A maltster (also malster) was someone who brewed beer or prepared malt for brewing purposes.
Malting was a trade in its own right, and maltsters generally independent from either the farmers who produced the barley or the brewers who consumed the malt, though some of the larger breweries conducted their own malting operations, especially from the nineteenth century onwards [Technically the term ‘maltster’ is feminine (cf brewster), malting having traditionally been the work of women; by the period in question, however, the enterprise was male-dominated and the term applied largely to men.]
Malted grain is used to make beer; whisky; malted shakes; malt vinegar; confections such as Maltesers and Whoppers; flavored drinks such as Horlicks, Ovaltine and Milo; and some baked goods, such as malt loaf, bagels and rich tea biscuits. Malted grain that has been ground into a coarse meal is known as "sweet meal". Various cereals are malted, though barley is the most common. A high-protein form of malted barley is often a label-listed ingredient in blended flours typically used in the manufacture of yeast breads and other baked goods.
Malted grains have likely been used as an ingredient of beer since ancient times, for example in Egypt (Ancient Egyptian cuisine), Sumeria and China.
In Persian countries a sweet paste made entirely from germinated wheat is called Samanū (Persian: سمنو) in Iran, Samanak (Persian: سمنک), (Tajik: сумалак); (Uzbek: sumalak) or Sümölök (Kyrgyz: сүмөлөк), which is prepared for Nowruz (Persian new year celebration) in a large pot (like a kazan). A plate or bowl of Samanu is a traditional component of the Haft sin table symbolising affluence. Traditionally, women take a special party for it during the night, and cook it from late in the evening till the daylight, singing related songs. In Tajikistan and Afghanistan they sing: Samanak dar Jūsh u mā Kafcha zanēm - Dīgarān dar Khwāb u mā Dafcha zanēm. (meaning: "Samanak is boiling and we are stirring it, others are asleep and we are playing daf"). In modern times, making sumanu can be a family gathering. It originally comes from the Great Persian Empire.
Mämmi, or Easter Porridge, is a traditional Finnish Lenten food. Cooked from rye malt and -flour, mämmi has a great resemblance (in recipe, colour and taste) to Samanū. Today, this product is available in shops from February until Easter. A (non-representative) survey in 2013 showed that almost no one cooks mämmi at home in modern-day Finland.
How was the natural process of malting discovered, and even more surprisingly how was it discovered that you could use the malt produced to make beer?
Nobody knows for sure, but rather like roasted meat, it was probably a lucky accident, or more likely a series of lucky incidents. Man has probably cultivated barley and wheat for around 12,000 years, and malting is thought to have taken place for about half that period. Dr Dennis Briggs in 'Malts and Malting' suggests that malting is the oldest biotechnology. Even today research is still undertaken on what happens during the malting process, so although maltsters rightly consider themselves 'experts' they do not pretend to know everything about their art.
It is likely that the first discovery was that natural yeast could mix with ground up barley or wheat flour to produce bread, although it probably took some while to understand why some baked grain flour was flat whilst others were 'raised' by the yeast.
Perhaps the next exciting discovery was probably that sprouted (or germinated) grain produced a different flavour when baked as bread. Its known that in ancient Egypt bread making and brewing occurred at the same locations, so it is perhaps not unlikely that it was a baker who discovered how to make beer?
An ancient loaf of bread could have contained malt, in the form of germinated barley that had been baked, plus the yeast necessary to make the bread rise. Drop that into a container of water, and leave it for a few days and you would produce a liquor rich in natural sugars and starch, which the yeast could eat and within its cells produce alcohol as a by-product. The first beer! Who was the brave person who decided to taste it rather than throw the dark frothy liquid away? This was an unsung hero indeed!
What did the earliest beers taste like?
We would not recognise the flavour of beer drunk at those times, indeed it would be more accurate to call it ale, as it did not contain the bitterness flavour supplied from hops. Ale was made from fermented malt liquor, and a range of plant material was added over the centuries to give flavour change. Hops were not used for that purpose in the UK until about 500 years ago, and were not welcomed when first introduced!
- Making Malt Whiskey
- The Maltster's Association of Great Britian
- Guide to the World of Occupations - brewer and maltster
jump back to Occupations portal
this project is in HistoryLink