Brewing malt types – characteristics to know.

Malt is the backbone of your beer. As a rule of thumb, the weight of malt needed accounts for 95 to 98% of the total weight of your dry ingredients. Without malt, there wouldn’t be any beer. Knowing your malt types is essential when brewing all grain. It’s also useful to understand what particular characteristics a given malt extract will impart your finished beer when brewing with an ingredient kit.

In this article, we’ll review

  • what TYPES OF CEREAL VARIETIES may be used for malting
  • BASE MALTS, SPECIALTY MALTS and how to use them


How is malt produced? – essential characteristics to know

brewing malt types grain

Malt is cereal that is germinated to a certain point – process being controlled by drying and/ or roasting the resulting grain. This process will develop different types of SUGARS, SOLUBLE STARCHES and ENZYMES, necessary for brewing beer.

Malt production is delicate and takes up to 5 days of several steps. The grain, after being tested for viability (ability to germinate) spends 3 intervals of 8 hours in fresh water tanks, drained between each interval. When the moisture content reaches 40 to 45%, the grain goes into germination rooms that are kept at a constant temperature of about 60°F for 5 days or so. At that point, the grain is dried with air and turned to prevent the rootlets to get entangled. We now have what is referred to as “green malt” which will undergo a further kilning (drying) over a period of 2 to 3 days, with progressively raising temperatures to 120°F – for Lager malts to 220°F for more intensely flavored malts. After removing the rootlets from the grain the malt is now ready for brewing.

What happened during the malting process – a NATURAL PROCESS, used by the maltster – is that the starch, the plant’s stored food will be converted into soluble starches and different kinds of sugars under the action of enzymes generated by the plant during germination.

ENZYMES are molecules (typically, a certain type of proteins) that react to create other substances. They are activated by certain conditions. Enzymes are essential to the beer brewing process. They are developed during malting and convert starch to sugar during mashing. See the whole fermentation process in my previous previous post. Enzymes will further break down proteins in beer, improving foam potential and clarity during a mashing stage called the protein rest occurring between for 20 to 30 minutes between 120 and 140°F

A malted barley composition is:

  • Soluble starches 82-88%
  • Fermentable sugars 12-18%
    • Maltose 8-11%
    • Maltotriose 3-5%
    • Glucose 1-2%
    • Sucrose less than 1%

The starch-to-sugar modification process is controlled and may be more or less complete, depending on the degree of proteins the maltster desires to retain in the malt. A highly modified malt will have more AMINO ACIDS (yeast nutrients) and less complex proteins, and a higher fermentation potential. A under modified malt will have more complex proteins and will require a protein rest during mashing to develop its proportion of amino acids.

Your preferred brewing malt types – varieties and origin

You can brew beer with many kinds of cereals, including wheat, rye, oats, corn and rice. For example, brown rice and white sorghum maybe used to brew GLUTEN-FREE beers. I have even actually tasted a beer in France made from green lentils! Actually made in Sancerre … go figure.

brewing malt types lentil beer

The reason why barley by far has been the most popular grain used for beer brewing is because – it’s easy to grow and easy to be malted, it’s versatile and tastes better.

There are two types of barley for brewing, identified by the number of rows around which the kernels are arranged in the plants’ heads.

The 6-row barley has been predominantly used in North America because of its high yields. Its kernels are thinner and it contains a higher percentage of proteins and enzymes, for that reason it can be mashed with adjuncts like rice and corn without affecting the starch-to-sugar conversion. It also produces a grainier, potentially more tannic beer because of its amount of husk.

The 2-row barley appears as plumper, having less husk. It is preferred in Europe and has a fuller, maltier taste.

There are many varieties of both types. Each single variety possesses particular POTENTIAL GRAVITY (richness in alcohol and sugar), individual FLAVORS, BODY (tannin and texture), they all have a unique character, depending on their place of origin – North American malts may have a grassier and earthier profile although fairly neutral, while British malts are described as more bready, biscuity, and German malts are more herbal and phenolic. These characteristics are attributed to what we may call terroir.

Base malts vs Specialty malts – how to use them

A home brewer will work with two basic types of malts: base – and specialty malt.

A base malt is what is able to provide both the SUGAR needed for fermentation and the FREE AMINO NITROGEN (FAN) needed to feed the yeasts. FAN is a degradation of proteins occurring during the malting process. The base malt also brings carbohydrates, proteins and enzymes, it accounts for 60 to 100% of the brewing malt in a beer recipe. It contributes to a mild flavor as it is lightly kilned.

Here are the most popular base malt

PILSNER MALT – light color, delicate, traditionally used in German and Czech Pilsners

PALE MALT – the most common base malt. Light color and versatile to any style of beer.

PALE ALE MALT – the malt of choice for any kind of ale, from pale ale/ IPA to stout and porter. it is by itself slightly deeper colored and more malty.

VIENNA MALT – slight more kilned than other base malts, therefore it is darker and maltier, but still have rich enzyme components on its own. It is used in Oktoberfest or Vienna Lagers.

MÜNICH MALT – the darkest of the base malts, the more the malt is kilned, the less enzymatic qualities it has retained and may need to be complemented by lighter base malts. This is a good malt to make Münich Dunkel, Bock, Dark Larger.

A specialty malt will add color, sweetness and toastiness to your beer, and having little enzymatic activity, it will need to be used as a part of the mash bill. Some popular specialty malts include:

CARAMEL & CRYSTAL MALTS – caramel malt is the generic term referring to the concentration of the sugars contained in the malt produced either by kilning or roasting. Crystal malts are obtained only by roasting, and are a type of caramel malts. Cara-pils is a very light caramel malt contributing primarily to head retention and sweetness.

BISCUIT MALT – dark malt with a cracker or biscuit flavor

BLACK MALT – to be used as an adjunct for making stouts and dark beers. It will also lower your beer PH

Selecting your organic malt

Ultimately, this is what I am interested in. One of the important reason to brew all grain besides creating your own recipes is to source QUALITY MALTS, with transparent origins and methods of production.

These are GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH, because chemical free.

They are better for the ENVIRONMENT, because they are the products of natural, sustainable farming.

Yes, it is a little extra effort to research and purchase from organic producers, but well worth it. SUPPORT A LOCAL FARMERS.

As I am on the beginning of this organic home brew journey myself, I am continuously learning about better supply sources and opportunities. I am working on a list that I cannot wait to SHARE WITH YOU.

Almost infinite beer brewing possibilities

I hope you found this article helpful for you to understand the differences between the many brewing malt types. I hope you find the amazing all the possibilities available to you for creating the beer styles you like to drink.

More to come soon on where to buy directly and easily organic malts.

If you have any requests as far as type and origin of malts you are looking for, please let me know. And as always, your comments and questions are welcome.

Cheers and to our health!


What’s the beer flavor wheel? A great tool to train your tasting skills

Dr. Morten Christian Meilgaard (1928-2009), was a Denmark born research chemist specialized in yeasts. He worked in America in the 1970s for Stroh brewery in Detroit, later bought by Miller until he retired in 1999. He is considered as the most prominent pioneer in SENSORY EVALUATION SCIENCE, and developed the complete beer tasting identification and description system, universally used in the field. So, what’s the beer flavor wheel and why is this interesting?

the beer flavor wheel


You can download this chart here

The flavor wheel is a chart that classifies all the tasting components, not only FLAVORS, but also AROMAS and MOUTHFEEL, “good” and “bad” and everything in between. Some terms are a bit geeky – this article is explaining the most obscure ones.

Beer appreciation, by all means should always remain a FUN EXERCISE, and you will benefit from LEARNING HOW TO TASTE BEER LIKE A PROFESSIONAL: This will take you to an enhanced level of ENJOYMENT and a finer sense of appreciation. This will give you a more intimate KNOWLEDGE of the technical characteristics of beer, making you ultimately more confident and discerning about making your own quality brew.

So here are a few considerations on tasting beer like a passionate home brewer, before commenting on how to use the flavor wheel itself.

Setting the right conditions for the tasting

beer flavor wheel tasting

USE THE PROPER GLASS. The more complexity and richness you have, the more you need a tulip shape glass, preferably with a stem. More simple beers are perfectly enjoyable in a classic pint type glass. Also question of personal preference, after all. Needless to say, drinking from the bottle makes it very hard for the beer to express itself. Head retention is part of the tasting experience too.

SERVING TEMPERATURE. As a rule of thumb, most beers should be served between 40°F and 55°F. Lagers colder than ales. Please do not freeze your fine beer, it will block all the aromas and flavors.


Judging the APPEARANCE of the beer. Evaluate the clarity (brilliant to cloudy), the color (straw to black), and the head retention (pour to persistent).

Appreciating the AROMAS. Give the beer a bit of time to open up in the glass, gently swirl if needed. Try to assess the intensity, the balance, the precision (definition), the overall impression (quality, pleasure, or on the contrary flaws, off)

Appreciating the FLAVORS. Try to keep the beer on the palate for a few seconds. Determine if the flavors are consistent with the aromas observed previously. Do you recognize any familiar flavors – spice/ floral/ fruit/

Analyzing the MOUTHFEEL. Perceived all around your mouth, it reveals the body of the beer (light to full-bodied), the intensity, the freshness, the quality, the balance bitterness/ sweetness/ acidity/ alcohol, the finesse of the carbonation.

Noticing the FINISH. Is it lingering, complex, pleasant? Is it clean, dry, refreshing or leaves you with a sensation of heaviness – above all does it make you feel like having another sip?

OVERALL IMPRESSION. Is it a style you like, is it harmonious and give you a sense a quality – will you drink another one? As a home brewer, ask yourself what you would like to make differently if you had to replicate this style of beer.

The off-flavors and aromas

beer flavor wheel off flavors

Most of those scientific terms pertain to flaws and off flavors. I am listing them with their “translation” here, by section on the wheel, identifiable in the different shades of green and blue on the chart. Those undesirable characteristics are the by-products of something gone wrong at some stage of the brewing process or storage.

When I taste beer, or wine or anything else … I always look for the flaws first. Hopefully nothing is too obvious or aggressive in that regard. In the beer flavor wheel, since it was designed by a chemist, we find lots of chemical definitions and descriptions we may not be familiar with.

PHENOLIC – “medicinal”

Bakelite – before plastic was invented, some kind of burnt and camphor-like characteristic

Chlorophenol – vinyl, medicinal iodine

Isodoform – band-aid, duct-tape


Caprylic – rancid

Isovaleric – sweaty, cheesy

Butryric – rancid butter

Diacetyl – butter flavor popcorn


Hydrogen Sulfide – overcooked egg

Autolysed – sulfur, burnt match

Dimethyl Sulfide – overcooked vegetable, cabbage

STALE – “anywhere between cardboard to mold”

The pleasant flavors and aromas

beer flavor wheel pleasant flavors

These desirable characteristics make up about two-thirds of the wheel, and range between the darker shades of green to the shades of purple. Excluding the red portions, which are relative to the mouthfeel and body of the beer (texture and intensity as opposed to all the flavors and aromas described on the rest of the wheel.

ESTERY – “floral and fruity aromas”. These are of course, desirable characteristics.

Geraniol – waxy, sweet rose

Phenylethanol – fresh, green, white flower

Acetaldehyde – green apple

Ethyl hexanoate – citrus

Ethyl Acetate – deeply fruity, yellow stone fruit, with a brandy note

Isoamyl Acetate – fruity, banana-like, exotic fruit

Aromas, right off the estery spectrum are too intense and aggressive, they will then become not so pleasant and be closer to artificial and plastic aromas, as identified by Morten Christian Meilgaard.

Some aromas and flavors are borderline and subjective

In the ACIDIC section of the wheel, you will find Sour and Acetic (Vinegar) – these could be identified as flaws. However, in certain beers, sour beers, such as the famous Belgian Gueuse and Lambic, these are desirable characteristics.

At the opposite of the spectrum, in the MAILLARD (caramelized, smoky) range of aromas and flavors, of course “burnt” or roasted is the characteristic quality of a Stout or Porter.

Training your palate

So, what’s the beer flavor wheel? Just a tool, a brilliant symbol to remember when tasting beer. Not words to memorize literally, rather a classification of WHAT TYPES OF AROMAS AND FLAVORS LOOK FOR.

LEARN TO RECOGNIZE: flaws, unintended characteristics, and on the contrary, ENJOY the qualities, the balance, style and finesse every time you taste beer. Ultimately, you want to come up with your own terms, descriptors and assessment. I hope this post has helped you to clarify some obscure scientific words used in the beer flavor wheel, and I hope you will HAVE FUN while training your palate.

Please leave a question or comment, or share some tasting experience.

Cheers, and to our health,


All grain brewing for beginners – what to know before getting started

For a beginner, complicated brewing techniques can be intimidating, and when it comes to all grain brewing, the whole process can seem a bit mysterious and scientific. This is why it is actually recommended getting STARTED WITH BREWING USING EXTRACTS. This way you will learn the basics of making beer in 6 easy steps – sanitation, boiling, chilling the wort, transferring the wort into the fermentation vessel, pitching the yeast, priming for conditioning and bottling. If you follow the instructions, use common sense and care, you will end up with good beer.

So, why going through the trouble and extra work of brewing all grain? There are in my opinion 4 main benefits of doing it.

  • COST

In this article I will try to sum up the information I researched on all grain brewing for beginners, before you make the decision to get into it. If you are serious about making your own beer, this is ultimately the experience you are looking for.

The cost of all grain brewing versus extract brewing

You should consider two types of costs: EQUIPMENT and INGREDIENTS. Because when you go all grain brewing, YOU WILL HAVE TO DO THE MASHING YOURSELF – that first step during which the starch (80 to 90% of the malt) is converted into fermentable sugars, along with the already present maltose and other types of sugars – you will normally need additional gear, on the other hand, you will start from scratch with most likely malted grain.

THE START UP COST (EQUIPMENT) At this point you have two options to choose from for brewing all grain.

The traditional method is to mash by performing SPARGING, in which case you will need 3 vessels: the HLT (Hot Liquor Tank, in fact a jargon name for hot water tank), the MASH TUN and the BOIL KETTLE, or at least 2 vessels: one for boiling, one for mashing. This is when is become significantly more expensive.

Unless you want to make a high gravity beer, requiring extracting lots of malt from your grain to start with, you may use NO-SPARGE MASHING method. The most commonly used in the BREW IN A BAG (BIAB), an insignificant expense. The bag is also reusable.

Either or, you will also need a MALT MILL for all grain brewing.

All grain brewing for beginners startup costs


Wether you use LIQUID or DRY EXTRACT, this will be twice as expensive as using MALTED GRAIN. This is when all grain brewing become really economically advantageous.

All grain brewing for beginners Ingredients cost


The ultimate satisfaction of brewing at home: creativity

One of the great benefits of all grain brewing is that you may select your own ingredients, to enjoy FREELY CREATING YOUR OWN BEER RECIPES, because you like VARIETY, and QUALITY.

Personally I love to cook, and this is perhaps why I’ve been drawn to trying to brew my own beer. If you are reading this, you are certainly passionate about trying different styles and ultimately you want to get the satisfaction of creating your own style. Once you master the basics – I am in the process of learning – you become more confident, because you understand the chemistry and you have enough technique to achieve producing quality. That’s where the joy of home brewing comes! (to somewhat quote home brewing guru Charlie Papazian).

You will find lots of recipe charts and calculators to help you plan your brew day, here is a good site I found with all the CALCULATORS to build a recipe.

The benefits of sourcing of your ingredients

Being environmentally conscious, one of the benefits of brewing all grain is to SOURCE ORGANIC MALTED GRAIN easier. The organic beer market itself is still very marginal, less than 5% – therefore finding organic beer ingredients can be challenging. However it is getting easier to source organic producers.

  • BRIESS Malt & Ingredients Co. based in Chilton, WI produces 11 different kinds of Certified Organic Malts and is committed to reduce its energy and consumption, to conserve water, uses only recyclable packaging, and works with local farmers and animal nutritionists to reuse wastes. This company works with many distributors in the USA and online vendors.
  • A new company, ORGANICBREWSUPPLIES is an online supplier based in Canada shipping to the Canada and the USA, offering all organic brewing ingredient kits, as well as organic malts, hops and yeasts.
  • BREWORGANIC.COM apparently is going to (re)open soon. The people behind this internet venture come from SEVEN BRIDGES ORGANIC BREWING SUPPLY, Santa Cruz, California that had to close recently. That company had been well-known in the brewers’ community. Stay tuned.

Another benefit of sourcing your own ingredients is DIVERSITY. Beyond the characteristics and classification of the different types of malts – base malt, specialty grains, non-barley malts … ultimately you want to know variety of grain you want to brew with to achieve the CHARACTER you like.

6 ROW MALTS were in the past higher yielding Barley varieties, consisting of less starch and more husk bringing more potential tannin, while 2 ROW MALTS have more starch and are potentially more mellow.

Grains are also classified according to their region of origin. Typically, European malts such as VIENNA or MUNICH have a clean, elegant character, while AMERICAN MALTS tend to have a milder, more neutral profile.

All grain brewing made easy – the Brew In A Bag solution

As mentioned earlier, getting started with all grain brewing is now easier and more affordable than ever. Here are five benefits of use a BIAB to prepare your wort from scratch.

  1. ONLY ONE KETTLE is needed equating to SMALLER INVESTMENT. The bag is reusable.
  3. MAKES CLEAN UP EASIER. Just wash the bag.
  4. SAVES YOU TIME DURING MASHING. No sparging needed.
  5. ADAPTABLE. You may still decide to do sparging extracting more gravity. Exists in different sizes. 1 Gallon, 5 Gallon, or custom …

Be aware that brewing with a BIAB will require 25% to 30% more grain than with the traditional sparging method. Pressing the bag to drain it faster might extract more tannin, although, it’s an ongoing debate in the home brewing community, judging by the posts on different blogs I have read for this research.

Are you ready to go all grain?

I hope you enjoyed reading this article and I hope you now have more information to help you make the decision to brew all grain at home.

Flexibility, cost and quality of the ingredients (organic or not) are significant criteria, but above all creativity and independence are the main reasons why you want to do it.

Please leave a question or comments on this.

Cheers and to our health,