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Barley, oats or wheat, artificially-germinated and the dried in a kiln, generally for brewing. Once fermented, they are used to make beer, or distilled to produce spirits such malt whisk(e)y. When beer/ale was first made in Britain - probably by the Germanic tribesmen who settled eastern Britain during the last years of the Roman occupation - beer was the term used for the brew when it had barely started to ferment (it was then often flavoured with hydromel (honey water).
Ale was a term for malted liquor, and more bitter. The practice of adding hops to either was introduced by the Flemings at a later stage. See 'Beer'