Malts are divided into categories by the way they are kilned and how they are utilised by brewers. The groups move from light in colour and enzyme-rich to intensely roasted and void of any enzyme action. The terminology related to malt can be unclear. There are usually different names for the same malt, and the same word can denote different things in different places. Maltsters often use branded names for their malts and can be fairly cagey about how their malts are created. The variances between malts can be astounding, there’s pretty much no way you can have any success building a recipe until you have a personal understanding of what different malts taste like. Get hold of as many different types of malt as you can and do what great brewers always do—taste.
Lightly coloured malts are known as base malts, as they can form the majority of a beer recipe, even in the darkest beers. Pilsner, pale, Vienna, mild, and Munich malts can be found in this group. Base malts have enough enzymes to transform their starches into sugar, while darker malts usually don’t. Certain base malts are often associated with the continental or British brewing customs. British malts are usually kilned at lower moisture levels, which yield toasty flavours, while continental malts are kilned with higher moisture levels, producing softer, caramel notes.
English pale ale and German Oktoberfest, both pale amber beers are brewed from similarly coloured malt, but their malt characters are different, largely due to the different moisture levels used during kilning. The contrast of toasty versus caramel can be observed in the darker base malts, 5°L, and right up to about the 30° range, where the toasty biscuit/amber malt contrasts with the cookie-like melanoidin malt.
Malts with modest amounts of colour can still have some enzyme action. In modern malts, enzyme activity fades above 30°, but when porters were in their prime, malts such as brown and amber apparently had enough enzymes present to convert themselves.
NOTE: If you struggle to understand the stats of the examples below, we recommend checking out our guide to Understanding a Malt Analysis
Six-Row Pilsner Malt
Colour = 1.4–2.2 (Lovibond) 3–5 (EBC)
Enzyme Activity = Excellent
OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0068 (1.75°P)
OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0129 (3.30°P)
Max % = 100
Origin and Notes: Pilsner malt appeared in the beer scene in 1842 in Plzen, Bohemia, in connection with the first pale lager, Pilsner. This popular malt is now produced worldwide; it forms the basis for the majority of the beer consumed on this planet. American versions tend to be higher in protein content than European ones.
Production: A light and fast kilning at 176 to 185°F/80 to 85°C, just enough to remove moisture and much of the DMS precursor, results in a very pale colour.
Flavour and Aroma: Clean, malty aromas, possesses white bread–like or cracker-like qualities. Flavour differs by maltster and particularly due to climate, soil, and grain origin.
- Used as the primary malt in many forms of pale beers, ranging from Pilsners and other lagers to blonde ales and Tripels.
- Can lift the colour and reduce the toasty edge influenced by pale malt in IPA and golden/summer bitters
- Equalise or thin out the rich, caramel aspect of Vienna or Munich malts in Märzen and Vienna lagers, and in maibocks.
Two-Row Pilsner Malt
Colour = 1.4–2.2 (Lovibond) 1.8–4.4 (EBC)
Enzyme Activity = Very Good/Excellent
OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0070–73 (1.80 to 1.87°P)
OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0133–140 (3.40 to 3.57°P)
Max % = 100
Origin and Notes: Very similar to Six-Row Pilsner Malt (see above).
Colour = 3–4 (Lovibond) 6–8 (EBC)
Enzyme Activity = Good
OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0071 (1.82°P)
OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0135 (3.45°P)
Max % = 100
Origin and Notes: Vienna began in the city from which its name hails in the mid nineteenth century, a transition between the darker Munich and paler Plzen types.
Production: Malt is treated like Pilsner malt, and then kilned at 194 to 203°F/90 to 95°C for a few hours in order for the colour and flavour to develop.
Flavour and Aroma: A clean, caramel character which lacks toastiness.
- Favoured malt for the Vienna style
- With its pale colour, it can be worked to lend complexity in blond ales and pale lagers (2 to 20%)
- Base malt when a caramel quality is required, without a toasty edge.
Mild Ale Malt
Colour = 3.5–5.5 (Lovibond) 7–11 (EBC)
Enzyme Activity = Adequate for self-conversion
OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0070 (1.80°P)
OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0133 (3.40°P)
Max % = 100
Origin and Notes: Back in England, there was a significant hierarchy to malt types and the beers which used them. At the top of this structure was pale ale malt and beers such as October ale, the long-lived pale ales made in country-house breweries. Further down you could find mild ale malt, from slightly less plump barley and employed in dark beers designed for quicker consumption.
Production: Similar to pale ale malt, but with further kilning for slightly higher colour.
Flavour and Aroma: This is essentially the British version of Munich malt, with a dry, caramelly aroma.
- Advised to be used as a base for all darker British ales, such as mild ale, sweeter stouts, porter, and darker Scottish ales
- Provides depth and complexity to darker bitters and pale ales (5 to 25%)
Pale Ale Malt
Colour = 2–4 (Lovibond) 4–8 (EBC)
Enzyme Activity = Very good
OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0073 (3.55°P)
OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0139
Max % = 100
Origin and Notes: Prominent with robust, extremely high-quality October and March beers brewed on English country estates, the beers that would develop into pale and India pale ale. These malts had existed over a century before their popularity in the industry sored around 1780, when brewers began to measure the gravity of their worts, as the pale malt produced more extract than the brown and amber malts which had been standard for dark beers up to that time.
Production: Traditionally used for only the very best, lowest-protein barleys were used for pale-malt production, because they gave the beers the capability to age well. Traditional (Tizard, 1850) pale ale malt kilning increased temperatures slowly from 80°F/27°C to 120°F/49°C over a period of four days. Current kilning schedules for pale ale malt are usually shorter and hotter, with a drying at 104 to 113°F/40 to 45°C and a five-hour kilning of up to 203°F/95°C.
Flavour and Aroma: Clean, malty aromas, possessing slight hints of toastiness. Certain strains such as Maris Otter provide a more subtle and complex character.
- As the primary malt in pale ale, India pale ale, and pale barley wines
- Can attach a slight crisp edge to blonde or golden bitter ales crafted mainly from Pilsner malt
- Equalises the richness of mild ale malt by merging into the base malts of darker beers such as stout, porter, and mild ale