Wheat & Other Non-Barley Malts
Wheat has been on the beer scene since the very beginning, long ago in the Middle East. Due to the efforts of those ancestral farmers in the ancient Middle East, wheat threshes “naked,” meaning that it comes without the husk that clings to barley, when wheat is used in large proportions in the mash it is usually required to add rice hulls or other filtering substances during brewing. Out of the cereal grains, wheat needs the highest quality soil, and because it is the favoured ingredient for baking bread, its use in brewing has been limited to ensure there’s enough to make bread.
When wheat is used in brewing it produces a fine beer, slightly more neutral in flavour and richer in texture than malted barley. Its split into two categories, hard and soft, with the low-protein “soft” type is often preferred for malting and brewing. Wheat malt is usually obtainable as a very lightly kilned product, though kilned and caramel wheat malts are available in some places.
Due to its protein structure, wheat provides a lot of the mid-length protein necessary for beer’s body and head. Consequently, wheat malts have a long history in beers such as Kölsch and English bitter, where slightly more head is beneficial, and they should be used by homebrewers for this reason. Five to fifteen percent is the usual range as a head booster.
I’m sure as a homebrewer you have an understanding of some wheat beer styles, Bavarian hefeweizen, Berliner weisse, and American wheat ales are some great styles which utilise wheat. The percentage of wheat differs by style, but 30 to 70 percent is the typical range for these styles. The Belgians are known for their use of wheat in beers including witbiers and lambics, but this is usually unmalted wheat, which requires special mashing methods that are often particularly challenging for the small-scale brewer to achieve. Malted wheat can provide excellent results using step infusions; as it is not as powerful in character as unmalted wheat, it is often used in larger proportions, up to 60-70 percent as opposed to the typical 40-50 percent.
Wheat is infamous for producing short-lived beers, and from my occurrence I have to agree. It doesn’t possess the strong malty flavours which barley malt does, extremely strong “wheat wines” are usually on the bland side. While there is no solid historical precedent for them, I feel that wheat makes a great supplement to a porter or a stout, providing smooth, creamy textures that offset the sharpness of the roast malts.
NOTE: If you struggle to understand the stats of the examples below, we recommend checking out our guide to Understanding a Malt Analysis
Colour = 1.5–2.0 (Lovibond) 3.0–4.0 (EBC)
Enzyme Activity = Sufficient for self-conversion
OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0078 (2.00°P)
OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0146 (3.73°P)
Max % = 100
Origin and Notes: Malted wheat has been used for brewing since for hundreds of years, but due to its requirement for baking bread, its use in brewing has been limited.
Production: A light and rapid kilning at 176°F/80°C leaves this malt with a rather pale colour. Dark (5.5 to 20°L), chocolate (300 to 450°L), and roasted versions can be also be found, as well as caramel wheat.
Flavour and Aroma: Deficient in flavour of its own, except a clean graininess, it provides a creamy mouthfeel and great foam.
- Authentic wheat beers including Bavarian hefeweizens, Berliner weisse, and American wheat ales
- Substitute (in larger proportion) for unmalted wheat in Belgian witbier and lambic recipes
- Head-enhancing grain for wide range of beers styles, from bitter to Kölsch to saison
Colour = 2.0 (Lovibond) 4.0 (EBC)
Enzyme Activity = Moderate; high in beta-amylase
OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0050 (1.29°P)
OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0148 (3.87°P)
Max % = 30
Origin and Notes: Due to their viscosity in the brewhouse and unpredictability in the beer, oats have always been seen as an inferior grain for brewing, but they can be used well, particularly in dark English ales and variants of Belgian witbiers.
Production: Malted and kilned to a pale colour in a similar way to barley malt.
Flavour and Aroma: Lacks its own flavour, they mainly provide a creamy texture and head-retention. May be toasted at home to produce rich cookie aromas.
- Whenever a rich, creamy mouthfeel is desired
- In oatmeal stouts (10 to 20%)