Diastatic Brown Malt

15 Nov

As requested, thanks Andrew! diastatic brown malt, definitely the most interesting and most challenging malt to make. I experimented a lot with this one. My first challenge was to find out what it was. The easy definition: A dark malt that has been dried over burning wood or straw but still has diastatic power to convert itself. It predates the widespread use  of coke in malt kilns and predates the use of thermometers. Coke was used to dry malt as early as 1642 but was made more widely available when the means of coke production became more efficient in the later half of the 18th Century. So how did they determine the size of the fire and how dark it could be without destroying the enzymes in the barley? I did come across a few clues in the London and Country Brewer published in 1736 which in describing the production of malt states ” it then must be put on the Kiln to dry four, six or twelve Hours, according to the nature of the Malt, for the pale sort requires more leisure and less fire than the amber or brown sorts” This means that the Pale malt would be dried with a low fire for 12 and the brown malt with a hot fire for 4 hours.

There is another very informative passage about the types of screens used in malt kilns of that era, “There are several methods used in drying of Malts, as the Iron Plate-frame, the Tyle-frame, that are both full of little Holes: The Brass-wyred and Iron-wyred Frame, and the Hair-cloth; the Iron and Tyled one, were chiefly Invented for drying of brown Malts and saving of Fuel, for these when they come to be thorough hot will make the Corns crack and jump by the fierceness of their heat, so that they will be roasted or scorch’d in a little time, and after they are off the Kiln, to plump the body of the Corn and make it take the Eye, some will sprinkle water over it that it may meet with the better Market. But if such Malt is not used quickly, it will slacken and lose its Spirits to a great degree, and perhaps in half a Year or less may be taken by the Whools and spoiled: Such hasty dryings or scorchings are also apt to bitter the Malt by burning its skin, and therefore these Kilns are not so much used now as formerly: The Wyre-frames indeed are something better, yet they are apt to scorch the outward part of the Corn, that cannot be got off so soon as the Hair-cloth admits of, for these must be swept, when the other is only turned at once; however these last three ways are now in much request for drying pale and amber Malts, because their fire may be kept with more leisure, and the Malt more gradually and truer dyed, but by many the Hair-cloth is reckoned the best of all.”

The London and Country Brewer only refers to three types of malt produced at this time: Pale, Amber and Brown malt. These malts were also mixed with each other –

“At Bridport in Dorsetshire, I knew an Inn-keeper use half Pale and half Brown Malt for Brewing his Butt-beers, that, proved to my Palate the best I ever drank on the Road, which I think may be accounted for, in that the Pale being the slackest, and the Brown the hardest dryed, must produce a mellow good Drink by the help of a requisite Age, that will reduce those extreams to a proper Quality.”

There are some people who have researched this subject much more than I have – check out these blogs: The Perfect Pint and Shut Up About Barclay Perkins.

The second challenge: How the hell do I dry malt over fire! I live in a town house, our backyard is a common area shared by our neighbours so I couldn’t build anything or have a fire pit like the fellow did in The Perfect Pint but I found an answer thanks to countless hours of watching outdoor survival videos on Youtube. I could burn stuff in a camp stove and then contain that fire within a smoker so I could have some control over the heat. Initially I had planned to use straw pellets but at $15 per 2 pounds these are a burn. So I went with the wood pellets. Keep in mind that this is my first attempt at this malt so it turned out rather light, I didn’t want to go too dark and kill the enzymes. My next batch will be darker though as I plan to cure it at a higher temperature by using either more gas wood stoves or by burning chunks of maple wood. If you’re interested in making this malt there are some very informative threads on Jim’s Beer Kit page by Ben a.k.a. Fuggledog


Posted by on November 15, 2013 in Diastatic Brown Malt


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8 responses to “Diastatic Brown Malt

  1. Ben Heaven

    January 5, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    Hey fantastic blog and so really inspirational videos. I think the use of the smoker is a great idea for controlling the temperature (I just used a metal incinerator – bin like bucket – with a basket over the top which was a bit hit and miss). Thanks for the mention too. cheers, Ben aka fuggledog

    • jfdyment

      January 6, 2014 at 4:50 am

      Hi Ben, thanks for the kind words. I learned a lot from your posts, your experiments on the subject were very thorough. I was curious about how you brewed the 1811 Whitbread recipe. In one post you describe 3 gyles each boiled seperately for different amounts of time, could you elaborate on this procedure? As you can see in the pictures the porter I made is very light, I know now I should have not only kilned it a little longer but boiled the wort longer too. cheers, Francois

  2. Ben Heaven

    January 6, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    Hi Francois

    re. the 3 gyles – this was based on one of Ron Pattinson’s posts about brewing porter in the 1800’s (probably best to check his blog on the topic as its a while since i read it). I think Scott (over on the perfect pint) had already tried this and i was keen to give it a go to try and create as ‘authentic’ a porter as I could. I tried it twice – once using diastatic brown and pale malts as per the recipe, and the second time using pale and a higher roaster, non-diastatic brown malt (still made over hornbeam). This was inspired by another of Ron’s posts where he speculated (or perhaps drew conclusions from the evidence available) that mid to late 1800’s brown malt was non-diastatic but not like modern brown malt (still produced over wood). I found the diastatic brown malt made a very pale beer when blended with pale according to the recipe – however if brewed using the 3 seperate gyles (and correspondingly long boils) I got a very reddish/copper beer (like a dark bitter/pale ale). I also got some ‘stewed caramel’ type flavours, and very good extraction from the malt. However given the effort required I’m not sure it was that different from brewing as you normally would with say a 90min boil, and then perhaps ‘boiling down’ the first runnings to add some caramel/colour. The non-diastatic brown malt provided a lot more colour (the porter was very dark – basically like modern stout), but the flavour of the malt is very different to modern brown malt (completely different really). Some people really like it (there is one person in particular who has been purchasing it semi-regularly) but I’m not sure i personally like it (yet). My diastatic malt is much darker than yours and produces an almost black beer – but i think your version may be more accurate as i think the porter in the 1700’s was described as dark brown not black. I use a similar but slightly different technique which saves more of the enzymes (conversion in approx 60 minutes) however i am over-‘snapping’ my malt and it is too dark and too smokey. I’m really interested in how your beer turns out and hoping the you have managed (where i have so far failed) to get a moderately smokey/balanced beer. I did get through my 50 litre batch but it was definately a sipping beer! Also have a recipe for a mid 1700’s porter (all brown malt, yeast, liqour and goldings) if you want it (just send me an e-mail). i got this from Combrune’s “Theory and Practice of Brewing” (1762) and worked out the hopping rate and likely IBU’s from descriptions of the hopping schedule, storage and preference for hops aged a particular length of time.

    Really inspired by all your videos and keen to try malting again now that i’ve seen your approach – drinking your own beer from self-grown hops and barley must have been amazing.

    cheers mate


    • jfdyment

      January 6, 2014 at 10:45 pm

      Hi Ben, thanks for the response, I’d love that recipe, sounds very interesting. I’ve got some older hops aging in the garage. I’ll check out Ron’s posts although with my long conversion times I think the 90 min boil is good idea. If it’s any indication my wife recently tried the porter and liked it- (this is pretty rare for any beer that she’s tried) said it would be great with cheese. There is quite a bit of smoke, if I had the patience I probably could have waited before brewing with it but it does have a nice sweetness as well. The smoke flavour is “bacony” I think the pecan wood is similar to maple in character but I’ve also read that it’s like a subtle version of hickory. And yes homegrown beer is awesome, just wish I owned a farm so I could grow more barley. This year I’m planning to plant all Maris Otter seed planted intensively and with better pest controls. Cheers, Francois

  3. Ben Heaven

    January 7, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    Hi mate, no problem – here is the recipe and my notes which i recorded in beersmith re. that various ingredients.

    For 65 litres of ‘Original Porter’ circa 1762:

    Target O.G. 1.055 (or you can aim for the upper range of the period – around 1.060)
    Target FG: 1.014

    113 litres of liqour (treated to match london profiles/suitable for a dark beer according to your local supply)
    19.04kg diastatic brown malt (hornbeam, oak, or beech cured) – Note i get lower efficiency with this malt than an ordinary pale malt due to some destruction of the sugar in the snapping process (also this was noted historically)
    247g of fresh East Kent Goldings (@ 5.64 alpha acid) (first wort hopping – see notes below for rationale) OR 520g of EKG aged for 1 year at around 13 degrees centigrade (estimated alpha 2.68)
    Estimated colour (using my malt) is typically estimated around 104 EBC but i think I need to lighten the snapping on my malt to get a dark brown rather than black beer.

    Ok here are my notes on this recipe reconstruction:

    “The recipe is derived from Ron Pattison’s citation and summary of Combrune’s “Theory and Practice of Brewing” (1762). An updated edition of this text was published in 1804 (a scanned copy is available on the net). In the 1804 version the author notes that he has adapted his recommendations regarding the brewing of porter from the first edition of his text as ‘pale malt is now used in addition to brown’. The implication is that the description for porter brewing in the original text assumes a grist of 100% brown malt. As an aside (based on Ron’s research/notes as published online) the hydrometer wasn’t invented until 1770,after which it was discovered that brown malt didn’t provide as much fermentable sugar as the more expensive (but overall more economically efficient) pale malt. The timing of the first publication (1762) therefore falls prior to the introduction of the hydrometer and supports my informal theory re. the original recipe as 100% brown malt. In the text, porter is described as using between 2.9 and 3.5 bushels of malt per barrel. Ron has calculated the corresponding SG that could be expected from this volume of malt given the intended volume of beer. The O.G. would be between 1.055 to 1.067 (average OG of 1.060).

    For the hopping rate, Pattinson observed that roughly 4x the quantity of hops were used in ‘beers’ of the period in comparison with an ‘ale’ of similar grist and OG. I converted the hopping rate stated for ‘strong brown ale’ (O.G. estimated at around 1.094)in London and Country Brewer (1736, p. 73), which is 0.75ibs per 36 gallons to an equivalent ‘beer’ of a similar gravity (1.094) by multiplying the weight of hops by 4 (= 3 ibs), then converting this to grams per 36 gallons (= 1360.78g), then to litres (1360.73g per 163.659L). I then divided 163.659L by the target volume (65 litres) which = 2.52. I then divded the total mass of hops (1360.73 g) for a 163.659 Litre brew legnth by this figure to get 540g per 65L for a 1.094 stout butt beer. Scaling back both the gravity and hops at an equal rate to the more typical strength of a porter (in this case I’m going for the lower end of the scale at 1.055) leaves me with around 520 grams of hops or (if using goldings at 5.64 alpha) about 120IBUs . However it is not clear whether these were all ‘new’ hops or a mixture of old and new, or just aged hops. There is a paragraph later in the text that mentions that the ‘best’ hops should be aged a year, so this would further reduce the IBU. Given the hop storage index for goldings of 35% per 6 months, and assuming a linear fall off of alpha acid (which may be in error), would leave me with 520 grams of goldings @ just 2.68 alpha acid [Note: I amended this estimation using the new ‘hop age’ tool in beersmith which also allowed me to take into account the possible storage temperature of the hops – i assumed that it might be possible to store the hops at around cellar temperature (13c). Running this through beersmith gives a corrected value of approximately 55 IBU’s – or an O.G./IBU ratio of around 1:1 – so not as extreme as this intial weight of hops might suggest without exploring further into the text. However it is also important to consider that some of the other compounds in the hops (that provide tannins for example) may not have diminished, which could add another dimension to the beer and wouldn’t be replicated if just reducing the total quantitiy of fresh hops” – Bondgate Brewery log, 29th June, 2012.

    Also agree completely with you findings that the long time drying the green malt is key for successful brown malt (this is also mentioned in Combrune’s book but you have to search for it in the malting bit – not the kilning and curing bit. cheers mate – and thanks again for sharing all you work and insights. As i said you’ve encouraged me to have another go at malting.



    • jfdyment

      January 8, 2014 at 12:16 am

      Fantastic, thank you for sharing this Ben! You’ve given me another project, I’m so glad I kept those hops. I intended to use them for a lambic but I’d rather use them for this. I’m curious to taste the difference that aged hops make in a porter. I’ll make sure to age this one with some oak to make it more authentic. Thanks again!,

  4. Andrew Elliott

    January 22, 2014 at 1:08 am

    Francois –

    Thank you so much for taking me up on this challenge. My apologies for not following up sooner, as things have been beyond hectic for me.

    This was quite an interesting and exciting post and video! I’m very happy to hear the beer turned out so well. My home brewing results yield the same typical result with my wife — typically unimpressed with the occasional success.

    I continue to enjoy your blog, and as I am only now convincing my wife to allow hop growing in our garden, I’ll have to live vicariously through you on the malting side. The trade off is, I have plenty of fresh asian vegetables 🙂

    Best Regards,


    • jfdyment

      January 22, 2014 at 2:31 am

      Hey, thank you for the idea! This has opened up a whole new territory for me, brewing historical beers, what a dangerous path to go down. Happy gardening!


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