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These days, brewers are able to select from dozens of base and specialty malts for both tried and true production brews, and new recipes as well. Malt styles that were ‘import only’ are now available from domestic suppliers (such as Proximity) who’re laser-focused on the complex needs of craft brewers. Optimizing your malts – and your malt suppliers – can have several positive impacts, such as brewhouse efficiency and/or performance and your cost of delivered malt. Choosing your malts carefully can also improve other factors such as sensory experience, shelf-life, product consistency and even brand story.
But while most brewers acknowledge the potential benefits of qualifying a new malt source, some are put off by the possible risks of messing up their beers. After all, trialing new malts can be daunting – and it’s easy to retreat into the mantra, “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?” At Proximity, we propose that trialing new malts for existing beers is a great – and often underexplored — way to find marginal improvements and cost savings across the board…all without messing up your beers.
Regardless of size, or types of available brew systems, all brewers can benefit from evaluating or qualifying new malts in a variety of qualification scenarios, including:
We want to help take the mystery out of malt trialing, so you can start to benefit from the malt-itude of options available to today’s brewers. Planning, executing, evaluating and, if successful, implementing a new malt to your existing recipe encapsulate the four phases of Malt Trialing. While this blog post focuses on planning your malt trial, stay tuned for upcoming blogs on the other three steps – as well as templates for planning, executing and evaluating your trialed malts.
Below, we summarize a few ‘best practices’ for planning new malt trials for replacing base or non-base malts into existing brands – since that’s where brewers can find real cost and performance benefits, but also where they struggle the most.
A well-considered Malt Qualification Plan is key when comparing malts for your existing recipes. The crucial pieces captured in a planning document are:
Your Planning Document should have a simple statement, such as:“Trial to qualify Proximity Pilsen Malt as a potential replacement to Pils Malz from XYZ Malz Co, from 50% min. to 100% max in UR Brewery Beer Brand X.”
It makes sense and will save time to share your trial plan with malt procurement decision-makers and key folks from your brew-team. All involved should understand the purpose of the trial, the criteria for success; how the malt will be evaluated. If you are relying on a team of colleagues for sensory analysis on hot steep, or the actual brews, make sure they are trained in sensory analysis, and that they will be available to participate in each phase of the sensory analysis portion of the trial. Be aware of any biases, and plan for double blind trials – especially as it relates to the control versus the trial brew .
Along with the Purpose Statement, specify what you and your team consider to be the criteria and outcomes that determine success, or rejection. For example, while you may consider improvements to brewhouse efficiency as desirable and important, a strong sensory match may be a non-negotiable element – or vice versa. If you think this through in advance, it will help you focus on the data that is relevant to the final decision.
Typical evaluations include criteria data collected from the follow steps – What is your standard for a successful qualification?:
Contact your Proximity Sales Rep for assistance from our tech-team for assistance setting up malt sensory or brewhouse performance analysis methods.
Multiple Source Trial: Are you comparing one new malt against your current supplier, or multiple contenders? In any case, having a trial plan that provides for repeatability, data collection and comparison against a control are key.
Secondary supply versus Replacement: If you are looking for a secondary supply, take into consideration that there may be leeway in your criteria for success, especially around sensory, and efficiency. You may find justification for qualifying based on other considerations, such as security of supply, or better delivered cost.
Once you’ve determined the purpose of the malt trial, and the assessment criteria for qualification or non-qualification, the next consideration is the appropriate or available brew system for the trial. If you have a pilot brewery, or a home-brew system, or a smaller pub system, you might consider a two-part trial – pilot or nano-system first for pre-qualification; followed by a full-scale trial against a control batch. If you are limited to a full-scale trial, with a plan in place to blend off, if need be.
Using a standardized GANTT chart for malt trials to plan timelines eliminates headaches downstream – do you have a date by which the trial must be completed? What are the possible time constraints? For example, are you trying to qualify a new base malt supplier in time for new crop contracting? Are you trying to find a new source of a strategic malt in time for seasonal brewing of a particular brand? Or are you simply concerned about security of supply for a particular malt, and want to establish a back up source? The purpose of your trial will no doubt impact the timeline, and the importance of staying on track.
A typical malt trial timeline will include:
1. Complete plan document, along with format for collecting all relevant evaluation information: actual brew data (grain, hops and yeast bill; target gravity, etc.), efficiency and lauter results, and sensory evaluation data for both the trial brew and the control brew, where appropriate.
For smaller breweries, plan to hold back enough beer in your finished tanks to establish a ‘control’ beer, with an idea for how you might blend the trial and the control back into production beer, as needed. Make sure process record is the same for both the control and the trial.
2. Acquire & have accessible all needed materials – both trial malt and other (e.g. hops, yeast, etc.). Allow for delays, since suppliers or distributors may not have in stock the malt you are looking for. Contact the malt manufacturer if you want input into how it may compare with the malt you’re trialing against. Ask for a Certificate of Analysis. When comparing against malts from a different country of origin, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples on data such as color specification. For base malt, note the COA extract against the COA extract of your current supplier.
3. Preliminary Sensory Analysis scheduling. Find time for your team to do a side-by-side malt chew and hot steep analysis session, comparing existing supplier and trial malt.
4. Pilot System Trial Date. Take into consideration other projects that may constrain the scheduling of your malt trials. Work backwards from the latest time you want final results for an indication of when the pilot system trial should begin by.
5. Post pilot brew fermentation sensory analysis. How many weeks out will you plan your sensory analysis of the Pilot System trial?
6. Brewhouse Trial Date. Take into consideration the typical brew schedule – and the potential windows when trialing might best fit. Again, work backwards from the latest time you want final results for an indication of when the pilot system trial should begin by.
7. Final Sensory Analysis. How many weeks out will you plan your sensory panel on the Brewhouse Trial? What control brew are you using?
While planning a malt trial requires attention to detail and a thoughtful approach to purpose, criteria for success and timeline – it’s a great way to create raw material cost efficiencies, process efficiencies and overall product quality. It has added benefits, such as educating yourself and your team in malt’s role in great brewing – and even story-telling for your customers. If you enjoyed this blog, be sure to tune in to our Malt in Brewing session, which’ll be available on February 20th, right here on our Proximity Malt School page!