The nature of homebrewing is very comparable to one’s search for an answer to the age-old question: Why are we here? Many seem to think they have the exact answer to the question, but no one knows for sure. The answer and the question also mutate as time moves on. It’s on that note that we begin.
As a homebrewer goes down this path, we tend to find ourselves forming habits. The longer we walk down the road, the more ingrained these habits become and we grow unwilling to change or try new things. The most common of these being a fondness for a single base malt. The most common of these is 2-row, which there is nothing wrong with but there are so many more malts out there to try.
While not an unusual malt choice at all, this base alternative is among my favorites. It provides a sweet, nutty malt character that shines brightly in many styles. It also does well in places where you might not think it would. I for one, extremely enjoy it as a base for my S.M.A.S.H (Single Malt and Single Hop) beers.
This malt does very well anywhere you want a light bit of sweetness or malt flavor. At times I feel I’m on a one-man crusade against Caramel/Crystal malt—it’s not because I hate the malt—it’s because homebrewers think it belongs in every beer, it does not. Vienna is an excellent alternative when you are seeking that little bit of malt character in a beer. I tend to put a splash in my I.P.As. If you’ve never tried Vienna malt, I highly recommend giving it a shot.
I’ll be saying the words malty and bready a lot in the article so bear with me here. Munich malt gives all the malty and bready goodness you could ever want. It shines nicely in any place you want a malt forward beer, but I’ve also thrown it in hoppy beers to help balance out The Holy Hammer of The Gods amount of hops I drop on such beers.
An excellent base malt for most styles, but it truly shines in English beers though I use it most in Scotch ales when doing a kettle caramelized version. It is malty and delicious but not as aggressive as its Maris Otter counterpart.
I’ve been talking about base grains so far, but let’s talk about specialty grains that I don’t find a lot of other brewers using. I’m not saying that the ones you use are a poor choice; I am merely trying to share my experience to improve yours. So ease back on those angry comments already boiling in your mind.
In brewing we develop a mental spice rack, you know what grains to add to get the flavors you want. Let’s use salt as an example, we are all aware of the common mineral that sits on our dinner table, but not all of us know that there is Himalayan pink salt, smoked salt, or volcanic salt. There are many ways to achieve what you want, and the best way to make tasty beer is to talk to your fellow brewers about what “salt” they use in their beers.
While many brewing malts are brown, brown malt is in a world of its own. On the five gallon size, I don’t tend to use more than a pound, but I’m partial to what it adds to a beer. It can dry out a beer while adding a nutty and biscuit sort of flavor to your beer. It does great in a brown porter and other lightly dark styles like mild, brown ale, and perhaps even the lower tier scotch ales though I’ve not added it to one of those… yet.
Early in my homebrewing, I thought I didn’t enjoy red and amber ales due to the surprising sweetness and staggering caramel character in homebrewed examples. Then I learned about amber malt. It will help to get you that robust color you want while adding a tasty, slight coffee note and biscuity malt forward flavor that does well in those styles. Not to say you shouldn’t use caramel malt, just not a pound of Caramel 120.
Carafa 1, 2, 3- (Dehusked)
I’m a big fan of using Carafa in my beers to help get their color where I want. It’s dehusked so you don’t have to worry about the tannins you would normally get with malts similar to black patent. It also adds a smooth roast character to the beer without being overwhelming.
This malt is an excellent addition to any darker beer. It adds smooth notes of chocolate and nut to the beer while not being overwhelming. I’d say it’s a milk chocolate compared do dark chocolate. While I do prefer dark chocolate, I like this malt and all that it brings.
A Chilean malt that randomly graced my brew kettle a few years ago. This stuff is pretty awesome it you can add it instead of roasted or black, but I often use Perla Negra in tandem with them. With flavors of dark chocolate and roast with bits of coffee, this malt makes an excellent addition to a roasty beer when you’re looking for complexity.
You know what’s awesome? Complexity in beer, know what else is delightful? A beautiful red color. Do you know what isn’t awesome? A decoction. That’s where Melanoidin malt comes in. While purists will tell you, they can taste the difference, I call them on this bluff. Also, no one’s got time for that; I know I don’t at least.
Special Mention: Flaked Grains
I can’t say enough how you should use these in every beer you make. Mouthfeel and body are the hardest things to get down when it comes to sharpening your brewing skills. With the right amounts of flaked grains and a controlled mash temp, you can get consistently full-bodied beers. I know it is very frustrating to make a delicious beer that has the feel of water. Flaked grains will also help dial in your head retention.
What’s Your Favorite Unsung Malt?
In closing, I want to repeat that these are grains I’ve found that I enjoy using throughout my brewing experience. If you have some that you feel like I’ve missed, please list them in the comments. I am always looking for new malts to play with. As always keep your mind growing and the beer flowing. I’ll see you next time!