Japanese whiskies eye pole position

‘Malternatives’ to low-cost beer production Raw barley brewing has a positive environmental advantage over malting, due to its less energy-intensive processing and cost savings.

Beer has become more expensive to produce, due to climate change, inflation and rising costs along the supply chain – from barley grain to the aluminium used in beer cans. In response, breweries around the world are raising prices and trying to reduce overhead costs.

One immediate way to lower spend is by replacing malt with less expensive adjuncts, or malt alternatives (aka 'malternatives'). When combined with enzymes and brewing solutions, breweries can use malternatives to cut costs, improve efficiencies and improve sustainability, while also supporting local or regional farmers.

Barley prices are playing a major role in the jump in beer costs and climate change is the reason why. The barley crop in 2021 was the smallest it has been since 1934, due to dry weather and challenging growing conditions in the United States and Canada.

According to a new RaboResearch report, malting barley prices in Western Europe are currently 50% higher than levels seen a year ago. This is expected to have a major impact on maltsters, who convert barley into malt and sell malt to brewers, for whom barley inputs make up 65% of costs.

Exogenous enzymes

In addition to rising costs, the reduction in supply means brewers may not be able to obtain the right quantity or quality of malt they need. Developing alternatives and forming a clear ingredient strategy can deliver long-term benefits.
Malternatives would normally be classified as adjuncts in the brewing process. These are generally considered anything that is added into the process – other than malt – that directly contributes carbohydrates and/or fermentable sugars.

Malternatives are often found in the form of alternative regional grains such as sorghum, maize, rice and cassava. Using these in brewing is one way to produce a consumer-acceptable beer at an economically attractive price point.

In addition, local economies can benefit from the use of local grains through employment creation, incomes for local farmers, reduced transportation costs and overall economic benefits to the area.

Process aids and enzymes can deliver sustainability benefits and significant reductions in brewing costs. Exogenous enzymes can be used in brewing processes that have a high adjunct content.

The added enzymes compensate for the lack of natural enzymes which are present in malt, but not in all malternatives. These exogenous enzymes, when used in adjunct brewing, facilitate the brewing process and maintain the quality of the finished product.

Enzymes perform well when working with alternative raw materials, leading to improved efficiency and performance. With appropriate processing and the application of commercial enzymatic preparations during wort and beer production, any potentially negative changes to the quality of the final product can be minimised.

In addition, enzymes can allow for a reduction in cooking temperatures and enable the use of higher percentages of un-malted raw materials. In particular, thermostable α-amylase for high-adjunct brewing, along with glucanase, proteases and glucoamylase, enable the use of alternative, un-malted and more cost-effective local and sustainable raw materials – all without negatively impacting final product integrity.

Cassava malternative

The best malternative to consider will likely be dependent on where in the world you are brewing beer. Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is a part of the Euphorbiaceae family. It is a woody shrub native to South America which is now also grown extensively in tropical regions of the world, in countries as far apart as Indonesia and Nigeria.

Cassava is grown primarily for its large starchy roots – a valuable food source in many countries – and, given pressure on the supply and demand of other starches and cereal crops, locally grown, low-cost cassava represents a potential alternative for brewers.

Cassava is drought-resistant and can be grown in areas in which other climate-challenged crops are difficult to grow. With the optimal application of thermo-stable amylases and glucoamylase, extracts of the targeted quality can be unlocked from the cassava tuber to support the creation of a high-quality, affordable and sustainable brewing alternative to imported barley.

The starchy composition of cassava makes it excellent for use in brewing in those regions in which it is easily available. Without adding enzymes, there is a higher wort viscosity and, therefore, beer would be more difficult to process and be subject to a longer filtration time.

With the help of enzymes, however, it can be included as an adjunct in brewing and has great potential as a source of extract.

Raw barley

Assuming adjuncts are permitted in one’s jurisdiction, barley is one of the easiest adjuncts to use for brewers currently utilising a traditional 100% malt mash.

Barley can be used at high levels – up to 60-80% – with malt. Using barley versus other cereal adjuncts offers significant advantages to the brewer. Its starch has a similar gelatinisation temperature to malted barley (53–58?C and 61–65?C respectively), and it can be incorporated quite easily into conventional malted barley mashing procedures.

Also, its endogenous ß-amylase ensures maltose production during mashing. Likewise, the presence of a husk can aid mash filtration through a traditional lauter tun.

A successful way to use a high percentage of barley in a standard malt recipe is to use an enzyme complex, such as Promalt, which includes amylase, protease and glucanase activity. A high percentage of barley can often be added into the grist without significant impact on taste versus all-malt beer.

Barley brewing also has a marked positive environmental advantage over malting due to its less energy-intensive processing. The potential savings for brewing with barley, and the decision at what level to brew with, both depend on several factors – raw material prices; percentage of barley used; quality of barley (and malt); process design (milling, mashing, brewhouse lautering/ filtration system); and final product specifications (taste panel and consumer acceptance).

Other grains

After rice and wheat, corn (maize) ranks as one of the most common crops worldwide. Because it is highly fermentable, maize starch is applied widely as an adjunct in the production of high-gravity beer. Corn flakes or pre-gelatinised maize can be used to substantially reduce mashing time.

Like barley and maize, sorghum (Sorghum vulgare) belongs to the Poaceae family. Sorghum is closely related to corn in the genomic organisation, plant shape, developmental physiology and even application.

In 2017, sorghum, which is mostly grown in Central Africa and Asia, dominated the gluten-free beer market. That year, sorghum beer accounted for 37.9% of the total volume of non-gluten beers produced.

In one study, two researchers, Goode and Arendt, used un-malted sorghum as an adjuvant in 50% barley malt and the finished product was comparable to beer obtained from 100% barley malt.

Other researchers produced lager beer with 25% sorghum adjuvant and were also able to produce a good-quality beer. Rice, maize and sorghum all have gelatinisation temperatures above that of malt and barley.

When rice and maize are used in combination with malt, they are usually cooked separately using a portion of the malt grist to provide enzymes during the gelatinisation step. Thermo-stable amylases are highly effective here and can be added to prevent any mashes from turning into starch ‘cement’.

It may be recommended that brewers use exogenous enzymes together with corn to enhance saccharification and amylolytic activity. The most convenient way to use corn in the beer industry is as an adjuvant, given that it is a source of carbohydrates – and such maize granules are in common use.

On the downside, the process of obtaining malt from maize can be expensive and difficult.

Future of brewing

Between climate change and supply chain issues, having the flexibility to choose an alternative raw material and being able to use locally available ingredients that provide a clear advantage.

In addition, locally sourced raw materials can make for a more sustainable beer product with a connection to the community and lower CO2 output, due to choosing less energy-intensive ingredients.

Exogenous enzymes and processing aids help to deliver fermentable extracts, providing the process control needed to work with challenging raw materials.
Malternative options such as cassava, barley, maize, rice sorghum and others – along with the use of enzymes and process aids – are valuable tools in the fight to counteract unstable growing conditions.

Over time, their use can assist in easing the rising beer prices increasingly being witnessed as a result of climate change and unstable world events. (Courtesy: Kerry Insights)