brewing malt types grain


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

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 malts

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!


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