A malt house, or maltings, is a building where cereal grain is converted into malt
Malt is germinated cereal grains that have been dried in a process known as "malting". The grains are made to germinate by soaking in water, and are then halted from germinating further by drying with hot air...

 by soaking it in water, allowing it to sprout and then drying it to stop further growth. The malt is used in brewing beer
Beer is the world's most widely consumed andprobably oldest alcoholic beverage; it is the third most popular drink overall, after water and tea. It is produced by the brewing and fermentation of sugars, mainly derived from malted cereal grains, most commonly malted barley and malted wheat...

, whisky
Whisky or whiskey is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. Different grains are used for different varieties, including barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, and corn...

 and in certain foods. The traditional malt house was largely phased out during the twentieth century in favour of more mechanised production. Many malt houses have been converted to other uses, such as Snape Maltings
Snape Maltings
Snape Maltings is part of Snape, Suffolk, U.K., best known for its concert hall, which is one of the main sites of the annual Aldeburgh Festival....

 which is now a concert hall.

Production process

The grain was first soaked in a steeping pit or cistern for a day or more. This was constructed of brick or stone, and was sometimes lined with lead. It was rectangular and no more than 40 inches (101.6 cm) deep. Soon after being covered with water, the grain began to swell and increase its bulk by 25 percent.

The cistern was then drained and the grain transferred to another vessel called a couch, either a permanent construction, or temporarily formed with wooden boards. Here it was piled 12 – deep, and began to generate heat and start to germinate. It spent a day or two here, according to the season and the maltster's practice.

It was then spread out on the growing floor, the depth dictated by the temperature, but sufficiently deep to encourage vegetation. It was turned at intervals to achieve even growth and over the next fourteen days or so it is turned and moved towards the kiln
A kiln is a thermally insulated chamber, or oven, in which a controlled temperature regime is produced. Uses include the hardening, burning or drying of materials...

. The temperature was also controlled by ventilation. A day or two after the grain was turned out on to the floor, an agreeable smell was given off, and roots soon began to appear. A day or so later the future stem began to swell, and the kernel became friable and sweet-tasting. As the germination proceeded the grain was spread thinner on the floor. The process was halted before the stem burst the husk. At this stage much of the starch in the grain had been converted to maltose
Maltose , or malt sugar, is a disaccharide formed from two units of glucose joined with an αbond, formed from a condensation reaction. The isomer "isomaltose" has two glucose molecules linked through an α bond. Maltose is the second member of an important biochemical series of glucose chains....

 and the grain was left on the floor to dry. The art of malting depends on the proper regulation of these changes in the grain. Maltsters varied in their manner of working, and adapted to changes in climatic conditions.

The barley was then moved into the kiln, 4 –, for between two and four days, depending on whether a light or dark malt was required. A slow fire was used to start, and then gradually raised to suit the purpose of the malt and the desired colour. The barley was then sieved to remove the shoots and stored for a few months to develop flavour.

Malt houses in the United Kingdom

Many villages had a malt house in the eighteenth century, supplying the needs of local publicans, estates and home brewers. Malt houses are typically long, low buildings, no more than two storeys high, in a vernacular
Vernacular architecture
Vernacular architecture is a term used to categorize methods of construction which use locally available resources and traditions to address local needs and circumstances. Vernacular architecture tends to evolve over time to reflect the environmental, cultural and historical context in which it...

 style. The germination of barley is hindered by high temperatures, so many malt houses only operated in the winter. This provided employment for agricultural workers whose labour was not much in demand during the winter months.

During the nineteenth century many small breweries disappeared. Improved techniques allowed larger breweries and specialist maltsters to build their own maltings and operate year round. These were often housed in multi-storey buildings. It was also more efficient to transport malt than barley to the brewery, so many large breweries set up their own maltings near railways in the barley growing districts of eastern England.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, pneumatic malting was introduced, in which the barley is aerated and the temperature carefully controlled, accelerating the germination. Large malting floors were no longer necessary, but power consumption was high, so floor malting held on well into the twentieth century. Only a handful of traditional malting floors are still in use.

Notable malthouses in the UK

  • Ye Old Corner Cupboard is a Grade II* listed building in Winchcombe
    Winchcombe is a Cotswold town in the local authority district of Tewkesbury, in Gloucestershire, England. Its population according to the 2001 census was 4,379.-Early history:...

    . Formerly a farmhouse, now an inn 1872 with a 19th-century malthouse along one wing.

  • The Malt House is a Grade II* listed building in Alton
    Alton, Staffordshire
    Alton is a village in the county of Staffordshire, England. It is noted for the theme park Alton Towers, built around the site of Alton Mansion , which was owned by the Earls of Shrewsbury and designed by Augustus Pugin....

    . House with attached granary, and underground maltkiln and cellars. Late 17th-century. Under the house, a stone barrel vaulted cellar, with inserted floor, 19th-century, forming a maltkiln.

  • Great Cliff Malt House is a Grade II* listed building in Chevet, West Yorkshire
    Chevet, West Yorkshire
    Chevet is a civil parish in the City of Wakefield in West Yorkshire, England. It has a population of 66....

    . Early-mid 17th-century. Attached kiln house. The malt house is a single vessel with heavy beams and chamfered purlins supporting a lime-ash floor.

  • Tuckers Maltings in Newton Abbot
    Newton Abbot
    Newton Abbot is a market town and civil parish in the Teignbridge District of Devon, England on the River Teign, with a population of 23,580....

     is the only traditional malthouse in the UK open to the public for guided tours. The malthouse produces malt for over 30 breweries, and enough to brew 15 million pints of beer per annum.

  • Great Ryburgh
    Great Ryburgh
    Great Ryburgh is a village in the English county of Norfolk. Administratively the village is within the civil parish of Ryburgh along with Little Ryburgh, in the district of North Norfolk....

     maltings has been producing malt on traditional malting floors for two centuries. The oldest remaining building was built in the 1890s and has three working floors where a staff of three make about 3000 tonnes of malt per year. Modern plant on the site produces some 112,000 tonnes.

  • Dereham Maltings (Crisp Malting Group) on Norwich Road in Dereham
    Dereham, also known as East Dereham, is a town and civil parish in the English county of Norfolk. It is situated on the A47 road, some 15 miles west of the city of Norwich and 25 miles east of King's Lynn. The civil parish has an area of and in the 2001 census had a population of...

     is a Grade II* listed building, currently on the buildings at risk register since being declared operations were concentrated at Great Ryburgh.

Malt tax

The malt tax was introduced in Britain in 1697, and was repealed in 1880.

The rate for malted barley was 6d. per bushel
A bushel is an imperial and U.S. customary unit of dry volume, equivalent in each of these systems to 4 pecks or 8 gallons. It is used for volumes of dry commodities , most often in agriculture...

 in 1697 and had risen to 2s. 7d. in 1834. In 1789 the malt tax raised £ million, 11.5% of all taxes. In 1802 the malt duty rose from 1s. 4 1/4d. a bushel to 2s. 5d., then to 4s. 5 3/4d. in 1804, driven upwards by the need to finance the French Wars of 1793–1815. In 1865 the total revenue was reported to be six million sterling a year.

There were also numerous regulations in place regarding the malting process. The cistern and the couch-frame had to be constructed in a particular manner, to permit the excise officer to gauge the grain. The maltster had to give notice before wetting any grain; 24 hours in the city or market-town, 48 hours elsewhere. The grain had to be kept covered with water for 48 hours, excepting one hour for changing the water. Grain could only be put in the cistern between 8am and 2pm, and taken out between 7am and 4pm. It had to remain in the couch frame for at least 26 hours. Once thrown out of the cistern, it could not be sprinkled for 12 days. A survey book or ledger had to be kept to record the process and the gauging of the grain in the cistern, the couch, and on the floor. The volume of the grain was carefully measured, based upon the mean width, length and height, and calculated by mental arithmetic, pen and paper, or slide rule
Slide rule
The slide rule, also known colloquially as a slipstick, is a mechanical analog computer. The slide rule is used primarily for multiplication and division, and also for functions such as roots, logarithms and trigonometry, but is not normally used for addition or subtraction.Slide rules come in a...

. The duty to be charged was based upon the largest gauge of either the cistern, couch or floor after a multiplying factor of 1.6 was applied to the larger of the cistern or couch gauges.

Fictional accounts

Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy, OM was an English novelist and poet. While his works typically belong to the Naturalism movement, several poems display elements of the previous Romantic and Enlightenment periods of literature, such as his fascination with the supernatural.While he regarded himself primarily as a...

 mentions a malthouse in Far from the Madding Crowd
Far from the Madding Crowd
Far from the Madding Crowd is Thomas Hardy's fourth novel and his first major literary success. It originally appeared anonymously as a monthly serial in Cornhill Magazine, where it gained a wide readership. Critical notices were plentiful and mostly positive...


From the walls an overhanging thatched roof sloped up to a point in the centre, upon which rose a small wooden lantern, fitted with louvre-boards on all the four sides, and from these openings a mist was dimly perceived to be escaping into the night air ... Gabriel's nose was greeted by an atmosphere laden with the sweet smell of new malt ...

External links

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