To build on his reply, to malt barley, first it is soaked in water for a predetermined length of time and laid out on a floor to germinate, where temperature is closely monitored. Once the barley germinates and shows acrospores (growing tendrils) it is referred to as "malted", as the starch contained in the grain has now converted to sugar.
The malted barley is now dried to a specific percentage of moisture, stored and then the magic begins. I tried to upload a picture from Laphroaig to illustrate this but it was too large.
This partcular example represents the more traditional, hands-on approach to a malting operation. Nowadays, most distilleries buy in malted grains from large commercial malting facilities (such as the one located in the town of Port Ellen, also on Islay).
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