BierTalk English 11 – Talk with Cristal Jane Peck, Brew Master / Malt Specialist at Boortmalt Innovation Center, Antwerp

Cristal came to the Old World from Australia as a biologist to learn about her father’s root. In the process, she fell in love with Berlin and started a career there as a brewer at Berliner Berg. Her main focus was on Berliner Weisse and other styles of beer with wild fermentation. Two years later, the opportunity arose to get back into research in Belgium, this time in the field of malt. She achieved an absolute world sensation – she researched a technique to produce spiced beer according to the German Purity Law. The best way to hear the whole story is to listen to BierTalk live from the drinktec trade fair in Munich…

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Zusammenfassung auf Deutsch:

Cristal Jane Peck, ursprünglich aus Australien, zog nach Berlin, um in Europa zu leben und arbeitete dort als Braumeisterin bei Berliner Berg, wo sie sich auf Berliner Weisse spezialisierte. Später zog sie nach Belgien, um im Boortmalt Innovation Center zu arbeiten.

Dort entwickelte sie eine revolutionäre Technik zur Herstellung von aromatisiertem Malz, das beim Brauprozess spezifische Aromen in das Bier einbringt. Diese Methode ermöglicht es, gewürzte Biere unter Einhaltung des deutschen Reinheitsgebots zu brauen.

Cristal diskutiert auch ihre Liebe zum Bier, ihre Erfahrungen in verschiedenen Ländern und gibt Einblicke in ihre kreative Arbeit mit verschiedenen Malzsorten. Sie erwähnt auch, dass sie mit einer Brennerei zusammenarbeitet, um zu sehen, wie sich die Aromen in destillierten Getränken verhalten. Das Interview endet mit einem Rezept für einen Malzshake.



Markus Raupach: Hello and welcome to another episode of our podcast, BierTalk. Today, maybe you hear it, we are live on the DrinkTec Fair in Munich and we are in a very interesting place. We are at the Boortmalt booth, that’s Boortmalt, but it’s also about revolution, namely. We can say it’s a revolution with infusion, maybe you hear it. The infusion is with a very special thing called malt, and we are sitting together with a beautiful lady, which invented this idea and many of you know her. It’s Cristal Jane Peck. She was already brewing in Berlin and other places. So we are very happy to have you here Cristal and maybe you will do a short introduction about yourself.

Cristal Jane Peck: Thank you, Markus. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here with you today. I am Cristal, I lived in Berlin prior to living in Antwerp, which is where I now am. I’m a brewer and biologist. I’ve been brewing for many years and also prior to that I worked in a laboratory. I am hungry for new things, creative things, innovations in our industry. And three years ago, I moved to Antwerp, where I am running our innovation centres in Belgium, of which we actually have two and there, it’s my playground for coming up with wonderful new creative approaches to the malting industry, which has been pretty stagnant for many, many years. Because malting is a wonderful natural process that we basically perfected many, many years ago. So there’s been no need to shake it up. So it was interesting for me to approach the malting industry with a new set of eyes, you might say.

Markus Raupach: Yeah, great. So we will hear more about this in a few moments. But maybe before, that’s just interesting. So you’re here, you were in many places in the world, and how did you come into beer, into brewing? And what did you learn in your long journey?

Cristal Jane Peck: Well, I’ve always loved drinking beer. Actually, my dad taught me to appreciate beer from a young age because he thought that beer was a very safe alcoholic beverage to come to like, much safer than drinking spirits and things. So since I was legally able to drink in Australia, I was enjoying beers. And I started brewing my own beers over 20 years ago back in Australia. I love the art of brewing beers, because it’s total science, and I’m a biologist. So there’s so much overlap to the biology I used to teach to my senior students and the actual beer production process. And I always found that just wonderful and holistic. So after I moved from Australia to Germany, I managed to professionalize my passion. I spent many years working in a research institute and at the same time, I started working in a beer shop in Berlin, where I was taking beer tastings and brew courses. And then I started working in a Berliner Weisse-dedicated brewery, Berliner Berg in Berlin. They wanted me to come on board and start working on the recipe for Berliner Weisse because of my background in biology and brewing. So there, I had a wonderful journey into the Berlin beer scene. And I got to combine my knowledge of microbiology with my knowledge of brewing, and it was really perfect. I enjoyed it very much. Then I became head brewer there for the small brewery. After working there for two years, I was ready for a change and this position opened in Belgium, another wonderful country with a strong beer focus, obviously. So I travel the world for beer.

Markus Raupach: That really sounds fantastic. And in Berlin, in fact, we met first time, maybe a long time ago now. But it was also a great time and as you said, you made fantastic beers there and especially Berliner Weisse was a real challenge in this time, and you really made it. So that’s great, but maybe how does an Australian girl come to Germany? Wasn’t there another idea?

Cristal Jane Peck: Well, oh that’s funny one, my dad is Swiss. So I wanted to live in Europe somewhere. And I thought of moving to Switzerland but I just suspected that I would resonate very strongly with Berlin. Berlin is a city for creativity. It’s a fertile scene where you can achieve anything and everything. So I decided that Berlin was where I’d move to. And in Australia we have this working holiday visa and you can only really do that up until a certain age and that age was approaching for me. I had to make a very quick, spontaneous decision. And in the end, I just quit my job, left my house and my dog and moved to Berlin almost spontaneously. But it was a huge decision. Scary move. One of the scariest things for sure I’ve ever done, but it was also the best decision I ever made.

Markus Raupach: Did you miss your dog?

Cristal Jane Peck: I can’t tell you how hard that was for me. My dog, of course, yes. We Skyped regularly.

Markus Raupach: Okay, but now let’s go after the past in the present. And we have now this fantastic idea with malt. I really heard of that first time here when I was first on the booth. And maybe I explained it in a very short sentence and you do the details. As far as I understood, during the malting process, the malt needs to get some water in the steeping process and the idea is okay, if we want to have specific aromas in the malt, you can put them in the water used for the steeping process. And then if the malt more or less drinks the water, it also takes in all these aromas and they stay. And so after all the process, then when you brew your beer afterwards, you have all these beautiful aromas in the beer. And that’s really a very nice idea. I’m just wondering why I didn’t have this idea. It’s worth millions of dollars. I don’t know. But it’s really great. But am I right with the short description?

Cristal Jane Peck: It was spot on.

Markus Raupach: Or maybe you’ll say a bit more about the process and how it came onto this.

Cristal Jane Peck: Yes, no, you summarized it very well. And it comes from my background brewing. That’s the reason I was approaching the malting process in this way. Like you said, the malting process is comprised of these three stages. The steeping is the first stage and that is where we hydrate the barley kernel. We’re basically simulating springtime then. So the barley kernel, the embryo, it wants to grow. And in order to grow, it needs to start breaking down or modifying its starchy endosperm, which is actually its energy storage. So during the steeping phase, you have usually two or three wet immersions. You immerse the barley, and it starts to increase in its moisture, and it goes from around 12%, which is the barley moisture off the field roughly and then it goes all the way up to 45% usually in the steeping phase and it lasts about two days. You break up the wet phase with the dry phase, so the embryo can still continue to breathe, otherwise, you’ll drown the embryo. So that’s important. And then you go into the germination phase, which is a humidified temperature controlled aerated process which lasts around four days. And that is basically when the embryo is busy producing enzymes. Those enzymes are important in breaking up those starches and also the proteins as well. So that’s basically altering the entire chemistry of the barley kernel. So that’s a really pivotal point in this process as well, this infusion process, which I will come back to.

And then finally is the kiln phase. And that is when we remove all that moisture we’ve put in, 45%, we bring it all the way back to a safe moisture level for our brewers to store the malted barley at, our brewers and distillers, I should say. So that’s around 4%. I started incorporating ingredients into each of these different phases, the germination and the kiln, and I tried to understand where it had the most impact on this process. And there is no simple solution actually. Every infusion is different. It’s like really being a chef in the kitchen. You really have to tweak things as you go. Sometimes I use fresh fruits and fresh fruit can’t stay in the process very long because the malting process takes around one week. Fresh fruit would begin to compost. So you add at different time points. But in the end, what I found that contact time and the potency of the raw ingredients, that is what makes these malts very, very successfully. So if I add for example, cinnamon sticks or star anise into the steep water, then already the water becomes very infused with these strong aromas and the barley immediately starts to drink. It starts to drink these aroma compounds and they get very very robustly entrenched into the endosperm. It’s fascinating. When you think about it, barley is just a very thirsty sponge waiting for moisture. So it makes complete sense. So I’m wondering as well, Markus why you didn’t think of this?

Markus Raupach: Yeah, I of course, I knew a lot about smoke malt.

Cristal Jane Peck: Yes.

Markus Raupach: And we had lots of discussions, what is the difference between a traditionally produced smoked malt where the grain is the whole process in the surrounding of smokiness or the industrial one where you have a normal malt and put it into a smoking chamber afterwards. And of course, there are differences and also it’s a difference how deep the smoke is in the grain. And I think that’s quite a similar process. If you have, for example, the cinnamon aroma all the time around and it really goes into your grain and the cinnamon stays also during the process. So of course, it’s like having been in a discotheque 20 years ago, all the people were smoking and after maybe ten hours dancing, if you go out two nights longer, you’re still smelling like a smoking guy. So that’s really maybe the same thing. And so it’s really interesting that it also works with spices and things. Maybe we try a beer to talk about it where you have used this malt.

Cristal Jane Peck: Yes, absolutely. Let’s open something.

Markus Raupach: Do it close to the microphone. Perfect so people can hear actually something happening. Wow and the air is already smelling very nice.

Cristal Jane Peck: Yes. So this is my Antwerp Chocolate Brown. It’s actually a Belgian chocolate brown ale with a twist of orange. That’s what it says on the label there. And this is a beer that I brewed actually as a tribute to one of my favourite styles of beer American Brown, which you don’t see very often. In my beer shop I used to have a lot of the Smuttynose American Browns. They were legendary. I love the style. But a chocolate, sorry, an American Brown is a really drinkable brown ale that has a smoothness coming from crystal and chocolate malts usually, but very fragile and subtle. It’s not anything as heavy as a stout or a porter, for example. And in fact, if you drank this beer blind, you probably wouldn’t even know it was a dark beer because everything’s in balance. It’s supposed to be incredibly easy to drink, just like an ale, but just with the complexity of a nice roundness chocolaty. I thought it would be really interesting to use an infusion malt that I made just to brew this beer actually, a chocolate orange infusion malt. And I use cacao nibs and orange peels in the malting process. So tell me what you think.

Markus Raupach: Yeah, so we have a quite dark brown beer with a nice brownish foam. Beautiful in the glass to be honest, very, very, very nice and a really attractive colour. And if you smell it, we really, we have a hint of orange in a very nice way, also with tangerine and also some little spicy and nutty notes. And then there is of course chocolate, also and more like dark chocolate. So very, very intense roasty chocolate character, but still very balanced. So it’s a very nice smell between these two things. And as we learned in general, chocolate and orange are a very nice composition. So that works a lot. And I would love to have Pete Slosberg sitting with us. He more or less invented the American brown ale many years ago. I will tell him about that, so it’s fantastic. Let me have a sip. Very smooth, very nice mouthfeel and it starts a bit sweet, then you have the orange aroma, then it slightly turns into some chocolate roasty thing and at the end you have quite strong roasted bitterness. But as it belongs also to, it’s American brown ale, so it has to have some bitterness with some hops also.

Cristal Jane Peck: Yes.

Markus Raupach: Yes, so it’s a little bit dry hopping around. Maybe it’s also a bit of a citrusy aroma.

Cristal Jane Peck: Yeah.

Markus Raupach: So that combines again through the orange. So it’s a very nice refreshing drink, which really has all these aroma compliments. So fantastic.

Cristal Jane Peck: Yeah, that’s the thing that I find just intriguing about these infusion malts is that I find this beer different to anything I’ve ever tasted. It’s unique. And as a creative brewer, I was hungry. I’m always hungry for making unique products, creative products, something unlike anyone has ever tried before. And the infusion malts really allow me to do this. Every beer I brew is incredibly unique.

Markus Raupach: It’s fantastic. And another unique thing, we talked about that before, is that you have a slight cocoa aroma also in that beer, especially when it gets a bit warmer. That’s also nice.

Cristal Jane Peck: I agree with you. And that’s actually one of the fascinating things Markus. I’ve worked together with the university in Leuven and they’ve done some analysis on the volatile compounds in these malt varieties that I’ve created. And they’ve done gas chromatography mass spec, and been able to show conclusively that inside the endosperm of these varieties, we do have clear, distinct peaks of aroma compounds. But also beyond that, even, we’re in the process of looking at how we can quantify the development of novel aroma compounds. Because as I mentioned to you, the embryo is busy breaking down the entire barley kernel. It’s breaking it down, so it can feed itself, sustain itself to grow. So there’s a lot of biotransformations happening actually in it. It’s a busy little barley kernel. When you basically influx it with all of these crazy wild aroma compounds, it goes into a little bit of shock. It must. Because it has to then incorporate all of these compounds into what it’s already doing, which is already incredibly complex process. You have the breakdown, development of Maillard components, etc., in the malting process. And it looks as though these aroma compounds are actually creating new and novel compounds through the process of this modification. And we’re seeing new flavours develop, which is fascinating, because these flavours were never added into the infusion malt. It’s almost as if, somebody said this to me the other day, and I like it. They said it’s almost as if one plus one equals three with these malts, which I think is a nice way of describing what’s going on here.

Markus Raupach: It’s a great description, and I think it’s just that as it is, it’s a magic happening. And of course, especially if you have organic processes, one plus one can be three. So that’s fantastic. But so you use orange peel and cacao nibs to do that. And I just imagine what the people said when you were at the maltery, and said, okay, now what are you doing? No, but now here I have some maybe kilos or tonnes of orange peel and cacao nibs. Put that into your steeping chamber. So what did they say? And did they think you were mad? Or what was it?

Cristal Jane Peck: Yes, they did. Absolutely. They all laughed at me and thought I was just the cuckoo Australian doing innovation. No, I actually started all of these myself in our innovation centre in Antwerp. We have micro maltings there. So I can actually do samples from 100 grams all the way up to one kilogram. So that was nice. I started everything in one kilogram. I was basically doing my own trial and error without anyone even knowing about it, basically. I didn’t really want to tell anyone what I was up to there until I could prove that it actually made sense. So I remember our production manager in Antwerp coming in one day and saying, “What is this I smell? Lavender?” And then I showed him my green malt, the green malt with lavender, and he was flabbergasted I think. He was shocked and he laughed. And since then, to this day, we laugh about that situation because now all of his nightmares have come true. I’m scaling these up into production facilities, which presents a lot of logistical challenges for the productions teams obviously. So I’ve gone from one kilogram to 60 tonnes was my latest infusion, the gingerbread cookie infusion. I did that in our smallest production site in Ireland. So that was the very first time. That was a few weeks ago. So that one’s fresh on the market. And the reason I did that is because I was doing one tonne batches in my innovation centre. After the one kilogram, I was able to scale up to 100 kilograms. And then there became a real demand on the market in Belgium. I did a collaboration with Brussels via Project First. We made a Christmas beer last winter and then they wanted more and more. So I went to our one tonne facility and then I started having to do several batches of each of the infusions. So one tonne wasn’t enough. And now I’m at the point where five tonnes is still not enough. And after the success of the infusion malts in Minneapolis for the craft brewers conference, the American brewers all said how can I get this and when? So at that point, we said all right, we need to go to production with this.

Markus Raupach: Fantastic. And we have here one of this ginger-infused malt or gingerbread. And when I smell it, it’s really, you have ginger, you have cinnamon, you have maybe nutmeg or some things like that, other spices. So it’s really a lot. And if you say you produce 60 tonnes, I imagine how much of these spices do you need to have at the end 60 tonnes of this malt?

Cristal Jane Peck: A lot. No, yes, I think I basically procured all of the cinnamon on the planet at this time. So my advice to you all is stock up on the cinnamon in your local supermarket. It might be the last available for a while. We have to plant some more of those cinnamon trees. They are very useful for my infusions. But yeah, no, I mean, I acquired 12 tonnes of that cinnamon for this infusion. It wasn’t only cinnamon. Cinnamon was the major player but also a lot of ginger. Gingerbread cookie is heavy on cinnamon and ginger, of course. And then I also had four other things nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and black pepper, a little bit of black pepper was the secret magical touch.

Markus Raupach: And it’s a fascinating aroma, even if I just smelled the malt. So that maybe could be another thing you could use it if you just would smell them all. But I think you also have a beer with that.

Cristal Jane Peck: Absolutely I do.

Markus Raupach: Oh, here it comes. Beautiful. It’s dark beer again with a little hint of reddish colour, I would say. And the foam is even a bit more dark and it seems to have a bit more of alcohol.

Cristal Jane Peck: Yes.

Markus Raupach: And again, looks beautiful. And let’s smell. Oh yes, there is all this ginger, orangey, zesty, also nutmeg. So all the components, they are here. And it’s really like biting in a cake. Great, let’s have a sip. Fantastic. It’s all there and it’s very drinkable, very nice beer. You have the backbone of the beer. So it’s a full complex beer with all these aromas. This is fantastic. What what is in it? What is it meant?

Cristal Jane Peck: Well, this is a Belgian double. It’s intended to be a Belgian double. But it obviously it’s with my innovative approach. So I didn’t use a Belgian double yeast strain. I didn’t use a traditional Belgium strain, which is a little bit wild living in Belgium. I actually wanted to use the most neutral yeast strain I could get my hands on so that everything that came out of this was coming from the malt. So there are no esters or phenols coming from the yeast strain. This is all coming from the malt and like you said, it’s incredibly complex on the nose for me. It reminds me of being in the Weihnachtsmarkt. It just, the smells really trigger, you know, feelings and experiences. And when I smell this automatically, I’m transported to a time of a winter Christmas market and it’s quite powerful and a lot of imagery going on.

Markus Raupach: Yeah, in Dutch we have the speculaas, which is more or less this aroma.

Cristal Jane Peck: I have one, a speculaas infusion malt.

Markus Raupach: Perfect.

Cristal Jane Peck: It’s a, speculaas is very popular in Belgium as well.

Markus Raupach: Great. So really fantastic. And for me being a German, I think the most interesting thing besides all the aroma is that normally you could make such a spicy beer only with spices. And that means it thought it out to be done in Germany. But this, if you have the spices already in malt, I think that’s according to the purity law, this is allowed. So we now can have beautiful spicy winter beers, for example, also in the German market. And that’s really a great thing. So we really have to thank you for that innovation.

Cristal Jane Peck: Thank you, Markus. It’s so lovely to talk about it. That’s something that I have thought a lot about the fact that we’re kind of sidestepping some traditional approaches to brewing in Germany with this.

Markus Raupach: But I don’t think it’s a problem because there are many people researching, for example, for special yeasts, strains, which also have like spicy aromas, or of course the hops, where you can also have spiciness and of course, also the malting process. There are a lot of special malts around trying to emulate for example, cacao and nutty aromas, and whatever. And so I personally see no problem. Why should this be other than maybe making a smoked malt? So it’s just, you’re using the process of malting and you’re feeding the grain.

Cristal Jane Peck: Yeah.

Markus Raupach: So it eats and it smells. So that’s beautiful. Yeah.

Cristal Jane Peck: Well, smoked malts also filled with these phenolic components. And it’s exactly the same principle. So I agree with you. It gives a lot more tools then to the brewers of Germany.

Markus Raupach: So do you think when is this malt available in a larger scale, and who should brewers contact with their interest in it?

Cristal Jane Peck: This malt is available in a larger scale as of well, next week. I’ve just done my first big batch. I’m going back to Ireland early next week to finish it up. And then we’ll be packaging it into bulk vessels. I’ve actually already sold a lot of it to a very amazing distillery, which is exciting. And then the rest will go to our craft market. And we’ll fill it into 25 kilogram bags, also one tonne bags, and it will be available wherever you’d like. And in terms of the best way to do that, listeners are able to email me and I can put them definitely in contact with our right person here in the company.

Markus Raupach: Wonderful. So I will put that in the show notes. And how much malt do you need? Maybe if I want to make such a batch of in double here, and maybe I have a malt bill of 200 kilos normally or something like that, how much would be the share of your special malt?

Cristal Jane Peck: Yeah, that’s a great question. And actually, there is no simple answer, because that would depend on the infusion, the potency of the infusion. It would depend on the recipe, it would depend on the hop additions, on the yeast drain, on the grist. And it would also depend on how wild the brewer would want that to be. So I know that’s a lot for a brewer to have to process when they’re creating their recipes. So what I’m actually doing now, every infusion I make I take it into my lab, we have a beautiful lab next to our innovation centre, and I do a bunch of different mash trials where I do different inclusion rates into the grist so that I can find a nice window of recommended usage. And then I write a little note to the brewers for each release where I can say I would advise to use between this and this. Depending on what you would like, this is a range I find nice. This would be more radical version. This would be a more subdued balance. So we try and help the brewers.

Markus Raupach: So very interesting. Maybe like uncharted territory. So really a playground where people really can discover new ideas, new things about beer. And maybe last question, you mentioned distilling. So I’m just wondering, because in the distilling process, you have another heating and then cooling down process that you lose the aroma components anyway. But is it possible really to get the aromas during the malt also in the distilled product?

Cristal Jane Peck: That’s never been done before Markus. So we’re about to find out. Actually, you just tried earlier in our tasting a alcohol free version of an infusion malt beverage with the lavender and orange. So there’s also the alcoholisation column involved in that process. We could still taste the infusion malt in that one. So I’m quite certain that these compounds will survive the distillation process. But the distillery I’m working with are in the process of running tests in their laboratory at the moment, but they are so convinced by it that they will go directly into production in the coming weeks. Also, they have the ability to fine tune the process as they go. So whether or not they would do triple distillation, double, that all remains to be seen. And as you said, this is all uncharted territory. That’s what innovation is. So we have to roll with the punches and see how things go. But it looks good.

Markus Raupach: That’s fantastic. So we will be curious, and maybe we can come back to that in a later episode. Very, very last question is at the end of our tasting, you gave us a malt shake. That’s very unknown in Germany, but it tasted fantastic.

Cristal Jane Peck: Yes.

Markus Raupach: So maybe you can just give our listeners the recipe.

Cristal Jane Peck: Yes.

Markus Raupach: And they can recreate that at home and have a nice malt shake. Maybe in the future, we’ll utilize both.

Cristal Jane Peck: Yes, absolutely. Malt shakes are not new by any means. They’ve existed for a long time in Australia, but mostly in America. Malt shakes were a popular thing back in, I’m not sure exactly when, in the 80s, early 90s. You can actually get malt shakes at the baseball matches and malt shake is a simple milkshake where the sugar addition is replaced with malt extract, which is a very natural sugar. It’s maltose. So it contains these beautiful malty notes that we all love as brewers obviously, and malt shake recipe is nothing more than milk, ice cream and malt extract. I can give the recipe for sure. Should I give it to you for your notes?

Markus Raupach: Yeah, I put it in the show notes also. And so we wish all the listeners a lot of luck and fun trying these recipes and hopefully they can also try beers with your malt invention as soon as possible. And thanks a lot for your time. Thanks a lot for the information and good luck for your innovation.

Cristal Jane Peck: Thank you so much, Markus. It was an absolute pleasure to be here.

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