Malt with a touch of herbs and spices

Boortmalt innovates and pioneers with infused malt

Appeared in Bierpassie No 96, September 2022
Infusing barley with herbs and spices during its malting process generates new aromas and flavours in malt. At the Boortmalt Innovation Centre in the port of Antwerp, brewmaster and malt specialist Cristal Peck is reaching out to craft brewers to create a new, wonderful world in which malt smells like a touch of sage and thyme, of lavender and orange or of authentic Belgian speculoos. In the micro-brewery at quay 350, this has already created deliciously harmonious and balanced beers, attracting interest from small and bigger brewers who are already experimenting with them.
In the heart of the Antwerp port, a few dozen metres from quay 350 – where goods trains, barges and ocean-going vessels unload barley or bunker malt – brewmaster and malt specialist Cristal Peck is pioneering infused malts in the Boortmalt Innovation Centre.
While the beer world has changed profusely in recent decades with the use of aromatic, exotic hops, interest in wood-aged beers and sour beers as well as the rise of craft brewers, malting companies remained true to their centuries-old craftsmanship.
Time to change that, thought Australian-born Cristal Peck. In 2013, after studying biology, she ended up in Berlin. Passionate about beer and craft breweries, she won a home brewing competition there two years later before joining Berliner Berg Brauerei as head brewer. Since December 2019, she has been brewmaster and malt specialist at the Boortmalt Innovation Centre.
Cristal Peck: “As the aromas and flavours of a hint of herbs and spices mingle with the intrinsic characteristics of the barley, entirely new, botanical and floral aromas develop.”

Quest for new aromas and flavours

“When you see how new hop varieties are constantly being added and how craft brewers in particular are getting creative with them, we as a leading malting company could not be left behind,” states Cristal Peck. “As a craft brewer, I was already fully looking for new ingredients, aromas and flavours and it was a challenge for me to introduce a new and surprising beer every time. You also see brewers in general starting to incorporate more and more herbs, spices and fruits into the wort or adding them as dry-spicing’. When I switched from the brewing to malting sector, I was looking for a similar challenge. Thinking ‘out of the box’ gave rise to the idea of adding a spice infusion while malting the barley, so even before you start using that same barley to brew beer afterwards.”
“Beer is actually so much more than a great drink. It is also the result of a complex biological and chemical process in which sugars are produced, broken down and converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide. By innovatively breaking into that process at the base, we change the characteristics of the barley and a whole new world of aromas and flavours opens up. During soaking – the first stage of malting – the barley grains are infused with spices that are added to the soaking water. Meanwhile, research in laboratories at KU Leuven Faculty of Industrial Engineering showed that the aroma and flavour components of the herbs are effectively present in the barley grains after soaking. The spices then go through the other stages of malting, including drying or kilning. When the malt is cleaned at the end, the spices are removed from it. From then on, the malt also smells abundantly of the infused ‘herbs’, such as sage or citrus peel. The malt then has a complex character in which aromas and flavours are expressed layer by layer. As the spicy aromas and flavours mingle with the intrinsic characteristics of the barley, completely new, botanical and floral aromas and flavours also develop, immediately reminiscent, for example, of coconut even though the ingredients of the infusion have no direct connection with it.”

Cristal Peck: ” The aroma and flavour components of the herbal infusion are present in the barley malt “
A Berliner Weisse with a touch of herbs and spices such as sage and thyme is extremely refreshing.


More complex beer with transforming aromas

As with using herbs in the classic way, Cristal Peck experiences huge characteristic differences in the origin of the herbs. Sage from Israel has a totally different effect than sage from France or Kenya. Consequently, for herb selection, it is always a matter of weighing up which spicy notes you want to give to the beer with infused malt and how much infused malt you want to use when mashing the wort.
“The end result, in the beer, is also completely different,” states Cristal Peck. “In a pilot project, we brewed a saison with lavender notes and compared it with a saison for which we had infused barley with lavender. In the classic saison, the lavender dominates much more strongly. In the beer with infused malt, the lavender is not only much more subtle. The beer is much more complex, rounder and the aromas transform into new scents. For another beer, we had infused the barley with cocoa and orange, which on the one hand produced a more bright beer and on the other created a more creamy character with hints of coconut. You can create many more unique beers with these creative malt varieties. In any case, it will be a challenge to combine these new aromas and flavours with adapted hop varieties to achieve a harmonious and balanced whole. So far, we have experimented with barley because it is the most widely used brewing grain, but we are also considering infusions of rye or wheat. We also see the future of malt far beyond its current applications in beer, whisky and beverages. From that point of view, we founded BoortmaltX, a platform for collaboration with start-ups from other sectors such as food, pharmaceuticals or animal feed.”

To date, Cristal Peck has already developed four creative Belgomalt malt varieties with which it has already brewed a Berliner Weisse, a Winter Wit and an Antwerp Chocolate Brown Ale in the micro-brewery.

Deliciously harmonious and balanced

To date, Cristal Peck has already developed four creative Belgomalt malt varieties with which it has already brewed several craft beers in the micro-brewery, such as a Berliner Weisse, a Winter Wit and an Antwerp Chocolate Brown Ale. Experimentally, it has also already brewed a citrus beer with infusions of orange, grapefruit and lime. A Belgian Double Speculoos with hints of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and star anise will follow for autumn.
Beer Passion could already taste three beers with infused malt. These are each exclusive Boortmalt-tasting brews that are not commercialised; the beers are used to inform brewers about the possibilities of Creative Series malts.
For the 4.22%vol. Berliner Weisse, 30% malt infused with thyme and sage was used. In the slightly hazy yellow beer with its dense head, notes of lactic acidity and citrus emerge in which, rather unexpectedly, hints of sage and thyme emerge. As the Berliner Weisse warms up, the spiciness emerges more strongly without settling long into the aftertaste. The end result is a beautifully balanced, extremely drinkable and refreshing beer.
The famous ‘orangette’ chocolate candy inspired the Antwerp Chocolate Brown. At 5.5%vol, it is a variation on the non-sweet American brown beers. The rather dark, and comparatively clear beer with light foam, was enriched with an infusion of cocoa and orange. The customary chocolate-bitter character has given way to a mildly sweet chocolate, as found in hot chocolate. In the nose, a sun-ripened orange emerges, which is enhanced by the aroma hops used without however becoming overpowering.
Winter Wit (6.4 %vol.) looks like a saison in which the typical phenolic yeasty character was complemented by notes of lavender-orange malt. In the aroma, the malty remains and you can still detect the phenolic origin from which refined floral-spicy lavender notes emerge while orange-agrum remains rather in the background and signs for a brief slightly zesty-bitter aftertaste. A complex beer that, like the previous beers, excels in balance and harmony, in which no doubt brewmaster Cristal Peck’s craftsmanship will also play a part.


source: Mout met een vleugje kruiden en specerijen – Geert Van Lierde