Flavors of Specialty Malt

Specialty malts are any malts other than standard base malt. They’re produced by manipu­lating drying procedures — kilning or roasting green or finished malts, or a combination of both. Specialty malts provide unique characteristics that make craft beer “craft beer,” including increased color and flavor, increased foam and foam retention, extended shelf life of a beer, and a per­ception of body or fullness.

Not all barley is created equal. But that’s good because each barley variety produces different flavors and color hues in the finished specialty malt. That makes it possible for brewers to produce different flavors and color hues in the finished beer — from kolsch to stout and everything in between. Any homebrewer’s dream.

Something Special

As a starting point, it’s important to note that the final kilning step for a standard base malt is two to four hours at 180° to 190° F. This gives a nice malty flavor and “finishes off” the malt. Turn up the heat another 10° F and you’ll make pale ale malt, which has an increased color of 3° to 4° Lovibond. This increased heat increases the flavor. As a result, pale ale malt is used as a base malt in ales, mild ales, IPAs, and ESBs.

Other kilned varieties include Vienna, mild ale, and Munich malts, and wheat and rye.

Mild ale malt and two-row Munich, 10° Lovibond, are derived from curing temperatures slightly higher than those used for pale ale malts. Mild ale malt is well suited for beers that need color adjustment and increased malt flavor, such as alt, kolsch, Oktoberfest,Vienna/märzen, and amber beers.

Brewers should turn to Munich when brewing bock beers. In fact traditional bock beers use up to 90 percent Munich (10° Lovibond) in the grain bill. For many of today’s bock formulas, smaller amounts of Munich (10° Lovibond) are an excellent complement when using larger amounts of other dark specialty malts. When brewing Oktoberfest, Vienna/marzen, and amber beers, use 5 percent to 15 percent Munich malt. These malts achieve a balance between the malt and the hops in darker beers.

Up the kilning temperature to 230° to 240° F and maltsters will turn out dark Munich. That will produce a beer that has a very strong malty flavor, 20° Lovibond and deep orange hues. Munich 20° Lovibond also has a slight burnt characteristic, almost a “bite,” which makes it perfect for brewing bock and dark beers and brown ales. Munich 20° Lovibond can be used in small amounts to improve the malty flavor and give a rich color to low-gravity brews.

Roasting for Flavor

While kilning can produce a wonderful variety of specialty malts for a wonderful variety of specialty beers, roasting almost certainly puts the “special” in specialty malts. That’s because it’s in the roaster that malt flavors as varied as caramel, chocolate, and nutty are produced, making it possible to brew anything from kolsch to nut brown ale to porter and everything in between.

A roaster is nothing more than a very slowly rotating drum with heat applied on the outside and heated air drawn through.

Caramel, or crystal, malts are produced in the roaster. The process starts with green malt, which is then “stewed.” Stewing the green malt can take place in the germination compartment, the green malt holding hopper, or the roasting drum. The stewing process breaks down starches into additional quantities of sugar. It is during this process that the endosperm changes from a white, mealy appearance to a shiny, glassy appearance. The kernel can reach temperatures of 350° F during roasting, which is maintained for about three hours. The number notation of caramel malt indicates the color specifications and flavor characteristics each particular caramel malt will produce.

Pilsner beers use 3 percent to7 percent caramel (10° Lovibond) to balance the flavors of malty, grainy, and hoppy. In those amounts, it can provide a rich, golden color without a significant flavor increase. Used in slightly higher amounts, caramel 10° Lovibond provides color, sweetness, and body for light amber beers. Caramels are the malt of choice for the many amber beers that are finding favor with today’s craft beer lovers. Higher Lovibond caramels, such as 60° Lovibond and higher, are used in red, dark bock, porter, and stout beers.

Probably not as well known or as widely used are the various types of highly roasted malts. Chocolate, coffee, and black malts are all made from kilned, or finished, malt that has been aged for at least 28 days before roasting. During the roasting process, which lasts from two to three hours, the kernel temperature extends well beyond the combustion point of the malt. Maltsters exercise extreme caution when producing these malts, which are clearly distinguished by very dark colors.

The most interesting aspect of these malts is that a very small amount will not change the flavor profile of a beer but will greatly enhance its color. As a result, these malts are used in the production of non-alcohol, low alcohol, and light beers. The increased color suggests that the beer has much more flavor than is typical of a non-alcohol, low alcohol, or lite beer.

Double Malting and Others

Some malt types can be produced through a “double” malting process in which kilned malt is hydrated in the germi­nation compartment, then roasted. This procedure develops very unusual characteristics. 

Black barley used in small amounts gives a “dryness” to stout, while roasted barley offers a sweet, grainy, coffee-like flavor and red to deep brown color to porter, stout, and nut brown ale.

This is merely a sampling of the many specialty malts available to today’s homebrewer. A malt almost glassy in appearance, carapils can be used to upgrade all types of light colored beers and ales. Just a small amount adds body, foam retention, and beer stability without affecting color or flavor. Carapils can be used with or without other specialty malts.

Many more types are being and have been made. In fact the variety of specialty malts available is limited only by the imagination of the maltster and brewer.

All of these varieties make it almost impossible for a homebrewer to ever brew every type of beer he would like to in one lifetime.

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