Ingredients – Malts

Any cereal grain can be used to make beer, but the most popular is barley. Firstly, barley has a really good taste, which is the most important factor! Secondly, unlike other cereals, barley also has a husk, which is important to assist the separation of the wort from the solid material. We’re not making dough here! The starches in barley gelatinise at a lower temperature than the enzymes that break them down are denatured, meaning it has a very efficient extraction of sugars. Barley can also be grown in many places easily all over the world. Focussing on barley then for now, what types of malts can you get from it?

Base Malts

The most important malt is the base malt. This makes up 50% or more of the total grain used in a beer, and can be up to 100%. Base malt has been lightly kilned after the malting process, which means it retains a high percentage of enzymes required in the mashing stage. By drying the malt at a lower temperature, much of the grains flavour is kept intact. Some examples of base malts, in order of kilning temperature, are:

  • Pilsner Malt
  • Lager Malt
  • Pale Ale Malt
  • Vienna Malt
  • Munich Malt

Toasted Malts

If the kilning process is done at a slightly higher temperature, a more intense, malty flavour is produced. Other flavours from toasted malts are bready, nutty, toasty, biscuit and bread crust. These flavours are produced through Maillard reactions in the sugars. Toasted malts tend to have a lower level of enzymes remaining, so they must be mashed alongside base malts in order to fully convert the starches to sugars. Some examples of toasted malts are:

  • Aromatic Malt
  • Biscuit Malt
  • Honey Malt
  • Amber Malt
  • Victory Malt
Aromatic Malt

Roasted Malts

Roasted malts have been kilned at high temperatures, and this turns the malt dark brown. As well as adding colour, the flavours also change and become more bitter or burnt. Flavours such as chocolate, coffee and burnt toast are imparted into the beer, depending on the level of roast and amount used in the grist. These malts tend to be used sparingly, as they have a very strong flavour and can be quite bitter. These malts are usually only used in the darkest beers, stouts, porters and brown ales. Some examples are:

  • Brown Malt
  • Chocolate Malt
  • Black Malt
Chocolate Malt

Crystal Malts

Caramel, or crystal, malt has been wet kilned, which means some of the sugars have been crystallised. Again, depending on the heat used at kilning, the caramel malts will change both colour and flavours in the beer. The lightest caramel malts add residual sugars and sweetness, but not much in the way of flavour. Medium kilned caramel malts add notes of toffee and caramel. Highly kilned crystal malts add little extra sweetness but provide intense burnt sugar flavours and dark fruits like raisins. Crystal malts also increase body in the final beer due to unfermentable sugars. The level of kilning is often added to the name in degrees Lovibond. Some examples are:

  • Caramalt
  • Crystal 20L (light)
  • Crystal 60L (medium)
  • Crystal 120L (dark)
  • Special B
Crystal Malt

Speciality Malts

While we have focussed on barley on this post, other cereal grains can be malted and used in brewing. Malted wheat is used in German and Belgian styles, and can be up to 50% of the grain bill. Malted oats and rye add new flavours and mouthfeel to beers. Rye has a dry, nutty, spiciness. Oats add body and silkiness, and are often used in stouts to round out the flavours.


Other types of grain can be used in brewing, and they are known as adjuncts. These can be raw, unmalted grains or even just sugar extracts. Adjuncts are added to provide a specific purpose to the beer, whether it is to add extra body, improve head retention, or just add some extra sugars to provide a higher gravity. A popular adjunct used when brewing English ales is flaked or torrified wheat. The proteins in the wheat help to stop the head collapsing in the final beer, and add extra body to the mouthfeel.

Using high amounts of adjuncts can have a detrimental affect on yeast health. Malted grains contain many essential nutrients for yeast to perform at their best. Adjuncts lack this, so fermentations with lots of adjuncts often get off flavours and problems attenuating if not carefully monitored. Adding a specific yeast nutrient to the boil can help overcome this.

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