The SAB Heritage Tour second ingredient malt MzansiBride

Winona Griggs

The SAB Heritage Tour: Let’s Explore Malt!

When I stepped into the malt section of the SAB Heritage Tour, I couldn’t help but notice that it didn’t have the pleasant aroma of the hops section. But that’s okay because nothing really smells as amazing as fresh hops – well, at least in my opinion. So without being bothered by it, I continued the tour and made my way to the maltings plant, which was hidden away in the charming town of Caledon.

So, here’s the deal: if you don’t know much about beer ingredients, let me break it down for you. Malt, my friend, is a crucial component. Now, don’t get it twisted – malt isn’t something you pick off trees or find sprouting up from the ground. Nope, it all starts with barley, an agricultural wonder. At Caledon, they’re like mad scientists, transforming barley into malted barley – or simply malt. And guess what? Later on, it’s the brewer’s turn to work their magic and create beer using malt, water, hops, and yeast.

Let me give you a little insight into the whole process. Brace yourself, because it’s quite the adventure. It takes a little over six days to handle a massive 9360-ton batch of barley. That’s no joke! At Caledon, they don’t do things halfway – they go big or go home. In fact, these folks run the largest maltings operation in the southern hemisphere. Talk about dedication!

Firstly, let’s talk about the fascinating process of brewing beer. It all starts with steeping the grain in water to help it germinate. Now, picture this: we climb what feels like a mountain of stairs, eagerly anticipating what awaits us at the top. And there, in a dimly-lit room, we are greeted with a truly mesmerizing sight.

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This spectacle may not sound all that exciting at first – I mean, who wants to watch water soaking grain, right? But trust me, once you see it, you won’t be able to look away. As we peer over the wall, even the shortest among us standing on tiptoes, we catch a glimpse of a massive container filled with barley and water.

The barley is steeping away, creating a turmoil of bubbles and occasional geyser-like splashes. It’s as if we’ve stepped into a thrilling science experiment. But why all the commotion? Well, the air that’s injected into the water serves a critical purpose – it prevents the grains from drowning.

After 43 hours of steeping, which we don’t stick around to see the end of, the real action begins: germination. This 84-hour process is crucial because it exposes the starches that are locked away inside the grains. These starches are super important because they contain all the sugars that can be fermented. Without them, brewing would be a sad, soggy mess.

Once germination is complete, we face a new challenge: stopping it and getting rid of any extra moisture. We want the final product to be dry enough that it could last for decades, or even centuries. To achieve this, we send the malt into the kiln for a full 24 hours. This step is absolutely vital because it removes the water and helps shape the malt. It’s during this time that the color, aroma, and, most importantly, the taste are determined.

As we wind up our tour, we find ourselves in a control room, passing around various items and purposefully ignoring a giant red button that tempts us to push it and see what happens. First, we examine a selection of jars, each holding items sifted from harvested barley to ensure your pint is free of stones and twigs. Next, we come across a photo of a maltings plant that was destroyed by a catastrophic dust explosion. I can’t help but contemplate the dangers involved in preparing beer ingredients. It seems like there’s always something – either spontaneous combustion or dust explosions. Maybe I’ll think twice before complaining about a mere hangover next time.

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After navigating through the world of science – a topic that has never been one of my strong suits – I’m glad to end our visit with a relatively easy-to-understand fact. Since 1981, the Caledon maltings plant, which happens to be the largest in the SAB Miller group, has produced a jaw-dropping four million tons of malt. Apparently, that’s enough malt to make beer for a row of quarts that could circle the globe an impressive 96 times. Considering that all I knew about malt and barley before this tour was that malt was a delicious snack and barley was a hazard for my teeth, I’m feeling quite proud of my newfound knowledge. I think it’s time for a well-deserved pint… Cheers!

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