Save Up To 30%
Save Up To 30%
Malted barley is rightfully known as the soul of beer. Malt will determine your sugar content and drive malty flavors like biscuit, cracker, toffee and caramel, to name a few. The question is how do you decide which malts are the best when you’re building a recipe? This week on BrewCranium, we’ll dive into choosing malt when building your home brew recipe and give you some guidelines to help you along the way.
What is Malted Barley?
To put it simply, malt is any grain that has been ‘malted’. This just means that a maltster has begun the growing process and stopped it at an optimal point where the plant is full of starch (energy) and enzymes (to make that energy available) to begin trying to grow a new plant.
For base malts, they stop the process by using a light kilning, or drying, technique which depends on the maltster and their equipment. Some maltsters will use forced warm air, others a warmer kilning technique, to stop the plant in time at the perfect point for beer making.
For crystal malt and caramel malt, this part of the process is a little different. Instead of drying the malt for maximum enzyme and sugar contribution like a base malt, these are pulled wet off of the malting floor and put into a large drum type kiln. They are then heated to a certain temperature for a certain amount of time, depending on the malt.
During this heat exposure, the barley actually goes through the mashing process, creating sugars and maillard reactions. These flavors are then locked in through the same heat. Think of it like searing a nice filet mignon! It’s the same concept.
Roasted malts will vary, but with the exception of roasted barley, they are generally processed like crystal malt, just WAY more heat is added for longer to create their delicious and unique profiles.
Roasted barley is one of the few roasted style malts that actually goes directly from the field to the drum and is roasted unmalted and raw. This gives it unique characteristics, including a beautiful ruby red color when added in very small amounts to lighter beers, big roasted coffee flavors and aromas, and a midnight black color addition in larger quantities.
For adjuncts like rice, corn and other flaked grains like flaked oats, the process is still different. These are brought to their respective pre-gelatinization temperatures (where the adjunct is broken down or softened enough so the enzymes can access the starches inside), then flattened in a special type of mill. This process and these mills are typically proprietary to the maltster, which is why you’ll notice a difference between different brands. We like the Briess line of flaked adjuncts (made in the United States) because not only are they not genetically modified, the quality is ridiculously high and the flavor is perfect and consistent. They are not the only ones that make incredible adjuncts, but theirs stand out.
What Grains Do I Use For What?
Just like with yeast, many barley decisions are based on the type of beer. Using the style guidelines as a baseline, you can narrow down what types of malts you’ll want to consider for your beer recipe. For a great baseline, we will usually start with the beer recipes in Brewing Classic Styles. We assume that those are more likely to be the traditional configurations of malts in a given beer style.
Also just like yeast, it really helps to study up on different grains and types of grain. This can give you a leg up when deciding what kind of flavor contributions you want to put in different beer recipes. It can also give you some easy classification tools before you decide on a recipe.
For example, I know that for a West Coast IPA, I will want 90% to 95% Base Malt, with the other 5% - 10% being made up of a Body Malt and a Caramel / Crystal Malt. From here, I can use that baseline to decide which base malt will fit the best. We usually start with Golden Promise because we like how it’s accentuated in IPAs and hoppy beers in general, but American 2 Row is the more common choice.
For the last little bit, a solid dextrin malt for head formation and foam retention at around 2.5%, and a lighter crystal malt to add some slight color and a hint of complexity to help push the hop characters out and (usually, because we like big IPAs) help balance the alcohol profile.
Now, if we’re doing a stout, we’re on a whole different playing field. We’re going to end up more like 80% - 85% base malt, and will typically use a higher color, higher flavor pale ale malt at that. The rest of our crystals, roasted and flaked malts will be in the 15% - 20% range to help bring us body, complexity and dimension.
Calculating How Much of What
If you’re just getting started in recipe formulation, we always recommend a baseline. Whatever it is that you want to brew, grab a beer recipe kit and take note of not only what’s in it, but how much. Then make it, see how it comes out versus what you are trying to build in your head, and use that baseline to decide what you would do differently.
We like to use percentages for these calculations because it makes for quick and easy math when brainstorming. For example, 10% of 15 pounds of total malt is 1.5 pounds, which would give you your total base and crystal and / or dextrin. 13.5 pounds of base, 0.75 pounds of crystal and the same of dextrin. Done! Quick and easy! While this gets slightly more difficult with more malt and specialty malt forward beers, it still makes for easy math.
Our rule of thumb when writing recipes typically keeps us at or below 15% of any combination of specialty, caramel, adjunct or roasted malt. We’ve found that with the majority of beer styles, even classic English styles, for our palettes this is the sweet spot.
For monster stouts, barleywines and generally high abv styles except for Belgians, sometimes it’s unavoidable to go above that 15% mark, but we will rarely go more than 20% even in these bigger beers.
How Does Malt Color Work?
The expected color from your grain is usually in the name. Hence all of the Caramel / Crystal Malts are followed by a number and a degree symbol.
In the states, we use what’s called the Lovibond Scale to determine a malts color by degrees Lovibond (°L). The lighter the color, the more sweet and less maillard driven flavors are produced. Think Caramel 10°L vs Caramel 120°L. C10 is lightly sweet with hints of sugary toffee and sweet caramel, whereas C120 is more reminiscent of burnt toffee, dark caramel and deep stone fruit flavors like prune and plum. It’s not nearly as sweet, but just as nuanced and complex.
Roasted malts generally start about 250° L and go all the way up! I think one of our darkest malt, Black Malt, goes all the way to 713° L, giving you more roast forward, coffee characteristics and adding a perception of dryness (and a LOT more color, of course).
Now, lovibond should not be confused with SRM (Standard Research Method), which is more of a measurement of finished beer color, not necessarily malt color.
It’s All In The Sugar
In theory, if you’re following these recipe formulation blogs, then you already not only have an idea of what you’re trying to make, but have the yeast chosen as well. This is important in this step because once you have chosen base malt and whatever your flavor profile is, you’ll have to decide what kinds of sugar you want to make to balance the beer with the flavors and the yeast.
Let me preface this by saying that if you’re brewing with extracts, your sugar profile has already been made. You can choose your extracts accordingly, but we always recommend getting sugar (and color - that’s unavoidable) from your extracts and flavor, color and complexity from your other steeping malt additions.
We almost always stick with Pilsner DME or LME, Golden DME, Bavarian Wheat DME and Pale Ale DME, with some Munich LME and DME thrown in on some styles. We will calculate the potential for original gravity using these malt extracts exclusively, then add in our non base grains at our given percentages for dimension.
We usually steep all of the specialty malts from the moment we fill the brew pot until it gets to 165 degrees or so. This will give you a little conversion if you’re steeping any base malts, but mostly allow the specialties to soak their colors, flavors and aromas into your beer. Then, we simply add our chosen extracts in after the water starts to boil (removed from heat, of course!).
For all grain, you will make different combinations of fermentable and non-fermentable sugars depending on your mash temperature. We always use grains considered base grains to calculate this, for example Brewers Malt, Munich Malt, or anything with enough diastatic power to convert itself.
Rule of thumb is that for a dryer beer, you want to be in the ideal range for beta-amylase to do its work, so 147° F to 149° F. This will make more shorter chain, fermentable sugars and less longer chain non-fermentable sugars. This is always our range for Brut IPA and West Coast IPA, hands down.
For a more balanced sugar profile, you’ll want to be in the 150° F to 153° F range. This is a great place for both alpha and beta amylase to do their work and create a more balanced malt profile. We use this range for Hazy IPA, Hefeweizen, and anything we don’t want super dry, but don’t want super malty, either.
For a more malt forward beer and to make less fermentable sugar, you’ll want to be in the 154° F to 158° range. This range will produce the highest amount of longer chain sugars and therefore make a bigger bodied, more malty brew. We use this for almost anything high gravity, especially if it’s going into a barrel like an Imperial Stout or Barleywine.We hope this helps you when it comes to choosing the best malts to get the beer that you want to make. Don’t be shy to post up any questions in the comments below! Check in with us on Facebook, like us on Instagram and follow us on Twitter to stay up to date on everything that’s happening! Tag us and tell us about your latest fermentation! For lots more fun, brewing knowledge and antics, check us out on BrewChatterTV on YouTube and join the conversation!