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Grain Types That Every Brewer Should Know

Grain: the lifeblood of beer. While barley is most common, the category of "grain" is as wide as it is intricate. This guide walks you through the types of grain you can use to make beer, and how to choose the right malt for you.

What is malt?

Malt is grain that has been converted into sugar. That sugar is consumed by yeast to create alcohol; a process called fermentation. Grain becomes malt, which becomes beer. 

There are a wide variety of malts that brewers can use, all of which fall into two broad categories: malts which can be steeped (good for extract brewing), and malts which need to be mashed (all-grain brewing required).

Base Malts

Base malts make up the majority of the grist in all-grain beer, and the variety is, frankly, astounding. Named based on the formation of corns on the barley stalk (2-row vs. 6-row), the variety (e.g., Maris Otter, Golden Promise, etc), or the region in which it was grown or malted. Includes:

  • Barley malts: pale malt, Pilsner malt, Vienna malt, Munich malt, mild ale malt, and more
  • Non-barley base malts like wheat malt and rye malt (more on these in "Other Malts")
  • High-kilned malts: responsible for the dark, malty lagers of Europe and have also found a home in some ales because of their unique character. Munich and Vienna malts are the prime examples 
  • American base malt is generally mild and fairly neutral; British malts tend to be maltier, bready, and biscuit-like.

The European climate gives malts made from Continental barley a clean, "elegant" character. Pilsner malt has a soft, delicate maltiness that practically defines pale lagers. "High-kilned" (heated to a higher temperature at the end of the malting process) base are rof high-kilned malts, although mild ale malt belongs to this category too. The darker color lends these malts a more toasty, malty flavor than you get from lighter base malts.

Shop all base malts here.

Caramel & Crystal Malts

Crystal malts are steep-able and generally used to add sweetness and color to both extract and all-grain brews. They're usually named based on color. As a general rule, the lighter-colored crystal malts are more "sweet," while darker crystal malts add roastiness or nuttiness in addition to sweetness.

On the extreme light end sit dextrin(e) malts. They also add dextrins, which bring body and a thicker mouthfeel. But broadly speaking, anything labeled crystal, caramel, or cara-something are crystal malts (with the exception of Weyermann® Carafa®).

Shop all caramel & crystal malts here.

Adjunct Grains

Adjuncts are unmalted, starchy things (normally understood to be a cereal grain, but homebrewers have been known to use things like pumpkin and potatoes, too).

  • Flaked barley and flaked oats
  • Maize (corn)
  • Torrified wheat
  • Pumpkin/squash
  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • ... and more - any starchy vegetable/grain can be an adjunct

Adjuncts don't have sugars available like crystal malts, so they can't be steeped for extract brewing. They also don't have enzymes like malted grains, so they need to be mashed with base malt to extract their sugars.

Shop all adjunct grains here.

Kilned & Toasted Malts

Includes malts such as biscuit, amber, special roast, and aromatic malts. Usually used in low quantities to contribute unique flavor (half a pound or less for a 5 gallon batch).

  • Biscuit malt contributes a light, "saltine cracker" flavor, while aromatic malt is deeper and maltier.
  • Brown and amber malt are similarly toasted, but brown is darker and more toasty/bready and amber has less of a pretzel-like flavor.
  • Victory malt is another light option that sits between biscuit and amber, with characteristics of both.
  • Special roast is fairly unique and will impart a slightly darker, reddish color and has a fairly strong tangy, berry, deep flavor. 

Shop all kilned malts here.

Roasted Malts

Roasted malts are any malts or grains that are roasted to a very high degree. Dark, deep, bready, delicious. Can be steeped for extract brewing or mashed for all-grain, and add a lot of complexity and color in very low quantities. The three most common varieties are:

  • Black malt (sometimes called black patent malt), chocolate malt, and roasted barley.
  • Weyermann® range of Carafa® malts
  • Kiln-coffee malt
  • Distaff cousins like de-bittered black malt and pale chocolate. Roasted malts can be steeped for extract brewing or mashed for all-grain, and add a lot of complexity and color in very low quantities.

Some brewers get gun shy about roasted malts, but fear not. Roasted malts are delicious, provided you don't go completely overboard: 10% (or roughly one pound in an average-gravity 5 gallon batch) is about the most you would usually use. Stay below this amount and it's hard to go wrong. 

 Shop all roasted malts here.

Other Malts

Some malts do not come from barley: oats, rye, wheat, etc. These malts are essentially processed like, and can be treated as, their barley cousins. The difference is in how they're crushed.

Wheat malt can be crushed at the same setting as barley malt, but you will want to test before running a whole batch's worth of rye malt or oat malt through a mill. 

 

The Complete Grain Chart

Type Name Origin Flavors Common Uses Lovibond rating
Adjunct Fawcett Oat Malt UK warm, grainy flavor British ales, stouts, porters 4
Adjunct Flaked Barley US grainy, creamy Irish Stout  
Adjunct Flaked Maize US neutral, moderate sweetness American Lager, bitters  
Adjunct Flaked Oats US creamy, full-bodied Oatmeal Stout  
Adjunct Flaked Rye US dry, crisp, slightly spicy Roggenbier, RyePA  
Adjunct Flaked Wheat US increases head retention and body Wheat beers  
Adjunct Torrified Wheat USA smooth, bready Hefeweizen, other wheat beers  
Base Belgian Pale Ale Belgium balanced, plain but makes a solid base Used in Belgian ales and trappist beers 3
Base Belgian Pilsner Belgium clean, light flavor Belgian Lagers and Trappist Beers 1.6
Base English Maris Otter UK nutty, deep maltiness All English styles 3.5-4.5
Base German Dark Munich Germany strong malt flavor, deep color Dunkel, Schwartzbier 15.5
Base German Munich Germany smooth, deep maltiness Alt, bock, dunkel, amber ale 8.3
Base German Pilsner Germany bright, clean, full-bodied Pilsner, Helles, all lagers, most Belgian and German styles 1.6
Base German Vienna Germany slightly toasty, a bit darker and maltier than pilsner malt Oktoberfest, Vienna lager 3.8
Base Global Malt Kolsch Germany light, sweet, biscuit Kolsch 4.5
Base Mild Ale Malt US creates a more dextrinous wort than most other base malts Mild, English ales, Scottish ales 5.3
Base Organic 2-row US mild maltiness Organic ales 1.8
Base Organic Munich US rich maltiness Bock, red or amber ales, brown ales 10
Base Rahr 2-row US clean, smooth All styles of Ale, especially American pale ale and IPA 1.7
Base Rahr 6-row US neutral, slightly grainy All styles of Ale, especially beers including adjuncts 1.7
Base Rahr Pale Ale US slightly toasty and full English and American Ales 3 - 4
Base Rahr Premium Pilsner US light, smooth American Pilsner 1.5-2
Base Rahr White Wheat Malt US Full, slightly sweet American Hefeweizen, Porter 3
Base British Golden Promise UK mellow, sweet, clean Scottish Ales 1.7-2
Base Weyermann® Bohemian Pils Czech Republic full-bodied, complex maltiness Bohemian Pilsners 1.7-2.1
Base Weyermann® Dark Wheat Germany sweet, wheaty Dunkelweizen, weizenbock 7.5
Base Weyermann® Pale Wheat germany wheaty Hefeweizen, other wheat beers 1.5
Crystal Belgian Caramel Pils Belgium light caramel Belgian Pale Ales 6
Crystal Belgian Caramunich Belgium sweet, slightly toasty Belgian Dubbels and dark ales 47
Crystal Belgian Caravienne Belgium light, sweet Belgian Pale Ales, some Trappist beers 20
Crystal Belgian Special B Belgium Sweet, caramel, dark fruit Very unique crystal malt. Commonly used in Dubbel. 147
Crystal Briess Carapils US gives impression of fullness To enhance head retention 1.5
Crystal Caramel 10 US Sweet, almost honey like Most British and American styles 10
Crystal Caramel 120 US Caramel, slight roasty/toastiness Stout, Porter, Red or Amber Ales 120
Crystal Caramel 20 US sweet, caramel Most British and American styles 20
Crystal Caramel 40 US caramel, sweet Most British and American styles 40
Crystal Caramel 60 US caramel, sweet Most British and American styles 60
Crystal Caramel 80 US caramel, burnt sugar, raisin Stout, Porter, Red or Amber Ales 80
Crystal Caramel 90 US caramel, burnt sugar, raisin Stout, Porter, Red or Amber Ales 90
Crystal Gambrinus Honey Malt Canada intense malt sweetness, honey A good malt for leaving significant sweetness in the final beer 20-30
Crystal Organic Caramel 120 US caramel, burnt sugar, raisin Organic ales 120
Crystal Organic Caramel 20 US sweet, caramel Organic ales 20
Crystal Organic Caramel 60 US caramel, sweet Organic ales 60
Crystal Organic CaraPils US gives impression of fullness Organic ales 1.5
Crystal English CaraMalt UK light sweetness All British and Scottish styles 30-37
Crystal English Dark Crystal UK sweet, grainy, malty, slightly roasty All British and Scottish styles 70-80
Crystal English Extra Dark Crystal UK burnt sugar, dark fruit Dark British and Scottish Ales 160
Crystal Simpsons Golden Naked Oats UK light caramel, creamy finish Oatmeal Stout 10
Crystal English Medium Crystal UK deep caramel, grainy All British styles 50-60
Crystal Weyermann® CaraAmber® Germany Full flavor Alt, stout, bock, porter 27
Crystal Weyermann® CaraAroma® Germany full flavor, improved aroma Alt, stout, bock, porter 130
Crystal Weyermann® Carafoam® Germany delicate maltiness, improved body pilsner, pale lager 1.8
Crystal Weyermann® Carahell® Germany full, round malt flavor Oktoberfest, Maibock, Hefeweizen 11
Crystal Weyermann® Caramunich® I Germany sweet malty aroma and flavor Oktoberfest, Altbier, and Bock 34
Crystal Weyermann® Caramunich® II Germany toasty, sweet malt Oktoberfest, Altbier, and Bock 46
Crystal Weyermann® Caramunich® III Germany toasty, intense maltiness Oktoberfest, Altbier, and Bock 57
Crystal Weyermann® CaraRed® Germany full body Scottish ales, bock, altbier 20
Crystal Weyermann® Carawheat® Germany wheaty, caramel Dunkelweizen, Hefeweizen 45.5
Roasted Belgian Debittered Black Belgium mild dark malt flavor, harsh in high quantities used to add color without roastiness (schwarzbier) 500 - 600
Roasted Fawcett Pale Chocolate UK mild chocolate/coffee Mild Ale, stout, porter 180-250
Roasted Organic Chocolate US roasted coffee, cocoa British bitters, porter, stout, brown ale 350
Roasted English Black Malt UK roasty, black Stout, Porter, Scottish Ales 500-600
Roasted English Chocolate UK bittersweet chocolate, roasty Porter, Stout, Brown Ale 375-450
Roasted English Roasted Barley UK bitter, roasty Dry Irish Stout 500-600
Roasted Weyermann® Chocolate Rye Malt Germany roasty, spicy Dunkelweizen, Roggenbier 188-300
Roasted Weyermann® Dehusked Carafa® I germany smooth, slight roastyness bock, doppelbock, alt, schwarzbier 300-375
Roasted Weyermann® Dehusked Carafa® II germany smooth, slight roastyness bock, doppelbock, alt, schwarzbier 430
Roasted Weyermann® Dehusked Carafa® III germany smooth, slight roastyness bock, doppelbock, alt, schwarzbier 490-560
Specialty Belgian Aromatic Malt Belgium Rich maltiness Wide uses in British and Belgian styles 20
Specialty Belgian Biscuit Malt Belgium biscuity, 'saltine cracker' flavor British and Belgian Pale Ales 25
Specialty Briess Cherry-wood Smoked Malt US Rich, sweet smokiness Rauchbier, smoked porter 5
Specialty Briess Special Roast US toasty, biscuity, sour, tangy Brown ale, porter, dark ales 50
Specialty Briess Victory US bread-like, nutty, toasty Brown ale 28
Specialty Crisp Amber UK biscuit, coffee brown ale, red ale 27
Specialty Crisp Brown UK dark roasted flavor, slight bitterness brown ale 60-70
Specialty Franco-Belges Coffee Kiln Belgium coffee Stout, porter, brown ale, Scottish ale 50-180
Specialty British Peated Malt UK intense peat smoke character Scottish ales 2.5
Specialty Weyermann® Acidulated Germany sour Berliner Weiss, Kentucky Common 1.8
Specialty Weyermann® Melanoidin germany intense maltiness Dark lagers, red ales, Scottish ales, bock, dopplebock 23-31
Specialty Weyermann® Smoked Malt germany smooth smokeyness Rauchbier, smoked porter 1.7-2.8