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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Brewing with Crystal Malts



A Basic Overview of Brewing With Crystal Malts

Crystal malts are one of the most popular, if not the most popular, specialty malts available to 
brewers. They are great for adding more complexity and color to a beer but crystal malts easily can ruin a beer too. Crystal malts are often called caramel malt because of the caramel-like sweetness that they add to a beer. A brewer can make a simple all 2-row pale that is tasty enough but with the addition a small percentage of crystal malt into the grist that pale ale may make the jump for being a decent beer to being a good or even great beer.

There are many different types of crystal malt. They a separated by their level of color depth measured in degrees on the Lovibond scale (° L). Crystal malts range from 10° L to 200° L. These malts have a very specialized malting process.  For comparison, pale malts range from 1.5-3° L while roasted barley is 300° L. Crystal malts start out as barley. The grain is steeped and germinated. After that, they go through a process very similar to mashing but the husks are not cracked open. This "mashing" converts the starches into sugars. From there the grain is dried in a kiln. This kilning process darkens the outside and caramelizes some of the sugars on the inside. The darker colored crystal malts go through a more intense kilning.

Brewers do not need to learn and special mashing techniques to use crystal malts. Extract brewers can use them as a steeping grain when partial-mash/mini-mash batch. For all-grain brewers, they are just part of the grain bill. It is worth noting that the grains shrink a little bit when they are transformed into crystal malts so it is important to keep an eye on the crush. A mill gap that cracks open crystal malt might pulverize base malt. The amount of crystal malt used is very important. Too much can result in an overly sweet beer. A simple pale ale can have as little as 5% crystal malt of the grain bill with a noticeable sweetness while an ESB can have around 20%. ESB is one of the sweetest styles. It is not recommended to use more than 20% crystal malts in a grain bill.

Come join us on our Discord. There are plenty of people there to discuss crystal malts, and other specialty malts, with. We can even help you develop or review a recipe.