Serial analysis of gene expression (SAGE) was applied to the major cereal crop barley (Hordeum vulgare) to characterize the transcriptional profile of grain during the malting process. Seven SAGE libraries were generated from seed at different time points during malting, in addition to one library from dry mature seed. A total of 155,206 LongSAGE tags, representing 41,909 unique sequences, was generated. This study reports an in-depth analysis of the most abundant transcripts from each of eight specific time points in a malting barley time course. The 100 most abundant tags from each library were analysed to identify the putative functional role of highly abundant transcripts. The largest functional groups included transcripts coding for stress response and cell defence, ribosomal proteins and storage proteins. The most abundant tag represented B22EL8, a barley metallothionein, which showed significant up-regulation across the malting time course. Considerable changes in the abundance profiles of some of the highly abundant tags occurred at 24 h post-steeping, indicating that it may be an important time point for gene expression changes associated with barley seed germination.