Making beer is all about working with sugars and fermenting the wort. The main source where we get these sugars from is malted barley. But choosing the right malt involves what may appear to be highly classified ninja tricks brewmasters use, when it really boils down to knowing the overly complicated skill of reading the label in the malt…

The name will tell you a lot about what kind of beer you’ll get, but I’ll start with the number (in bold) that drove me crazy for months when I didn’t know what it meant. You’ll usually see “Name Of Malted Barley”, 1-600 °L

Turns out this little number tells you what type of color to expect on your beer. It is measured in degrees Lovibond. The range starts with 1 being pale straw (lagers, pilsners) and it goes all the the way up to 600 and beyond for ultra dark real-men-only type of beers…

Now calculating the actual color involves more than that, but it gives you an idea…

The next step in choosing the right malt is figuring out what type of flavor you are looking for? This divides the malts into two categories… the base malts which need to be mashed and specialty malts which don’t need to be mashed.

Your base malts are the most common such as lager/pilsener malt, pale ale malt and wheat malt. They have the sugars needed to ferment your beer. There is a subcategory that basically gives you toasted base malts. These malts include Vienna Malt, Munich Malt, Amber Malt and others.

The malts that don’t need to be mashed are known as Caramel malts. These malts have sugars that don’t ferment and are usually used to add aroma and body to extract beers. There is also a subcategory for these malts which include your roasted malts like the chocolate malt and roasted barley.

So, you should be using at least some sort of base malt to get the fermentables and add a caramel malt to come up with your own different ultra-secret-recipe flavors.

Another distinction you’ll notice by the name of these malts is whether they are 2-row or 6-row…

Assuming you may be having a beer as you read this and won’t understand eloquent beer ingredient lingo, all this really tells you is what type of barley was used. 6-row barley has higher protein levels which can cause haziness in beer although there are ways to combat that. 2-row barley is usually preferred for its lower protein levels and higher yield per pound, which leads me to…

The other number you’ll be interested in, is how much will the malt yield as far as Gravity Points Per Pound Per Gallon (PPG).

I hate acronyms too, but bare with me, this is important…

You’ve probably heard of Original Gravity (OG) and usually the higher OG will get you more booze for the buck. Well, when you are choosing your malt you’ll want to figure out how high will the gravity get from using the malt. One pound of malt with 38 PPG will increase the gravity of one gallon batch to 1.038. So if you are trying to get to 1.077+ and show your buddies how well you can handle your booze, then do the math while you are still sober… Otherwise it will be harder than Chinese algebra.

There are other grains you’ll hear about like oatmeal, flaked wheat, etc., which I’ll probably talk about in the future… for now, you have an idea of choosing the right malt and things to consider.


    2 replies to "Choosing The Right Malt For Your Beer"

    • Jimmy

      That’s really great info!

      How do you know how much will the malt yield when all you know is the %Extract FGDB?

      • JorgeBrewmaster

        The %Extract usually tells you how much fermentable sugar you’ll get out of the grains. Normally you’ll use pure sugar to compare since it yields 100% and adds 46 ppg. All you have to do is multiply the %Extract FGDB by 46 and you’ll get your conversion…

        Jorge

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