Which Grain Should I Use?

Which Grain Should I Use?

Posted by Mary on May 24th 2016

Although each mash recipe is unique, new distillers often wonder which grains would be best for the product they want to make. I put together some details about the different grains that we offer here at Brewhaus to help take some of the guesswork out of it for you. Just keep in mind that the information provided here is specific to the grains that we carry and may not be applied to all grains of the same type. For example, our 2-Row Pale Malted Barley uses the Metcalfe and Copeland varieties as listed below, but other brands of 2-row pale malt could contain different varieties.

General Considerations

When it comes to selecting your grains, barley is the grain that is most often used in making alcohol. Therefore, the 2-row and 6-row malts, as well as the distiller’s malts, are all barley. Wheat has a weaker taste, and barley has a stronger taste. Recipes for whisky, bourbon, and gin all typically use some combination of barley with other grains, such as wheat or rye. Although vodka is a neutral spirit that can be made from practically anything, it is often made from some type of wheat. For example, Absolut and Grey Goose are both made from winter wheat, and most Russian vodka is made from wheat. Corn or Barley can also be used in making vodka, and many cheap-quality vodkas on the market today are corn-based. Rye has a very distinct flavor and is popular in whisky. And of course, moonshine or corn whisky is made from corn. You can find specific recipes on our forum here and a very detailed breakdown of each type of grain on this fellow’s blog here.

Grains and Adjuncts

Malting Floor (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

You’ll notice that our grains are either malted or flaked. To oversimplify it, malted barley comes from barley kernels that have basically been wetted in order for them to sprout and then dried, leaving it full of enzymes, carbohydrates, and proteins. Malted barley already contains alpha amylase, which is a very important enzyme that chops up the starches into shorter pieces that are more fermentable, allowing you to maximize the alcohol content. You also have the option of having us crush your malted grains for you. Crushing the malted grains allows the moisture to get in and pull out all the enzymes and starches.

In regards to crushing: With brewing, you want the husk to build a grain bed for sparging/rinsing the grain to get all of the sweet juice out of it, so you want more of a coarse crush. However, with distilling, sparging will reduce your fermentable sugars, so you want a finer crush. Here at Brewhaus, we do a medium crush so that the pieces are broken up smaller, but the husks are still intact enough that the grain can be used for either brewing or distilling.

Now flaked grains are different from malted grains. Flaked grains have been run through hot rollers, which caused them to become gelatinized and therefore do not need to be boiled. However, the enzymes have been killed off by those hot rollers during the flaking process, so you may need to add alpha amylase or another type of enzyme as an additive if you aren’t getting the enzymes from someplace else in your recipe. In a nutshell, flaked grains are basically used both for flavor and as an adjunct, which adds sugar that helps with fermentation.

Using Enzymes or Additives

Alpha amylase is hugely important when it comes to fermentation, but it’s important to know that it has a specific temperature range that it works in: 152-168F. If the temperature drops below the range, the enzymes will deactivate, but they can become active again if you raise the temperature back up to normal. Yet, if the temperature rises beyond that range, it will flat-out kill the enzymes, and that’s no good.

If you’re fermenting for beer, you can also control the body of the beer depending on the enzyme you’re using as well as the temperature. This part doesn’t matter so much for distilling, because you can’t carry body across the distillation process. If you mash with alpha amylase at the higher-end of the temperature range, you can craft a more full-bodied beer because it doesn’t break all the carbohydrates down. If you want a thinner-bodied beer, use beta amylase and keep the temperature between 130-150F.

2-Row Pale Malt

• Called “2-Row” because the “head” or “ear” of the barley contains 2 rows of seeds
• Delivers less enzymatic activity than the 6-Row malt, so you need a higher percentage of your 2-Row if using adjuncts such as maize, rye, etc.
• Uses the malting barley varieties of Metcalfe and Copeland
• Malted in the USA
• Used in recipes for all beer styles, American-style bourbons, whiskies, and gin
• Do not boil—you’ll kill the enzymes

6-Row Pale Malt

• Called “6-Row” because the “ear” or “head” of the barley contains 6 rows of seeds
• Contains slightly more protein and less starch than a 2-Row
• Offers more enzymatic activity than the 2-Row so you can use more adjuncts like rye, maize, etc. with this than you would with a 2-row
• Native to Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Finland, and Sweden
• Malted in the USA
• Used in recipes for adjunct-based American lager and wheat beers, American-style bourbons, whiskies, and gin
• Do not boil—you’ll kill the enzymes

Distiller’s Malt

• Contains 6 rows of seeds in the “ear” or “head” of the barley
• Specifically designed for spirits requiring a majority of raw grains with enough enzyme to convert the large amount of starch
• Similar to the 6-Row Pale Malt, our Distiller’s Malt offers more enzymatic activity than the 2-Row so you can use more adjuncts like rye, maize, etc. with this than you would with a 2-row
• Malted in the USA
• Used in recipes for American-style bourbons, whiskies, and spirits
• Do not boil—you’ll kill the enzymes

White Winter Wheat Malt

• Malted in Canada
• Used in recipes for wheat beer styles and vodkas
• Do not boil—you’ll kill the enzymes



Flaked Maize

• Degermed yellow corn
• Pre-cooked brewers adjunct with high extraction properties
• Used in recipes for lighter beers or pilsners, traditional moonshine, and American-style bourbons
• Do not boil or crush


Flaked Rye

• Used in recipes for rye beer styles, American-style bourbons, whiskies, and gin
• Used for additional flavor rather than as a malt replacement
• Provides dry, crisp character and strong rye flavor
• Do not boil or crush


Flaked Wheat

• Used in recipes for wheat beer styles and vodkas
• Has not been malted—is essentially raw wheat, meaning that this lacks the enzymes that help convert starch into sugars, an effect that occurs with malting
• Do not boil or crush


Other Considerations

Peated Malt (peated malted barley) and Peated Rye are two other types of grain that brewers and distillers will use because they contribute to more complex flavor profiles due to the peat moss element. We used to carry these items, but we no longer do because of lack of interest.

Hopefully, this sheds some light on the different type of grain that we offer. If you have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 817-750-2739 or contact us here.