Monquart 2-Row Base Malt Field Test
If you are reading this, you likely know by now that we are super excited to see a local maltster here in New Brunswick. Our small humble province, connected by families, farmers and communities now is self sufficient and we can make a beer with 100% locally produced ingredients.
Check out Monquart Malting on their social channels, and find their product here at our store!
We are the first shop in the area to offer this local New Brunswick grown, harvested and malted 2-row barley to homebrewers, craft distillers and local breweries who may want to try it out. We drove to the middle of the province to the farm and bought our supply direct from the farmer. You can already find their malt in some of the local distilleries and craft breweries.
In this blog post we discuss the comparison of our most popular Alix 2-row malt and our new locally grown 2-row malt from Monquart Malting in Johnville, NB.
We are not interested in finding out which one is better, we already know they are both awesome products. This is to identify some differences you may find in using the products in your home brewing.
*Disclaimer - We are not experts, this is a field test, not a scientific paper. We are not using malt grading tools, or any scientific data. We are simply nerdy homebrewers who are curious about our new product. Keep this in mind as you read on. We are not sponsored for our blog, this is where we have fun.*
Basics of the Comparison
The test carried out between the 2 malts takes a bit of time. We haven’t had time to brew 2 batches of beer to compare the outcomes using the malts. Both of the 2-Row varieties compared can be used up to 100% of the grist in a brew. They are both considered base malts. Both are Canadian sourced, one from Alberta, the other from New Brunswick.
These tests did not use any fancy equipment, just some glassware, hot water and a note pad. This is not a blind comparison either, so we knew what we were looking at or tasting. We didn’t want to mix things up.
Visual Comparison, was done by using the exact same weight of grain placed in clear glassware. This allowed for direct comparison of look and we gathered quite a bit of information from this alone. Kernels were also broken in half to look at modification. We had both crushed grain and whole grain for visual comparison. Both were crushed with the same mill we use at the shop.
Raw Taste Comparison, was done by biting the kernels in half and chewing. Helped to examine hardness, uncooked flavour and dryness. Seems weird, but it is a thing.
Malt Tea Comparison, using 8oz of water and 3oz of milled malt. Heat the water to 170 F, add the grain and let it steep for 1/2 hr. Strain through a coffee filter and compare flavour, aroma, and colours. This makes a small wort and gives a good idea of what it would taste like in beer. Most tests are done with 1/2 those amounts but we wanted to make sure we had a bigger sample size. Same idea.
Alix and Monquart Comparison Results:
Colour - The kernel colour was nearly identical in appearance, Monquart may be very slightly darker, showing some slight roasted character on the ends of the odd kernel, but overall this was not much different to the naked eye. Crushed grain showed very little difference in colour of the modified kernel.
Appearance - Alix appears very uniform and kernels appear to be all similar in size, whereas Monquart kernels vary in plumpness and size. The majority of the Monquart kernels are larger and fuller than Alix size. Only a small amount of the Monquart kernels are smaller. Monquart occupied more space in the container suggesting overall larger kernels. Less uniformity in Monquart size. Crushed kernels appeared well modified for both.
Acrospire and husk - The attached newly sprouted dried grass was more present in the Monquart, and the husk also appeared slightly more robust. This was on both small and larger kernels. Crushed grain separated husk well for both malts, similar results when crushed. Alix also had some acrospires present, but not as much.
Cleanliness - Both small samples were extremely clean and had no hard baked burnt grain, stalks or foreign materials.
Raw Taste Comparison:
Monquart - Dry, very slight roast and sweetness. Crushed easily. Husk is robust and thick, hard to chew.
Alix - Very dry, somewhat chalk-like texture, uncooked flour flavour. Crushed quickly into powder. Husk is small and somewhat papery.
Malt Tea Comparison:
Appearance - Monquart was much less hazy and ever so slightly more golden. Took a while to spot the colour difference. Difference was minimal. Pale yellow for both malts, but Monquart slightly more golden.
Aroma - Sweet grainy scent dominated both teas. Monquart had a slight honey aroma that was not present in Alix. Otherwise very similar. Honey aroma was very pleasant.
Flavour - Slight raw husk-like flavour and sharp sweetness dominate both. Raw husk taste was more forward in the Alix. Monquart seemed more mellow and less raw. Slight pleasant honey taste also notable from Monquart sample as a difference.
Overall the malts showed very little differences in end results other than the slight presence of honey flavour and aroma we noted which we are guessing comes due to the variability in kernel size of the Monquart Malt causing some of the kernels to get roasted a little bit more than others. This difference was nearly insignificant, but mentionable. This would be very hard to control on a small scale, using only 1 source of barley which is to be expected when comparing these 2 malts.
Alix would be produced on a very large scale with multiple farmers crops blended to give uniformity of the malt. The notable differences in the 2 malts would not make a large difference for most craft or home brewers who would accept slight changes in base malt flavours, especially when brewing with styles that will include other specialty malts.
Dependant on the style, the small variability in Monquart malt may add beneficial flavours and characteristics that are often sought after by lightly roasted specialty or base malts and hard to reproduce from standard uniform North American 2-row. It may also add some complexity or balance that can not easily be achieved or recreated by adding specialty grains layered in low doses.
Alix 2-row may be favoured in certain beer styles where even slight caramelized flavours are totally unacceptable. Uniformity is key with this malt.
With the larger kernel size and slightly darker roast Monquart may be more comparable to English varieties of 2-Row such as Maris Otter. Overall it may hover somewhere in the middle, having properties of the clean standard North American 2-row such as Alix and some characteristics of Maris Otter or English varieties of barley.
Shop Talk: Thoughts from a Homebrewer
It is hard to be unbiased in this commentary and we do generally not try to direct people towards one product or another unless they ask. Both are great products. The difference between them is what makes them great. You can brew a highly efficient beer to the exact same spec each time with the Alix, or you can brew with Monquart and get a very slight difference in the outcome due to the small batch production and single origin.
At home or even on a small commercial scale there is little risk to making minor changes that could come from using a product with a tiny bit of variability. Friends will still drink your beer and most customers may not notice small changes in batches. There are many other variables that can change the beer.
Freshness also plays a key role and when you can buy freshly malted grain it does make a difference. We have noticed a substantial improvement in our brewing since opening our shop and keeping ingredients fresh. If you are afraid of a little variability due to the small batch production, the benefits of fresh grain probably would win you over.
We will still be using both at the shop and in our brews, but we will likely lean heavier on the local product now that we have done this initial test and have not found a huge difference in the end result. We also love local, it is a beautiful drive to Johnville and we appreciate the craft that goes into making things on a small scale.
We think that this malt would work particularly well in any English Ale style, or American Ales that include even small additions of Crystal or dark roasted specialty malts. The slight roasted and honey character would likely not be suitable for pilsners, wheat based European styles or clean American or German Ales (cream ale, California common, Kolsch, Gose), but in the end it is up to the brewer!
Stay tuned as we will continue to test our shop products and try to give some sound advice on using them. Once we get time to brew we will have some more feedback on this great local product! Support New Brunswick Farmers! We now have locally sourced malt and hops for your next brew, direct from local family farms! We hope to do a SMaSH New Brunswick IPA very soon!