Do you know your Malt Types?

February 4,2010 by 15 Comments

So by know you should know what ingredients are in beer, and that malt is one of them.  Now it’s time to take that a step further…

In brewing, there are two main types of malt: base malts and specialty malts.  Brewers (and homebrewers) use a combination of the two malt varieties in their recipes.  This mixing and matching of the grains is what leads to all the different beer styles.

So what’s the big difference between the two?  If you remember nothing else remember this:

Base malts are primarily used to add fermentable sugars to the beer.  That is, they provide the food for the yeast to make alcohol.  They need to be mashed when brewing because it breaks down their complex sugars into simple sugars (edible yeast food).

Specialty malts are mainly used for flavor, aroma, and coloring.  They add complexity to the beer, and allow for the all the different styles we see on the market.  Unlike base malts, specialty malts do no need to be mashed.  Steeping them in hot water like tea is enough to release their color and flavor.

Here’s some examples of each:

Base Malts

  • 2 row
  • Pale Ale
  • Pilsner
  • Vienna
  • Munich
  • Wheat
  • Rye

Specialty Malts

  • Crystal 10L, 40L, 60L, 80L, 120L, and 150L (L stands for Lovibond, which is a measure of the color of the malt.  The higher numbers are darker than the lower ones)
  • Chocolate (the malt, not the yum yum candy kind)
  • Unmalted Roasted Barley (technically not malt, but used often)
  • Black Patent
  • CaraPils

Homebrewers, you could really get creative with your recipes by using different combination of malts.   Recipe formulation is largely dependent upon knowing which base malts + specialty malts form the backbone for a particular style.

Is there a variety that you just love to use?  There’s something about Munich malt in IPA’s that gets me every time.

Now go forth and experiment!

About Billy Broas

He is the founder of The Homebrew Academy, a BJCP beer judge, and the homebrewing expert on the Rocky Mountain PBS television show Colorado Brews. He lives in the fine beer town of Denver, Colorado.

15 responses to “Do you know your Malt Types?”

  1. Thanks for this. As a person who is just getting started in home brewing, doing my first brew on Saturday, this really helps.
    .-= Mike –´s last blog ..Magic Hat #9 =-.

  2. Jimmie the Mum says:

    Thanks for the presentation. I’m heading to Alaska in May and hope to check out the Alaska Beer Brewing Factory in Juneau.
    I’m gonna post this video on the Stogie Chat cigar forum.

  3. Dustin says:

    Great video!

  4. Billy Broas says:

    @Mike Glad to help Mike. I didn’t know the difference between the two until a while after I started brewing. For a long time “grain was grain”.

    Also a good thing to note assuming you are brewing with extract is that the extract is essentially your base malt. Since base malt needs to be mashed, the extract producers take care of that process for you and give you what is essentially concentrated wort. Then you can use the specialty malt when brewing since that does not need to be mashed.

    Good luck on your upcoming brew day and definitely write a post letting us all know how it goes!

    @Jimmie Awesome. Send me a link to the video when you post it and I’ll send it out to the beer folk.

    @Dustin Thanks! This video made me realize how colorless my apartment is. Oh well an upgrade is coming soon.

  5. I did not know that about the extracts. Also didn’t know you don’t have to mash the specialty malts.

    I will be making a blog about the day.
    .-= Mike –´s last blog ..Rugbrød =-.

  6. Tim B says:

    Excellent explaination to a topic that can be at times, confusing. This is where beer starts!

    Thanks for the video!

  7. I see this becoming one of my favorite blogs. I love beer, but I’ve never taken the time to learn about it. Great video. I look forward to seeing more.

  8. Billy Broas says:

    @Mike That’s actually an important point about mashing the grains so I updated the post. Looking forward to reading about your first brew day.

    @Tim Thanks. I’m still learning how it all works myself, but you don’t need a degree in chemistry to get the gist of it. Or at least understand how it effects you as a brewer.

    @Dave I’m glad you like it! It’s amazing how much more enjoyable it is to drink beer when you know something about it. Plus it makes you sound cool : ) Look forward to seeing you around the site.

  9. Dr. B (Dad) says:

    Nice job Billy! I’m learning something new all the time. Great and easy to understand.Look out Sam Calagione!

  10. Erica Galinski says:

    Very informative, Billy! I am definitely going to try to taste for the malt the next time I order a beer! I have always been into wine tasting, and never realized that beer tasting could be just as fun! Thanks for the lesson!

  11. Nice video post with great info! Trying to learn as much on the homebrewing topic as well. Hoping to get into it a little over the summer if I can.
    .-= Scott-TheBrewClub´s last blog ..Did someone mention goats? =-.

  12. Billy Broas says:

    @Erica Thanks cuz! Wine is great too, but you should definitely balance it out with some brews.

    @Scott Glad I could help you with your homebrewing pursuits. It’s a great step when you go from being able to brew beer to knowing why you do what the instructions tell you. Hopefully I can demystify that part of it. Looking forward to your posts over the summer.

  13. Roscoe says:

    My next brew, I’m trying to compile a recipe for the Devil Mountian 5 malt Ale, so this page was very interesting for me. I think I have it and will ask the guy at the homebrew store what he thinks to finalize it. Do you have a page on hops? I have used fuggles for a British IPA and Cascade for a Sierra Nevada clone and notice the difference. I would love to learn more about the different hops and understand why some are better for bittering and others for flavor and still others for aroma. What are you favorite hops or hop combinations? The 5 malt ale uses liberty and cascades, but I don’t know when they are used. You might not know the beer, but you may know the hops and have ideas for bittering, flavor and aroma. Thanks for the blog!

  14. Billy Broas says:

    @Roscoe Hey Roscoe, good to hear you’re being proactive and compiling your own recipes. That’s the key to really getting good at brewing and understanding what works and doesn’t. I’ll try to help you with your recipe.

    Do have your malts figured out? I found online that they use 2-row Pale, Caramel, Crystal, Chocolate and Black Patent. Do you have the quantities for them? Are you doing all grain-or extract? 5 gallon batch? Let me know if you need help with that portion.

    As for the hops, the recipe says that the final IBUs are 21. So what you can do it use brewing software (like this and plug in your hops until you get to 21 IBU. Now when you add them is important too. You could get to 21 by adding a ton of hops towards the end but you don’t want to do that. You also want to use bittering hops that are better for bittering, aroma hops that are better for aroma, etc.

    Try this. Use Nugget hops for your bittering hops (the ones you add first, at 60 minutes) and cascade for flavor and aroma (both at 15 minute and 1 minute). That’s a good combination. Columbus is also a good substitute for Nugget. 2 of my other favorite hop varieties you might want to try are Amarillo and Simcoe. Here is a hop chart that describes them:

    I don’t have a resource page on hops, but need to. Thanks for your comment and please let me know if you need more help. Cheers!

  15. Roscoe says:

    That brewing software kinda demystifies what the guy at the homebrew did, he went through some software to come up with the amounts of the malts for the correct OG and the bittering of the hops. I swear the guy is a wizard! No, better, a genius! Thanks for the link, I’ll try not to bother the homebrew supply store as much as I get more exp and confidence. He said caramel malt is the same as crystal malt, so we used 8 oz each of 60L and 20L, 4oz of chocolate and 1 oz of black patent, 6.3 of light malt extract and achieved the OG of 1053. I found Devil Mountain used cascades and liberty hops, so the guy had me divide the two for each of the 3 additions, with 1.5 cascades and .5 liberty for bittering, and .25 each for flavor at 10 min. and aroma at 1 min.
    It’s been a while and I’m sure I never poured the 5 malt Ale into a glass, but I think it’s a little darker than it’s supposed to be, kinda a ruby brown. But I learned a lot about malts brewing this and can’t wait for the tasting! Then I’ll know if it should be tweaked.
    Those hop charts are good, but you know what would really help, a scratch and sniff chart of hops. Huh? OR, a place you could sample the same recipe hopped with a single variety for each of the many hops. Sounds like a good time!
    I have no idea what to brew next, maybe I’ll try something with Amarillo and Simcoe hops, I have never brewed with them. You should post some recipes, or are they secrets…
    Thanks, this is a easy hobby to get into, everyone is so willing to share tips. I have a few friends that want to try homebrewing, can’t wait to share what I’m learning.

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