Malted vs Unmalted Barley, Flaked Oats, Grains, and Wheat

by Dane Wilson | Last Updated: July 5, 2022

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Beers and whiskeys are made with a variety of fermented grains, including barley, along with adjunct grains. Whiskeys and beers produced with malted barley tend to have lighter bodies and notes of caramel. However, does using malted vs unmalted barley change the way the beer or the whiskey tastes? Let’s discuss barley, malts, and how beer and whiskey are affected by the malting process.

What is Malted Barley?

To begin, let’s talk about barley and what it means when barley is malted. Barley is a kind of cereal that is not too different from corn and wheat. Any grain can be malted, but barley does an exceptional job at it.

By the way, when speaking about “malt” and “malted barley,” it means that a grain has undergone the malting process. Grains are malted when grains like barley are soaked and allowed to germinate slightly. Germination prompts enzymes to form, converting starches into sugars. Then, those germinated grains are heated and dried out.

If you have any experience with homebrewing, you know that this process is vital to fermentation. Without those starches turning into sugars, you will not get your yeast to convert that sugar to alcohol.

Curious to know more? Check out this video on malted barley:

What is Unmalted Barley?

When something is unmalted, it is basically the raw version of the grain. Wheat, oats, barley—if it isn’t malted, it is unmalted. This kind of barley is going to contain the same amount of starches and sugars as the malted kind, but it is more difficult for yeast to convert those sugars into alcohol, because they are less available. Traditionally, unmalted barley is used to contribute to the mouthfeel of whiskey and beer.

How is Barley Used For Whiskey?

Does it matter if you use malted vs unmalted barley for whiskey? Yes, it does. While Irish whiskey is made with a mash of both kinds of barley, there are some whiskeys that only use malted barley.

Malting barley makes it easier to ferment the alcohol, and it also influences the taste and look of the whiskey. The same is true for beer.

To create malt and grain whiskeys, brewers use malted barley. The malt is transformed into a coarse flour-like substance known as grist. Then the grist is mixed in with water in a mash tun or larger pot. At this point, unmalted barley may be added to the water as it comes to a near boil. Sugars in the grains start to dissolve into the water, making wort. Again, this is the same process for both whiskey and beer.

Can You Brew Beer with Unmalted Barley or Grains?

Although whiskey can be the delicious result of malted and unmalted barley, can you do the same for beer? You can. However, unmalted barley is not going to give you the same result. Unmalted grain lacks the beneficial enzymes, so you will not get sugar for the wort unless you mash it first. Remember, without the sugar, your yeast will be unable to do its job.

So you will have to mash the unmalted barley and also add some enzymes, such as beta-amylase. Using such an enzyme will release fermentable sugars while mashing your unmalted barley. In small amounts, you could also use ginger root to the same effect, though that could change the flavor of your wort.

There is one extra step when using unmalted barley, but you can still make a delicious beer when using it instead of malted barley.

Optionally, you can use unmalted barley as an adjunct when homebrewing beer.

Using Unmalted Barley as an Adjunct

To get a bready flavor when brewing beer, you toss in some unmalted barley. Now, adjuncts were not always used in beer, thanks to something called the Reinheitsgebot, or Purity Laws, in Germany. Way back when, German brewers were prevented from using anything but grains, hops, yeast, and water when making their brews. However, other countries, like Belgium, didn’t prevent brewers from using adjuncts, which is why Belgian-style beers often use a lot of adjuncts.

What Does Flaked Mean in Beer Brewing?

In the world of homebrewing, not all adjuncts are made equally. The most popular adjuncts out there, such as flaked barley, flaked oats, and flaked wheat can also come as unmalted or malted. Flaking is the result of the grains being treated with steam, allowing for the outer shell to soften so the inside is exposed. Then the grains are processed with rollers.

When you boil the flaked oats, grains, and wheat, the flavors are added to the wort.

Here is a bit more information on these adjuncts:

  • Flaked barley: This adjunct is used to add sugars that cannot be fermented to the wort, as well as a grainy flavor. Flaked barley also increases the attenuation limit, adds proteins for head retention, and adds more body. For that reason, New England IPAs, saisons, and wheat beers use a lot of flaked barley.
  • Flaked oats: Rich in beta glucans, gums, and lipids, flaked oats provide a silkiness to the beer. Flaked oats are used in oatmeal stouts, New England IPAs, and other hoppy beer styles.
  • Flaked wheat: Want a crisp mouthfeel? Use flake wheat. European wheat beers, saisons, and New England IPAs that want some haze add in flake wheat. Furthermore, flaked wheat adds foam stability and to support nitrogen levels in the wort.

This video will explain all the ways flaked adjuncts can lighten the body of your home-brewed beer:

To Malt or Not to Malt

Be it whiskey or beer, malted vs unmalted barley, flaked or not, has a lot of significance in the end result. Malt is certainly required when brewing any alcoholic beverage, but that does not mean you cannot use unmalted barley for either beer or whiskey. Have you ever used adjuncts in your home brew? How did it turn out?


What is the difference between malted and unmalted whiskey?

Malt whiskey is made from malted barley and is distilled in a pot still. Unmalted whiskey means that it is whiskey made from grains that have not undergone the malting process.

Why is malted barley for beer brewing instead of unmalted barley?

Malted barley for beer is often used because the malting process makes the starches and sugars required for fermentation easier for the yeast to consume. Unmalted barley is often used as an adjunct in beer brewing; it doesn’t have the vital enzymes required for converting starches into sugars and sugars into alcohol.

What does unmalted barley mean?

Unmalted barley means that the grains have not been converted into malts. Without undergoing that malting process, unmalted barley is more or less raw.

What is the difference between barley malt and malted barley?

There is no difference between barley malt and malted barley, in essence. They refer to the same thing: Barley that undergone the malting process. Barley malt is malt from malted barley.