness.” All of the benefits noted above are great reasons to choose a malted product for any brewer that is looking for better efficiency and reduced processing and storage risks.
As we developed Proximity Malted Oats, our team Innovation Center Semi Works first focused on choosing the right varieties. We found that many oat varieties simply didn’t produce enough of the correct enzyme packages to achieve the proper level of natural degradation of complex molecular structures during the malting process.
And while we’re talking specifications, flaked and rolled oats generally have little technical information, other than moisture content. Proximity provides color, moisture and extract, knowing that oat malt color should be on the low side to assure little to no flavor impact. The brewer will want to know their malted oats’ improved extract efficiency over raw flaked or rolled oats, as well.
Finally, utilization rate of malted oats in general is slightly lower than a flaked or rolled oat due to the increased efficiency mentioned above. Proximity’s Malted Oats provide a good and stable haze for beer styles such as Hazy/Juicy IPA’s or NEIPA’s and a great silkiness to an Oatmeal stout or Porter. This is of course highly brewer and brewery dependent, but the other many other benefits of malted oats justify it as a swap to other forms of oats in many world class beers, old and new.
Photo Credit: Sun touches the Oat Field, by Groman 123