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The Ultimate Guide to Beer Malt

Patrick Grass

Knowing malt is knowing beer, and knowing your beer is knowing enjoyment. All malt follows a similar path, from raw cereal grain to kilned sugary kernel to the backbone of beer. This essential beer ingredient is as simple as it is complex and available in many kinds and flavors. Most malt is made with barley, but wheat, oats, and rye are commonly malted too. Malt can be categorized as follows:

1. Base Malts
2. Specialty (or "Kilned") Malts
3. Caramel or Crystal Malts
4. Roasted Malts
5. Dextrin Malts
6. Other miscellaneous malts (Smoked, Acidulated, etc.)

So, let's get into each of these and what makes them so different and their affect on brewing beer craft beer.

Base Malts make up most of any beer recipe. When mashed, base malts will provide the bulk of the fermentable sugars in the wort and are also the primary source of enzymes. These malts are very lightly kilned, to dry the malt and to develop subtle flavors and color. A few examples of base malts are Pilsner, Pale, Wheat, and Rye. They have a color range of 1.5-3 SRM (Standard Research Method color scale, equivalent to Lovibond.) and are used as the workhorse malts for all beer styles.

Specialty (or "Kilned") Malts are kilned further than base malts. The longer kilning imparts more complex aromas and flavors, and by using different kilning times and temperatures the Maltster can create a variety of specialty malts to select from. Vienna, Munich, Honey, and Aromatic are some examples that add more intricacy compared to base malts. They have a color range of 4-25 SRM.

Related: Admiral Maltings' Head Maltster: Speaking on Malt

Caramel/Crystal Malts have an added kiln step called stewing. This stewing uses the humidity coming off the grain combined with further kilning to create caramelization and a wide range of aromas and flavors. These malts range from Caramel/Crystal 20 to 120 SRM.

Roasted Malts - The roasting of malt is an extra step that follows the kilning of malt. Finished malt is placed in a roasting drum, like that of a coffee roaster, and heated to around 300 degrees Fahrenheit for various times. This denatures all enzymes but creates dark rich color and flavor in the finished beer. Examples of these are Biscuit, Chocolate, Midnight Wheat, and Black Patent. Their color ranges from 30 to 600 SRM.

Dextrin Malts are specially processed to enhance dextrin production, and this dextrin (complex sugars) can enhance body and sweetness in a beer. Adding these malts later in the mash will maximize the dextrin contribution. This category is made up of the "Cara" malts, including Carapils, Caravienne, Caramunich, and Carared. Their color ranges from 1.2-30 SRM

Then there is also a group of misc. malts, which are made for specific enhancements and contributions to the finished beer. Smoked and Acidulated malt are examples of these, and they usually contribute little to color to a finished craft beer.

As the soul of beer, malt plays an essential role in the color, flavor, and alcohol content of beer. While using both art and science a Maltster can create an array of possibilities for brewers to explore. While you enjoy an Original Craft Beer Club delivery ruminate on the malty characteristics displayed by each beer. Go to a craft brewery and ask if you can taste a sample of their malt. Get to know the ingredients of craft beer and discover this cherished beverage all over again.


Patrick Grass
Author Bio: Patrick Grass is a professional maltster and avid home brewer. In his free time, he enjoys the restorative qualities of the wilderness and natural world.