Brewers always seem to get a bright gleam in their eyes when designing a new beer recipe.
Poring over available specialty malts and beer profiles, brewers drool with anticipation at the thought of filling a room with the sweet malt aroma from the mash, filling glass after glass of wort during the sparge to check the color and malt profile, designing the hop rate at the last minute, and telling vicious lies to other brewers about how the color and specific gravity hit their targets dead on. Standing like a proud parent, the brewer demands that everyone acknowledge the new beer, as if receiving a blessing from a miracle fount of holy water.
Only miracles can assure that every new recipe hits the target beer style every time, but brewers should never worry too much. Beer is beer. If sanitation is top notch, the beer will taste good, regardless of the target style. Professional brewers will change the name and style of a beer after primary fermentation, creating the common illusion that they meant to brew the “new” style in the first place. With new recipes, the fun is in the process and in all the homebrew resulting from experimentation.
Homebrewers can choose from a wide variety of specialty malts, from American to imported malts, available whole or crushed at any homebrew supply store. Professional brewers are more traditional when designing new beer styles, and many would twitch with disgust at the idea of including 2 percent caraVienna malt in an American pale ale. Homebrewers can brew under no such illusions of tradition and can add any specialty malt to any recipe, resulting in some very interesting and tasty beer. In the wide world of brewing beer, homebrewers maintain an edge over professional brewers because professional brewers usually stick to a limited selection of specialty grains.
Experimenting with all the available specialty malts can win homebrew awards, fill the garage with delicious beer, and defy the stubborn tastes of professional brewers who would never add 2 percent light chocolate malt to an all-grain British extra bitter.
Down to the Basics
The main job of the mash is to allow enzymes to turn the starches in malt into fermentable sugars and non-fermentable carbohydrates. The common base malt for brewing all-grain beers is pale barley malt. Pale malt provides most of the fermentable sugars and all of the necessary enzymes (diastatic power) in all-grain recipes. The enzymes created and activated from mashing pale barley grain assure complete conversion of starches to sugars of the entire grist bill (grains to be used for the brew). The addition of specialty grains (which do not contribute as much — if any — diastatic power as pale malt) defines the beer styles by adding specific flavors and aromas. Brewers can also add adjuncts, considered to be anything from oats, wheat, and rye to additives such as coffee. Any ingredient in beer not grain, hops, water, or yeast is considered an adjunct or additive.
When designing any beer recipe, always consider the diastatic power of the total grain bill. A good rule of thumb for new all-grain brewers is to keep the grist bill at least 65 percent pale malt to assure enough enzyme content to exact complete conversion.
Malting barley is a complex process. First, barley seed is steeped in water to generate and/or activate enzymes. The steeping process begins the germination of the barley grain seed, which is then kilned to stop the process and trap enzymes within each seed. By placing the germinated barley seed in a hot oven, the kilned grain develops its character. Pale malts are kilned at cooler temperatures to assure high enzyme concentration and low color. Specialty malts are kilned at higher temperatures for longer periods of time to raise the color, flavor, and aroma profile of the barley seed. A “modified” barley grain seed means it is malted by a maltster to maintain high enzyme content.
Most barley grains today are so highly modified that conversion from starch to sugar takes place in 15 minutes or less, especially if the grist bill features 60 percent pale malt or more.
A good way to move from malt extract brewing to all-grain is the partial mash. The extract provides the base malt, while the specialty grains define the beer style. Partial mashes can feature from one to four pounds of specialty grains for a five-gallon batch. Some homebrewers add five to seven pounds of two-row modified pale malt in the partial mash to extract base sugars from two sources, extract and all-grain conversion.
Purchase crushed grain, or lightly crush the grain yourself, maintaining as much full husk as possible. To create your mash add one quart of water for each pound of grain (this is the same ratio often used for all-grain brewing) to a pot. Bring the water to 170° F, add the crushed grain, stir like crazy, and try to maintain the temperature of the mash between 148° and 160° F for at least 20 minutes.
This temperature range is warm enough to release the malt’s character, but not so hot that the malt releases astringent tannins. You can hold the mash on the stove. Another technique to maintain a consistent temperature with partial mashes is to pre-heat the oven to just warm, hit your target temperature, and put the pot in the oven. If you’re mashing any pale malt, let the mash sit at the target temperature for an hour.
Strain the grains through a stainless steel strainer into your brewpot. This process is called lautering. Sparge at least one gallon of 170° F water through the grains to extract as much flavor as possible. Sparging is the process of spraying water over the grains after mashing to retrieve any residual liquid malt sugar clinging to the husks.
If the partial mash included pale malt, sparge one quart of 170° F water for each pound of grain, pale malt and specialty combined. Don’t worry about target temperature of the sparge water that much, except try not to sparge with water warmer than 170° F (which would extract tannins).
Turn the temperature all the way up to boil the wort. Just before full boil, when the foam begins to rise, remove the pot from the heat and add all the extract. Watch out for boilover! Partial-mash boils love to spill out onto your nice clean floor. After the protein break — you’ll see the protein coagulate at the top of the wort — add hops.
Drink another beer and congratulate all involved on a job well done.
After a few partial mashes, many homebrewers get the itch to move to all-grain brewing. Partial mashing and all-grain brewing are different in that the specialty grains in a partial mash supply taste and color but do not need to have their starches converted to sugar. That’s what the extract provides. All-grain mashes need to make this conversion. The all-grain mash needs to hit certain temperatures that make the enzymes most efficient.
Experimenting with temperature control of even a small mash can help move brewers from partial mashing to all-grain brewing. The experience with temperature control of the partial mash is what homebrewers need to increase the pale malt in the grist bill, making up for the sugars lost by eliminating the extract.
With all-grain equipment being fairly cheap, the additional cost of all-grain brewing is offset by the low cost of pale barley malts and specialty grain.
Specialty malts determine all of the color and malt profile of the beer, with the hop rate combining with the specialty malts to establish the aroma. New all-grain and partial-mash brewers should not be too concerned about color at first. Different homebrew systems and procedures will extract slightly different color effects from the same grain. Only dedicated note taking and experience can help homebrewers and professional brewers learn how specialty-malt combinations result in specific target colors, from glassy amber ales to golden-bronze bocks.
When designing a beer recipe remember that the higher the degrees Lovibond, a number that determines the color roast of the barley grain, the more color and roasted flavor will be imparted to the beer. For example one pound of carastan malt at 13° to 17° Lovibond in a five-gallon batch will impart a light shade of copper and subtle hints of caramel, while a pound of crystal at 90° to 115° Lovibond for the same batch will generate a medium to dark amber color and rich, slightly toasted caramel flavor.
The most popular specialty malt is crystal malt, a barley grain that imparts different shades of amber color and caramel flavor. Crystal malt also provides body and mouthfeel because the grains contain unfermentable sugars. Almost all ales contain some amount of crystal malt in the grist bill. Brewers usually use light crystal, called carastan, at 13° to 17° Lovibond, to impart body and mouthfeel to the beer. Another light crystal malt, carastan at 30° to 37° Lovibond, also contributes to body but can raise the color a few shades of copper while adding a light caramel flavor to the overall profile.
American and British pale ales (including IPA) feature about 6 percent of the grist carastan at 13° to 17° Lovibond and 4 percent or more of carastan at 30° to 37° Lovibond to result in the light copper to light amber color of the beer styles. Some pale-ale recipes also maintain 3 percent or less of medium crystal malt at 50° to 60° Lovibond or 70° to 80° Lovibond to darken the beer to a bright, rich copper with streaks of amber and increase the caramel sweetness.
The medium crystal malts define the malt profiles of Scottish ales, American ambers, and American red ales. Most brewers add different percentages of every light to medium crystal malt available to the grist bill of these beers. A traditional American red can contain 6 percent carastan at 13° to 17° Lovibond, 4 percent carastan at 30° to 37° Lovibond, 4 percent crystal at 50° to 60° Lovibond, 2 percent crystal at 70° to 80° Lovibond, and 2 percent crystal at 95° to 115° Lovibond. Eliminating the 95° to 115° Lovibond crystal can result in an American amber.
The dark-roasted crystal malts feature the rich, roasted caramel flavor and deep bronze color perfect for strong ales, old ales, porters, and stouts. Strong and old ales can feature up to 9 percent crystal at 135° to 165° Lovibond to darken the color and add the roasted caramel flavor that matures with aging to a smooth, crisp, and powerful malt profile.
Porters can feature a wide variety of crystal malt combinations, including 5 percent crystal at 70° to 80° Lovibond, 5 percent crystal at 95° to 115° Lovibond, and 5 percent crystal at 135° to 165° Lovibond in addition to the chocolate and black patent malts that determine the dark brown to amber-streaked black color of the style.
Stouts can also feature up to 9 percent crystal at 135° to 165° Lovibond to maintain the rich body of oatmeal and foreign-style stouts. Brewers usually feature the medium crystal malts in an Irish stout recipe.
With any ale recipe, when in doubt, add light to medium crystal malts for body and mouthfeel and light caramel flavor and medium to dark crystal malts for rich, full-bodied beers with deep, slightly toasted caramel flavor.
The next popular specialty malt is Munich malt, an imported German pale malt that sustains kilning at a higher temperature than American or British pale malts to impart a slightly darker color and richer flavor. Munich malt also adds body and mouthfeel but without the caramel flavor of crystal malts. Munich malt in combination with crystal malt assures a resulting beer with rich flavor and mouthfeel, the level of which depends on how much of each specialty grain is added to the total grist bill.
A superb example of an ale brewed with a high percentage of Munich malt is Rogue Ales Maierbock, a Pacific Northwest-style bock fermented with ale yeast. Rogue Ales’ notable head brewer, John Maier, uses Munich malt as a base specialty malt in many of his beers, resulting in the big, rich, and full beers Maier traditionally brews. Any imported German bock, such as a Paulaner Salvator, expresses how a high volume of Munich malt tastes in a lager.
Munich malt is the base malt for German ales and lagers, replacing two-row pale malt. To brew a bock or doppelbock traditional brewers might sweat through a decoction mash (in which part of the mash is removed, boiled, and returned to the mash, sometimes repeatedly, to raise the temperature). But German Munich malt is so highly modified that an infusion mash (in which grains are added to hot water to reach and maintain a single temperature) will usually suffice. This is especially true if crystal malts or cara-malts are added to give the beer lots of body. Many homebrewers and professional brewers “cheat” their way through a German ale and lager recipe by featuring 50 percent to 60 percent two-row pale malt and 30 percent to 40 percent Munich malt with up to 20 percent other specialty malts.
By using only Munich and crystal specialty grains, partial-mash brewers and beginning all-grain brewers can brew every pale ale beer style imaginable, as well as strong ales, old ales, Scottish ales, American ambers, and American reds. Most seasoned homebrewers suggest that new all-grain brewers stick to these styles at first because the experience blending different crystal and Munich specialty malts will help all-grain brewers design the malt profile and color of any beer style.
To brew porters and stouts, brewers can add chocolate, brown, and black patent malts to the grist bill.
A porter can feature 2 percent to 5 percent light chocolate malt, brown malt, or a combination of both. Brown porters can maintain 10 percent to 20 percent brown malt. A 2 percent addition of black patent malt can be added to assure the dark color of robust porters. Stouts can feature up to 12 percent light chocolate malt and 2 percent to 5 percent dark chocolate malt to assure the dark color and rich caramel, chocolate, lightly roasted flavor dictated by the style.
Other fun specialty malts include Vienna malt, used primarily in German-style ales to impart a slightly spicy malt flavor and rich copper color. Some brewers use cara-malts, especially when brewing rich German ales and lagers with an infusion mash system. Carapils adds aggressiveness to the beer and should be avoided except in extreme moderation. CaraMunich adds body and a more mellow malt flavor, but it should still be used in moderation. CaraVienna, the most commonly used and best in terms of adding the least amount of aggressiveness of the three, adds spicy malt flavor superb in aged, German-style, cold-conditioned beers.
Many other unique specialty malts can be used, from Belgian Special B — a rich, flavorful, and somewhat chocolate malt superb in porters — to Belgian Biscuit malt, an aromatic malt that imparts an inviting, lightly spicy aroma to pilsners. When designing a new recipe, add only a few ounces for a five-gallon batch of the unique specialty malts to assure that the malt profile of the beer style isn’t destroyed by adding a high percentage of grains that impart powerful flavors. But never worry too much about each result; there’s always another brew, and the refrigerator will be full of tasty beer.
Douglas Fuchs is a professional brewer based in Eugene, Ore.
Transformation: Experimenting With Grains
You can test the effects of both minor and significant recipe changes to discover the influence of each specialty grain on overall flavor.
The test works with any beer recipe with a low hop rate and only a few specialty malt additions. The yeast should be a neutral yeast, with few fruity or other flavors thrown off during fermentation. A good hop for this purpose is Saaz. Four to five pounds of light dry malt extract can substitute for pale barley grain in a partial mash.
The test recipe for this example begins with an American pale ale, in which the target color is light straw color with hints of copper. The target malt profile is low to medium-low body with subtle caramel and malt flavor.
An addition of two specialty malts generates an American amber ale, in which the target color is bright amber. The target malt profile is a medium-bodied ale with distinct caramel flavor.
The substitution of one specialty malt for another generates a standard brown ale. The target color is amber-streaked brownish bronze. The target malt profile is a medium-bodied ale carefully blending caramel and light chocolate flavor.
All test batches are for five gallons with target specific gravities about 1.045.
Basic Recipe: American Pale Ale
• 10 lbs. two-row pale malt
• 8 oz. Munich malt (for body)
• 8 oz. carastan malt, 13° to 17° Lovibond
• 8 oz. wheat (for head retention)
• 2.5 oz. Saaz hops
• 2/3 cup corn sugar for priming
Step by Step:
Mash grains in 11.5 qt. 170° F water for an hour at 158° F. Sparge with 5 gal. 170° F water through sparge bucket into brew kettle.
Bring to a boil and add Saaz hops. Boil 60 min. Chill to 70° F and pitch yeast.
Ferment seven days around 70° F. Rack to secondary for seven days. Prime and bottle.
The hop rate will not produce a classic American pale ale but will define a malt profile consistent with the style. The carastan defines the malt profile with subtle caramel flavor. Changing from carastan at 13° to 17° Lovibond to 30° to 37° Lovibond adds even more caramel flavor and light copper color while still defining the overall malt flavor profile as subtle, not aggressive.
To adjust the recipe to generate an American amber ale, add two specialty malts, both crystal malt at different Lovibond ratings.
• 12 oz. crystal malt, 50° to 60° Lovibond
• 12 oz. crystal malt, 70° to 80° Lovibond
Step by Step Changes:
Increase the mash water to 13 qt.
The addition of the crystal malts adds distinct caramel flavor and amber-red color. The beer should shift toward medium body. The malt profile should be a powerful component of the overall beer. Of course, the hops would again need to be increased to generate a true American amber beer.
To adjust the recipe to generate a standard brown ale, use the amber ale recipe additions and step by step changes. The only change is to replace the Munich malt with an equal amount of chocolate or brown malt.
• Delete 8 oz. Munich malt
• Replace it with 8 oz. chocolate malt (light or dark) or brown malt
The chocolate malt will complement the crystal malts, generating a round flavor profile rich in complex chocolate caramel, almost toasted malty flavor. The crystal malts could be adjusted as well, replacing the high-Lovibond crystal malt with brown malt to mix with the chocolate malt to generate a powerful brown ale with distinct malty flavor.
This process is a simplified version of the exact technique used by professional brewers to generate a new recipe. From an American amber ale to a standard brown ale, subtle changes in the grist bill result in subtle yet necessary changes in the color and malt profile of the target beer style.