Do you know your Malt Types?

by Karl | Last Updated: February 4, 2010

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!

Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.