What is malt?

Short answer: malt is grain (usually barley) that is processed in order to convert grain starches to sugars. There are a vast number of malts that brewers can use, and there are two broad categories that various malts fall into: malts which can be steeped, and malts which need to be mashed. Specialty malts and crystal malts (you may see the latter referred to as caramel malts, which is simply a different term for the same thing) can be steeped. These have sugars and flavor compounds available as-is. Simply cracking them, and steeping them in hot water will impart their flavors to the beer. Other malts and grains are mostly made up of starches. These starches need to be converted to sugar by the brewer, which is where mashing and sparging comes in. If you’re an extract brewer, you’ll want to stick to the former category.

Crystal/Caramel Malts

Crystal malts are steepable and they’re generally used to add sweetness and color to both extract and all-grain brews. They’re usually named based on color (which can be very specific and scientific [based on the Lovibond color scale – e.g. Caramel 60 L], or pretty subjective [e.g. “So-and-so’s Dark Crystal]). As a general rule, the lighter-colored crystal malts are more strictly ‘sweet,’ while darker crystal malts can add some roastiness or nuttiness in addition to sweetness. On the extreme light end, there are dextrin(e) malts. These malts also add dextrins, which contribute body and a thicker mouthfeel to beer. To confuse things, many maltsters have their own trademarked brand names for certain malts which can obscure what they really are. CaraFoam® , for example is Weyermann® dextrin malt. So CaraFoam®, Briess Carapils®, Caramel Pils, and Dextrin Malt are all different names for very similar malts. Basically, anything labeled crystal, caramel, or cara-something are crystal malts (with the exception of Weyermann® Carafa® which we cover next).

Roasted Malts/Dark Malts

Roasted malts are any malts or grains that are roasted to a very high degree. Any very dark (say, more than 150 Lovibond) malt is considered a roasted malt. The three most common roasted malts are: black malt (sometimes called black patent malt), chocolate malt, and roasted barley. Also belonging to this group are Weyermann® range of Carafa® malts, Kiln-coffee malt, and 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. Go right, and roasty, bready, biscuity, coffee-y, dark chocolate, and a host of other flavors are at your disposal.

Base Malts

Base malts make up the majority of the grist in all-grain beer. This group includes pale malt, Pilsner malt, Vienna malt, Munich malt, Mild ale malt, and more; there are also non-barley base malts like wheat malt and rye malt (more on these below). The variety is frankly, astounding.

 Base malts can be named based on the formation of corns on the barley stalk (2-row vs. 6-row), the barley variety (e.g., Maris Otter, Golden Promise, etc), or the region in which the barley was grown or malted (America, England, Moravia, etc).

 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 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 of 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.

Adjuncts

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). 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. Examples of brewing adjuncts are flaked barley, flaked oats, maize, and torrified wheat, among others. Pumpkin and squash beers are not uncommon. Potatoes and rice have also been used in beer. Any starchy vegetable or grain can be used as an adjunct. These grains can add some characteristics to extract beer but they really need to be mashed to unlock their full potential.

Other Malts

There are also some malts which do not come from barley: oats, rye, and wheat can be malted. These malts are essentially processed like, and can be treated as, their barley malt cousins. Caramel wheat is similar to caramel barley malts and the same for non-barley wheat base malts, and so on. The one difference with these malts is in how they’re crushed. If you crush your own malts, you will want to do some testing before you run a whole batch’s worth of rye malt or oat malt through a mill. Wheat malt can be crushed at the same setting as barley malt.

”Other malts” also includes specialty malts which don’t fall into the other categories of barley malts: things like biscuit malt, or aromatic malt. Frequently these malts are used in low quantities to contribute unique flavors. Fortunately, the names given by their maltsters are usually obvious as to what sort of flavor they contribute. Biscuit malt, for example, contributes a very biscuity flavor (sometimes described as ‘saltine cracker’ flavor), aromatic malt adds a very malty aroma and a deep malt flavor. There are some specialty malts which are less clearly named. Some of the toasted malts like Victory, Amber and Brown malts, and special roast are less obvious. Brown malt and amber malt are similarly toasted malts with brown being darker and more toasty and bready. Amber malt is lighter in color and has less of a pretzel-like flavor and more of a light bready flavor. Victory malt is another light one which sort of lies in between biscuit malt and amber malt with characteristics of both. Special roast is fairly unique and will impart a slightly darker, reddish color and has a fairly strong tangy, berry, and deep almost alcohol-like flavor. All of these can generally used in low quantities at 5% of the fermentables, or half a pound in a standard 5 gallon batch, or less.

Type Name Product # Country of Origin Flavors Common Uses Lovebond rating
adjunct Fawcett Oat Malt G516 UK warm, grainy flavor British ales, stouts, porters 4
adjunct Flaked Barley G601 US grainy, creamy Irish Stout
adjunct Flaked Maize G602 US neutral, moderate sweetness American Lager, bitters
adjunct Flaked Oats G603 US creamy, full-bodied Oatmeal Stout
adjunct Flaked Rye G605 US dry, crisp, slightly spicy Roggenbier, RyePA
adjunct Flaked Wheat G606 US increases head retention and body Wheat beers
adjunct Torrified Wheat G608 USA smooth, bready Hefeweizen, other wheat beers
base Belgian Pale Ale g202 Belgium balanced, plain but makes a solid base Used in Belgian ales and trappist beers 3
base Belgian Pilsner g201 Belgium clean, light flavor Belgian Lagers and Trappist Beers 1.6
base English Maris Otter G501 UK nutty, deep maltiness All English styles 3.5-4.5
base German Dark Munich G307 Germany strong malt flavor, deep color Dunkel, Schwartzbier 15.5
base German Munich G303 Germany smooth, deep maltiness Alt, bock, dunkel, amber ale 8.3
base German Pilsner G301 Germany bright, clean, full-bodied Pilsner, Helles, all lagers, most Belgian and German styles 1.6
base German Vienna G302 Germany slightly toasty, a bit darker and maltier than pilsner malt Oktoberfest, Vienna lager 3.8
base Global Malt Kolsch G377 Germany light, sweet, biscuit Kolsch 4.5
base Mild Ale Malt g031 US creates a more dextrinous wort than most other base malts Mild, English ales, Scottish ales 5.3
base Organic 2-row G016 US mild maltiness Organic ales 1.8
base Organic Munich G017 US rich maltiness Bock, red or amber ales, brown ales 10
base Rahr 2-row G001 US clean, smooth All styles of Ale, especially American pale ale and IPA 1.7
base Rahr 6-row G002 US neutral, slightly grainy All styles of Ale, especially beers including adjuncts 1.7
base Rahr Pale Ale G029 US slightly toasty and full English and American Ales 3 – 4
base Rahr Premium Pilsner G026 US light, smooth American Pilsner 1.5-2
base Rahr White Wheat Malt G006 US Full, slightly sweet American Hefeweizen, Porter 3
base British Golden Promise G502 UK mellow, sweet, clean Scottish Ales 1.7-2
base Weyermann® Bohemian Pils G382 Czech Republic full-bodied, complex maltiness Bohemian Pilsners 1.7-2.1
base Weyermann® Dark Wheat G353 Germany sweet, wheaty Dunkelweizen, weizenbock 7.5
base Weyermann® Pale Wheat G352 germany wheaty Hefeweizen, other wheat beers 1.5
crystal Belgian Caramel Pils g206 Belgium light caramel Belgian Pale Ales 6
crystal Belgian Caramunich g208 Belgium sweet, slightly toasty Belgian Dubbels and dark ales 47
crystal Belgian Caravienne g207 Belgium light, sweet Belgian Pale Ales, some Trappist beers 20
crystal Belgian Special B g209 Belgium Sweet, caramel, dark fruit Very unique crystal malt. Commonly used in Dubbel. 147
crystal Briess Carapils G003 US gives impression of fullness To enhance head retention 1.5
crystal Caramel 10 g004 US Sweet, almost honey like Most British and American styles 10
crystal Caramel 120 g009 US Caramel, slight roasty/toastiness Stout, Porter, Red or Amber Ales 120
crystal Caramel 20 g012 US sweet, caramel Most British and American styles 20
crystal Caramel 40 g005 US caramel, sweet Most British and American styles 40
crystal Caramel 60 g013 US caramel, sweet Most British and American styles 60
crystal Caramel 80 g014 US caramel, burnt sugar, raisin Stout, Porter, Red or Amber Ales 80
crystal Caramel 90 g015 US caramel, burnt sugar, raisin Stout, Porter, Red or Amber Ales 90
crystal Gambrinus Honey Malt G010 Canada intense malt sweetness, honey A good malt for leaving significant sweetness in the final beer 20-30
crystal Organic Caramel 120 G021 US caramel, burnt sugar, raisin Organic ales 120
crystal Organic Caramel 20 G024 US sweet, caramel Organic ales 20
crystal Organic Caramel 60 G018 US caramel, sweet Organic ales 60
crystal Organic CaraPils G020 US gives impression of fullness Organic ales 1.5
crystal English CaraMalt G503 UK light sweetness All British and Scottish styles 30-37
crystal English Dark Crystal G506 UK sweet, grainy, malty, slightly roasty All British and Scottish styles 70-80
crystal English Extra Dark Crystal G513 UK burnt sugar, dark fruit Dark British and Scottish Ales 160
crystal Simpsons Golden Naked Oats G514 UK light caramel, creamy finish Oatmeal Stout 10
crystal English Medium Crystal G505 UK deep caramel, grainy All British styles 50-60
crystal Weyermann® CaraAmber® G366 Germany Full flavor Alt, stout, bock, porter 27
crystal Weyermann® CaraAroma® G367 Germany full flavor, improved aroma Alt, stout, bock, porter 130
crystal Weyermann® Carafoam® G360 Germany delicate maltiness, improved body pilsner, pale lager 1.8
crystal Weyermann® Carahell® G361 Germany full, round malt flavor Oktoberfest, Maibock, Hefeweizen 11
crystal Weyermann® Caramunich® I G362 Germany sweet malty aroma and flavor Oktoberfest, Altbier, and Bock 34
crystal Weyermann® Caramunich® II G363 Germany toasty, sweet malt Oktoberfest, Altbier, and Bock 46
crystal Weyermann® Caramunich® III G364 Germany toasty, intense maltiness Oktoberfest, Altbier, and Bock 57
crystal Weyermann® CaraRed® G365 Germany full body Scottish ales, bock, altbier 20
crystal Weyermann® Carawheat® G354 Germany wheaty, caramel Dunkelweizen, Hefeweizen 45.5
roasted Belgian Debittered Black g211 Belgium mild dark malt flavor, harsh in high quantities used to add color without roastiness (schwarzbier) 500 – 600
roasted Fawcett Pale Chocolate G507 UK mild chocolate/coffee Mild Ale, stout, porter 180-250
roasted Organic Chocolate G019 US roasted coffee, cocoa British bitters, porter, stout, brown ale 350
roasted English Black Malt G509 UK roasty, black Stout, Porter, Scottish Ales 500-600
roasted English Chocolate G508 UK bittersweet chocolate, roasty Porter, Stout, Brown Ale 375-450
roasted English Roasted Barley G510 UK bitter, roasty Dry Irish Stout 500-600
roasted Weyermann® Chocolate Rye Malt G359 Germany roasty, spicy Dunkelweizen, Roggenbier 188-300
roasted Weyermann® Dehusked Carafa® I G372 germany smooth, slight roastyness bock, doppelbock, alt, schwarzbier 300-375
roasted Weyermann® Dehusked Carafa® II G373 germany smooth, slight roastyness bock, doppelbock, alt, schwarzbier 430
roasted Weyermann® Dehusked Carafa® III G374 germany smooth, slight roastyness bock, doppelbock, alt, schwarzbier 490-560
specialty Belgian Aromatic Malt g205 Belgium Rich maltiness Wide uses in British and Belgian styles 20
specialty Belgian Biscuit Malt g210 Belgium biscuity, ‘saltine cracker’ flavor British and Belgian Pale Ales 25
specialty Briess Cherry-wood Smoked Malt G030 US Rich, sweet smokiness Rauchbier, smoked porter 5
specialty Briess Special Roast G008 US toasty, biscuity, sour, tangy Brown ale, porter, dark ales 50
specialty Briess Victory G007 US bread-like, nutty, toasty Brown ale 28
specialty Crisp Amber G511 UK biscuit, coffee brown ale, red ale 27
specialty Crisp Brown G512 UK dark roasted flavor, slight bitterness brown ale 60-70
specialty Franco-Belges Coffee Kiln G381 Belgium coffee Stout, porter, brown ale, Scottish ale 50-180
specialty British Peated Malt G515 UK intense peat smoke character Scottish ales 2.5
specialty Weyermann® Acidulated G370 Germany sour Berliner Weiss, Kentucky Common 1.8
specialty Weyermann® Melanoidin G368 germany intense maltiness Dark lagers, red ales, Scottish ales, bock, dopplebock 23-31
specialty Weyermann® Smoked Malt G369 germany smooth smokeyness Rauchbier, smoked porter 1.7-2.8