We’ve been discussing the expected malt specifications for the coming year with our malt suppliers and wanted to feed back so you can prepare and tweak your recipes as required.

The malt nitrogens coming into breweries with the new seasons malt are likely to be higher than usual, at around 1.7%. The winters are not expected to be quite as high, but are still above average, predicted at up to 1.5%. This is a result of environmental factors, as last year saw low rainfall which made it harder for the barley to establish properly. Blame the British weather, it’s a national habit and we brewers are no different. You can however, prepare for this and if you need any technical support in doing so, we’re always on hand. The key implications revolve around your use of copper and auxiliary finings, the rates of which will need to be reoptimised once malt is in breweries and will likely increase. You can expect to see the first malts of this harvest in breweries across the country from mid-February onwards.

Could do with a bit more information on the matter? No problem!

It starts with the farmers, who sow different varieties of malting barley in autumn and early winter, known as “winters” and again in spring, known as “springs”, both of which are harvested from early July onwards. The latter are becoming more popular as they tend to be easier to grow but do require more fertiliser to get a decent yield by harvest time. Winters don’t require as much fertiliser making them cheaper for the farmer but extract value to the brewer tends to be less.

In brewing, we refer to the percentage of protein present in the malt as percentage nitrogen, it is quoted on malt analyses and used as a price guide and quality indicator. For example, feed barleys have a high protein content to feed the animals. Brewers however, want nitrogens to be lower, at around 1.4-1.5%. This provides enough yeast growth, flavour and beer foam without any substantial problems with haze, stability and excess yeast growth, above these levels and the later can become an issue. There is therefore, always a focus on this parameter at harvest and purchase time.

How come the percentage nitrogen is predicted as being higher in British malt this year?

The issue is in fact that of last year, where we saw a prolonged dry winter and spring in the main growing regions of the UK, resulting in crops not establishing well. To help crops along, farmers spread higher amounts of fertiliser which in turn pushed the nitrogens up. This is because the fertiliser is taken up by the growing plant and deposited in the developing ears of corn which are the grains harvested as barley for the malt crop. Had they not done this, the crop may well have failed altogether, something which did happen in a small number of districts resulting in some shortage too. The maltsters work with what they get off the fields, blending barleys to get an overall consistency which they can sell to brewers. However from a brewer’s perspective, with already high nitrogens and a limited supply, the quality of malt coming onto the market is weaker when compared to the previous years’ crop. Therefore, the forecast is less stable beer.

As brewers there are various techniques at our disposal to control protein (nitrogen) in the brewing process, and this is where we at Murphys specialise! Carrageenan and auxiliary finings are both process aids that remove this protein. It follows therefore, that brewers will require more of these products to treat the higher nitrogen malt expected this year. Something which we can support with our optimisation services and technical expertise, provided to you by a team of master brewers. Choosing Murphys will be an invaluable decision in 2018.

Like to perform your own optimisations? We’ve just the kit you need!

The Murphy Copper Finings Optimization Kit, which contains all the equipment required, as well as documentation on how to perform your own optimisations.