Of course, the best way to learn about brewing malts is to taste them in beer. We always share which malts are used in our beers to help more knowledgeable drinkers make an informed choice and to help newcomers along the road to becoming beer connoisseurs. So, once you’ve read this guide, your homework is to order our beers online and put theory into practice.
Malt is essentially a cereal grain that has been encouraged to germinate and then air-dried to stop it germinating further. By doing this, all of the necessary components to start the breakdown of the stored starch into sugars are present in the grain, but the process has not progressed too far and can instead be completed at the brewery.
Malt is kiln-dried to further develop its character. It can be roasted to varying degrees to provide colour and toasty flavours that can range from a golden nuttiness to dark chocolate. It can also be caramelised to provide sweeter toffee or syrup notes.
When we start a brew, malt is mixed with hot water in the mash tun. The hot water reactivates the enzymes in the malt and they then break down the starch into sugars. These sugars dissolve into the water and are run-off as a sweet liquid called wort. Wort forms the basis of the beer - its body, the malt flavours and the sugars for the yeast to ferment.
As well as malted barley, we’ll often use a modicum of wheat, rye or oats to tweak flavour and the way the beer presents.
Here is a brief guide to the cereals we use.
Cara Malt – ‘Cara’ malts are used to give colour and flavour to pale beers. Like crystal malts, the grain is mashed prior to kilning to turn the starch into sugars, but the kilning process tends to promote colouring through the Maillard reaction rather than crystallisation (as is the case with crystal malts). As a result, Cara malt actually has a rich, sweet malt flavour rather than toffee or caramel.
Chocolate Malt – This is a barley malt that has been kilned at a high temperature to achieve a rich brown colour. It can impart some bitter dark chocolate flavours as well as a nutty or toasty character.
Crystal Malt– Crystal malt has been kilned after having been steeped in hot water, much like the mashing process at the brewery. As such, the starch has turned to sugar and, upon kilning, these sugars are caramelised. Crystal malts can be kilned to varying degrees, resulting in a range of malts from light to dark that can impart both colour and caramel or toffee notes.
Munich Malt – Kilned at slightly higher temperatures than pale malt to develop the flavour a little more, Munich malt ranges in colour from a pale gold to amber. It is generally used to add a sweeter malt character in the final beer.
Pale Ale – Pale malt is only lightly kilned. It makes up the bulk of most beers, providing a biscuity malt canvas on which to express your brewing artistry.
Pilsner Malt – The lightest of the base malts, pilsner mal,t as the name suggests, is commonly used in Czech pilsners and other lagers. Has a grainy, somewhat honeyed taste.
Roast Barley – Not a malt this one, but rather an adjunct. The unmalted barley has been roasted to near-black and imparts rich, coffee-like flavours and a dry bitterness that are the basis of a good dark beer. Used sparingly it can also be used to tweak colour on paler beers.
Vienna Malt - Kilned at slightly higher temperatures than pale malt to develop the flavour a little more, Vienna can still be used as a base malt because it retains sufficient active enzymes. It is generally used to add depth to the malt character of beer while having little effect on colour.
Wheat Malt – The staple of wheat beers, of course, but wheat malt is often added to a range of other beer styles because it improves head formation and retention. It also contributes to the body of the beer, filling out and smoothing the flavour.
Oats – Have a high fat content, so they tend to contribute creaminess to the finished beer. Useful when you want a smooth, full-bodied beer.
Rye - Brings a certain spicy dryness to that can improve the depth of flavour.