Grains & malt extract

During the history of brewing, various types of malted and unmalted grain have been used to make beer. The variety, where it is grown and how it is malted all affect the taste and appearance of the end product.

This page is under construction. Further detail about other grain varieties will be added soon.

As we discovered on the page about the brewing process, malted grain — usually barley — is one of the four essential ingredients needed to make beer, along with yeast, hops and water.

To recap the brewing process: Two things need to be done to raw barley for it to release its sugar, which the yeast will convert to alcohol.

First it needs to be malted, which involves the grain being germinated then heated to stop the germination. The degree to which the grain is heated dictates its final colour, and the colour and flavour it therefore imparts in the beer. The malting process develops enzymes that are necessary for the starches in the grain to be converted to sugar during the second step, mashing.

During mashing, the grain is soaked in water between about 60ºC and 70ºC , which activates the enzymes produced during malting and converts the starches in the grain to several types of sugar.

The sweet liquid, or wort, is drained from the grains then the grains are usually rinsed gently to extract all the sugars. The wort is then boiled with hops and possibly other ingredients, and cooled before yeast is added to ferment the liquid into beer.

Malted grain

The majority of grains in a beer — called the base malts — are usually light-coloured, such as a pilsner or light ale malt. Smaller quantities of other grain can be added to change the beer's flavour, appearance and aroma. For instance, roasted malts may be added to a stout to make it dark and smell and taste roasted, while other malts may be added to assist head retention. The variety of barley and even where it is grown can affect its flavor.

Some of the common malted grains that you may encounter in homebrew recipes are below. Unless otherwise indicated they are malted barley:

Lager malt and pilsner malt are base malts and give a soft, clean and slightly sweet finish and golden colour to beers such as Pilsner Urquell.

Pale malt or ale malt is the base malt in pale ales around the world and English bitters.

Mild ale malt is similar to pale malt but is slightly darker.

Vienna malt is German and imparts a malty-to-nutty aroma. It is produced with barley of normal to slightly higher protein content. It is traditionally used for beers with marked malty character or dark color.

Munich malt imparts rounded, full flavors with some hints of coffee. It has undergone more kilning than lager malt, which gives the finished beer more aroma, malty flavour and colour, and a fuller body. If this is the main malt used, it will produce a slightly darker beer than one made with Vienna malt. Small amounts added to the mash will improve the malty flavour.

Amber malt has a biscuity taste and is used in mild, old and brown ales and some bitters. It is a darker version of mild ale malt.

Victory malt, or biscuit malt, gives a deep golden to brown color and a rich toasted taste. Excellent to use in nut brown ales, porters and ales. About 5 to 10 per cent of the total grain bill, if mashing, is enough. Imparts a malt flavor without the sweetness of crystal malt.

Crystal malt, or caramel malt, gives a nutty flavor to copper-colored ales, in which it is used widely. A high proportion of unfermentable sugars means it adds body to the finished beer. It is malted in its husk during production and thus will add sugars to the wort without having to be mashed. It comes in various colours ranging from light to dark, and is a popular grain to add to kit beers because it can be steeped in hot water to extract the sugars and flavours.

Chocolate malt is used in dark beers such as porter and stout. It is heated to high temepratures, which gives it a chocolate-type character. Smaller quantities produce a nutty flavour and deep ruby red colour, for instance in English bitter or pale ale.

Black malt is the darkest malt. It is a lot darker than chocolate malt but also imparts a burnt taste, which can be overpowering if used in anything but small quantities. Used in dark ale, stout and porter.

Malted wheat gives a tart, refreshing flavor to beer. Used in the production of weizenbier and weissbier. Small amounts in the mash aid head retention but do not affect the flavor. If mashing a wheat beer, 40 to 70 per cent wheat malt can be used, with the rest barley malt.

White wheat malt is used in the production of weizenbier and weissbier. It gives a malty flavor that raw wheat does not impart. It is necessary for a beer to adhere to the reinheitsgebot German purity law, which dictates that only malted grains be used in the production of beer. White wheat malt contributes to foam (head) production and foam stability.

Brown malt, peated malt or smoked malt has been dried over wood or peat fires, which imparts a smoky taste. Before coal and coke were widely used, most malt was dried like this, meaning that most beers were smoky. Should be used sparingly as it can be overpowering. Having said that, Rex Attitude, by the New Zealand brewery Yeasty Boys, is a beer with 100 per cent peated malt. They claim to have created the beer after someone told them it was impossible to make a beer with the majority of the grain bill being peated malt.

Malted oats are usually used in stout or porter. They add smoothness and can counteract harsh flavors imparted by hard water.

Caravienne malt is a light crystal malt used in light specialty beer and Abbey-style ales. It adds rich caramel sweetness and aroma and makes for a fuller-flavored beer.

Carapils, or dextrine malt, balances body and flavour without adding colour or sweetness. It is a lighter crystal malt and its dextrines add body and mouth-feel as well as helping head retention.

Caramunich malt is a medium crystal malt that will enhance malt aroma and produce a copper colour, caramel flavour and improve body. Like other crystal malts it improves head retention and leaves unfermentable, caramelised sugars.

Caramalt malt is a light crystal malt that is good for adding sweetness, body and golden colour. Adds good mouth-feel due to unfermentable dextrines.

Acid malt, or acidulated malt, is a German malt, which has lactic acid on the grain that gives the beer a slightly sour taste.

Rye gives a subtle spicy graininess and dense head, and imparts a deep golden colour.

Unmalted grain

While malted grain, usually barley, is the main grain used in beer, a variety of unmalted grains can be used in small quantities to add flavour, aroma or other qualities. Malted grain, hops, yeast and water are the base ingredients in beer and anything else added, including unmalted grain, sugar and any other flavourings are referred to as adjuncts.

Roasted barley is similar to black malt, but gives a smoother and drier taste and is lighter in color. It is used widely in mild ales and porters and is ideal for brewing Irish stouts. It has a strong coffee-like burnt flavour, improves body and aids in head retention. Small amounts (25g to 50g in a 23-litre batch) produce a deep reddish color and complex nuttiness.

Flaked barley imparts a rich, grainy flavour to milds, stouts, poters and bitters. It also aids head retention. Used at 2 to 12 per cent of the grain bill. Can cause haziness, which is not an issue in dark beers, but can be a problem in lighter-coloured beers.

Unmalted wheat gives a graininess to beer and is also used by some breweries to improve head retention.

Oatmeal and rolled oats are only used in quite dark beers because they form a haze. Like malted oats, they can counteract harshness caused by hard water. Adds body and sweetness, and aids head retention while giving a smooth, grainy character.

Flaked wheat contributes less colour than wheat malt and is mainly used to increase head retention.

Flaked maize and maize grits (corn) have a subtle flavour and are ideally used in delicate beers. They are nitrogen-free and used by commercial brewers to dilute beer made with high-nitrogen barley, which can cause haze, and because it is a cheap way to increase alcohol content. Maize grits must be cooked before mashing to gelatinise the starch.

Flaked rice and rice grits are colourless and odorless. Like maize, it is nitrogen-free. Flaked rice can be mashed directly, but mash grits (including household rice) must be boiled for 15 minutes before being mashed. It is more expensive than corn, but produces crisper, lighter-tasting beer.

Torrefied wheat is popular with British breweries in the production of pale ale. Aids head retention and contributes slightly to fermentables.

Malt extract and beer "kits"

Instead of going through the relatively simple yet time-consuming task of mashing malted grain, many homebrewers (and a very few smaller craft breweries) use malt extract. A manufacturer has already done the work of taking the malted grain and mashing it to extract the sugar, boiling the liquid and condensing the sweet wort to create a thick syrup that can be rehydrated at home. Malt extract is also available as a powder. Liquid and dried malt extract come in various forms, such as light, amber and dark, and wheat and rice malt are also available.

Canned brewing kits (or "cans" or "tins") available at homebrew shops and supermarkets are a mix of malt extract and hop flavour, bitterness and aroma. All the homebrewer needs to do is mix the "kit" of hopped malt extract with some water and extra sugar — preferably malt extract, glucose or dextrose, but some brewers use simple table sugar (sucrose) — then add the yeast and wait for it to turn into beer.

The can of hopped malt concentrate may be made by a brewer going through all the steps of preparing a beer for fermentation — including adding hops — then condensing the wort into the thick liquid and canned.

However, brewing kits may also simply be plain malt extract to which the bitter or aromatic oils from hops have been added.

The main thing is to make sure the kit you choose has a good reputation and is well regarded by fellow homebrewers.

There's no doubt that excellent beers can be brewed with malt extract or kits, particularly if some grain and extra hops are added, but most brewers believe that something is lost in the dehydration of the wort into the thick syrup then rehydrating it at home to recreate the wort.


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