By Special to The Oregonian
A group of Oregon State University engineering students didn’t wait to graduate before endowing their alma mater: For their senior project, they designed and built an innovative barley malter that allows OSU to now teach every step of brewing, from barley field and hop yard to bottling line.
“It’s the bread machine of barley malters,” said professor Pat Hayes of OSU’s Crop and Soil Science department. The malter, which looks a bit like a half-ton stainless steel rocket motor, automates and consolidates the task of steeping, germinating and kilning barley to make barley malt.
Graduate student and team leader Joe Hortnagl and mechanical engineering seniors Aaron Mason, Tyler Froemming, Eric Sunderland and Curtis Barnard designed and built a machine into which you can pour raw barley, set the computer and come back in about a week to shovel out as much as 300 pounds of fragrant, toasty, Grape-Nuts-tasting barley malt.
In reality, it’s a bit more fussy than that, but the students’ flexible and affordable rig has piqued the interest of commercial maltsters and food companies that use sprouted grain.
Malted barley is the essential backbone of beer. The sprouted, toasted seed contains the enzymes and starches that yeast turns into sugars and alcohol. Because it can be kilned to precise degrees of color and roast, maltsters make dozens of styles and colors of malt, from pale Vienna malt to the roasted black patent malt that makes Guinness opaque. Beer recipes often call for several types of malt, and brewers use it by the hundredweight or the ton — after water, malt is beer’s main ingredient.
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