How to do it : Malting

All about malting


It is today that the title of this blog takes all its meaning. To understand what goes on behind the scenes of malt, you need to take a closer look at what goes on in the malt house. Maltings are, by definition, factories where malt is prepared.

These can be integrated into the distilleries, which then control all the stages of production of their whiskies… But most often, the distilleries outsource this phase. This can be done by companies whose core business is malting, or by cooperatives allowing all the actors, whatever their size, to devote themselves to a common passion: the creation of whisky (or beer).


“Malting” is the process of bringing the grain out of its dormant state, as a fine rain coupled with the warmth of spring would do. The result is, biologically, the germination of the seed. Chemically, germination, thanks to enzymes, leads to the transformation of the starch contained in the seed into a simple sugar, which can then be transformed into alcohol. It is said that the complex sugar that is starch is transformed into fermentable sugar.

This simple sugar is initially intended to help the germ to grow so that the plant can develop. Its purpose, for the distiller, is therefore to produce alcohol!

The three steps : How to Malter?

Malting is a three step process that I will describe here. It is the soaking, the germination and the drying.


As its name indicates, the first step, soaking, consists of moistening the grain for 48 hours to bring it out of its dormant state and release its enzymes. The grains are immersed several times in water baths at room temperature. Through a small hole on the top of the grain, they will progressively get wet, take on volume and wake up so that the chemistry works, leaving room for the next step.


This stage is the germination… Familiar to the Provençal people (hello it’s me) who, traditionally, put to germinate wheat at the Sainte-Barbe, on December 4th, so that the adage ” When the wheat goes well, all goes well “, takes sense. At first sight, germination is this rebirth of the plant which lets appear its germ. Chemically, as we have discussed, it is the synthesis of starch into fermentable sugars necessary for the production of alcohol. During this stage, the grains are regularly turned over so that the plant cannot get comfortable and consume all the sugars necessary for FERMENTATION.


The third step in the malting process is drying, also called kilning. This stage takes place a few days after germination. The seeds are transferred to an oven called the KILN (from the Latin “culina”, the kitchen), in which the temperature stops the germination and dries the malted seeds. The fuel used to feed the kiln’s heat source as well as the duration of the drying process definitely influence the future aroma of the whisky… Patience, I will deal with this subject very soon.

I advise you to munch some malted and dried cereals grains during a distillery visit (or come to the office, we have plenty of them, and we’ll discuss whisky). The cereal, crispy, releases a flour with honey flavours and a sweetness, you understood it…, very pronounced!

Tradition or Modernity


First, let’s deal with the traditional malting, for the beauty of it. This one, before the 60s, was commonplace in distilleries. The moistened grains, ready to germinate, were spread out on the ground in a large area called the malting area.

They were then regularly aerated and turned over with special rakes and shovels. This work, requiring a considerable and repetitive physical effort, developed among the population of workers in the maltings a specific arthrosis which was called ” monkey shoulder “.


The rapid evolution of agricultural engineering techniques has, since the second half of the 20th century, allowed these workers to put an end to their professional suffering.

Today, except for folklore or for some tourist animations, most of the maltings work with industrial malting. The rakes are abandoned for drum malters whose blades aerate and distribute the grain. Dozens of tons can be processed at a time, and the pace is constantly increasing.

In addition to curbing pathologies linked to intense physical work, industrial malting allows for better homogeneity in germination, while greatly reducing the time allocated to this stage.

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