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Tray of different grains
Tray of different grains

Sampling different types of Grains

Sampling grains at our homebrew meeting
Sampling grains at our homebrew meeting

Ever wondered what the difference is between a Vienna and Munich malt, American 2-row Pale and Maris Otter malt, perhaps even Chocolate and Roasted malt? Like with many homebrewers so have I and as all the books I have read, podcasts I have listened to, and seminars I have attended suggest we should taste our ingredients and learn more about them to help better understand how they impact the beers that we brew I decided it was time to get to work on this.

Obtaining samples

Whilst at the National Homebrewers Conference (NHC) 2014 at Grand Rapids (Michigan) last June I attended a session on ‘Evaluating and Judging Beer’ which included a section on making teas from malts in order to sample them. Jamie Floyd, owner of Ninkasi Brewing Company, suggested contacting brewing supplies companies to see if they have samples of their different grains available.

Tray of different grains
Tray of different grains

With this in mind I reached out to Juno Choi, Marketing Manager for BSG Handcraft, to see if he could help me out. BSG were extremely helpful and sent me a selection of grains which I could take along to my local homebrew club, the Black Hops Unit of Centre County, here in Pennsylvania and as a group sample and discuss the variety of malted grains available from countries such as Chile (Patagonia Malt), Germany (Weyermann), Ireland (Malting Co. of Ireland), UK (Crisp Malting Group& Simpsons Malts) and USA (Rahr Malting).

Preparing the samples

To make it easier to see the differences in appearance between the varieties of grains I purchased an airtight box with 23 separate compartments so a different grain could be placed in each. In addition to this I had a few different grains of my own which rounded the number up to 30 so these were placed into airtight plastic bags.

Coffee Maker for preparing the Teas
Coffee Maker for preparing the Teas

Whilst chewing a few grains gives an impression on the taste and texture of the different malts, another method explained at the NHC session is to make a tea for each as follows:

  1. Crush 1 oz of grains
  2. Steep in 3 cups of 150F water for 15 minutes
  3. Cool and then taste

A video I found on YouTube suggested using a French coffee press to do this but as I did not have one I took Jamie’s suggestion of using a coffee maker which I thoroughly cleaned beforehand to ensure the grains did not all have a hint of coffee! I placed the milled grains in the filter paper, added the water then turned it on. Once steeped the tea was poured into Mason jars and allowed to cool.

Let the sampling begin

Teas made from malts
Teas made from malts

One comparison that making grain teas allows is comparing the different colors of the ‘mini-mashes’. Here are the 6 teas that I made and the range of colors. The teas are arranged in Lovibond or darkness order and my aim was to try and pick a range of malted grain types:

  • Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner – pale pinky-yellow.
  • Crisp Maris Otter – pale lemon.
  • Weyermann Munich Type 1 – yellow
  • Crisp Crystal 60L – deep amber
  • Crisp Brown – deep amber
  • Crisp Chocolate – black

Whilst milling the grains I found the Crisp Brown and Chocolate malts harder to grind as they seemed to not only be hard kernels but also to have almost polished-like appearance which meant the rollers found it tough to grip them. This was resolved by using a dowel to press them down which allowed the rollers to grip and crush them.

Next up was tasting the teas and the grains themselves, below are our observations on a large selection of the grains together with the lovibond (darkness) range, description, flavors, plus suggested usage rates courtesy of BSG and the various maltsters (they are grouped together by malster and within that are in order of darkness):

Weyermann Specialty MaltsWeyermann Pale Wheat

  • Lovibond: 1.7 – 2.4
  • Description: ideal foundation grain for continental wheat beer styles like Hefeweizen and Kristallweizen, and an essential ingredient in North American wheat ales.
  • Tasting: Hard brittle grains with flour flavor.
  • Rate: up to 80%

Weyermann Pilsner

  • Lovibond: 1.5 – 1.9
  • Description: a German, lager-style base malt produced from high-quality, 2-row spring barley. It contributes a pale-straw color to wort and adds mild, malty-sweet flavor with gentle notes of honey.
  • Tasting: A little sweeter than the Bohemian version below.
  • Rate: up to 100%

Weyermann Pale Rye

  • Lovibond: 1.6 – 2.0
  • Description: made from high-quality German rye to exhibit classic rye malt characteristics.
  • Rate: up to 50%

Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner

  • Lovibond: 1.7 – 2.1
  • Description: produced from the “Hanka” barley variety. Known for it’s characteristic qualities of flavor and aroma that define Bohemian beer styles.
  • Tasting: Light biscuity and malty.
  • Rate: up to 100%

Weyermann Aciduated

  • Lovibond: 1.7 – 2.8
  • Description: can lower wort pH resulting in better mash efficiency, intensified fermentation, lighter color, improved flavor stability and enhanced flavor.
  • Tasting: Sourness.
  • Rate: up to 10%

Weyermann Vienna

  • Lovibond: 2.4 – 3.6
  • Description: a lightly kilned lager-style malt made from quality, two-row, German spring barley.
  • Rate: up 10 100%

Weyermann Munich Type 1

  • Lovibond: 5.1 – 6.2
  • Description: ‘Light Munich’ is a kilned lager-style malt made from quality, two-row, German spring barley.
  • Tasting: Nutty.
  • Rate: up to 100%

Weyermann Melanoidin

  • Lovibond: 23 – 31
  • Description: a kilned specialty malt with an intense malt aroma and unique brewing characteristics.
  • Tasting: Sweet maltiness.
  • Rate: up to 30%

Malting Company of IrelandMalt Co. of Ireland Stout

  • Lovibond: 1.7 – 2.3
  • Description: a light-colored base malt produced from Propino barley , characterized by high extract, low protein and plump kernels.
  • Rate: up to 100%

Simpsons MaltSimpsons Peated

  • Lovibond: 1.6 – 1.8
  • Description: for providing the essential peat flavor in whiskey production.
  • Tasting: Peat smokiness.

Simpsons Finest Pale Ale Golden Promise

  • Lovibond: 2.1 – 2.8
  • Description: principal ingredient of ales, using heritage barleys.
  • Rate: up to 100%

Simpsons Golden Naked Oats

  • Lovibond: 5 – 10
  • Description: Huskless oat crystal malt; a unique ingredient that delivers subtle nutty characteristics.
  • Tasting: Creamy oats.
  • Rate: up to 10%

Crisp Malting GroupCrisp Maris Otter

  • Lovibond: 2.5 – 3.5
  • Description: The reliability of Maris Otter malt quality has allowed brewers to develop, stabilize and maintain many of the world famous English cask conditioned ale brands we know today.
  • Tasting: Some body and a lingering maltiness.
  • Rate: up to 100%

Crisp Amber

  • Lovibond: 25 – 35
  • Description: Gives a dry, biscuit flavor to ales and provides red hues.
  • Rate: up to 10%

Crisp Crystal 60L

  • Lovibond: 55 – 65
  • Description: Used to adjust color and flavor of ales, giving deep golden to red hues.
  • Tasting: Burnt caramel.
  • Rate: up to 20%

Crisp Brown

  • Lovibond: 60 – 70
  • Description: Provides dense roasted flavors to Porters and other dark beers.
  • Tasting: Cold coffee but not bitter.
  • Rate: up to 10%

Crisp Chocolate

  • Lovibond: 600 – 700
  • Description: Gives dry, toasty flavors to rich, dark beers.
  • Tasting: Stale coffee aroma and flavor with some bitter roast and a cocoa edge.
  • Rate: up to 10%

Crisp Roasted Barley

  • Lovibond: 700 – 800
  • Description: Provides characteristics sharp, bitter flavor to stouts, some porters, and black IPA’s.
  • Tasting: Bitter and some chocolate.
  • Rate: up to 10%

Patagonia MaltPatagonia Extra Pale

  • Lovibond: 1.6
  • Description: produces a beer with more character and body, less foam and creamy sensation in mouth.
  • Rate: up to 100%

Patagonia Caramel 15L

  • Lovibond: 11 – 23
  • Description: made from green malt. During the toasting process sugars are caramelized developing unique flavors, aromas and colors.
  • Flavors:
    • Sweet, fresh and clear caramel taste on lower colors
    • As roasting increases, flavor becomes more complex, adding notes of toffee and raisins
    • On high colors there are flavors of dry prunes, sweet bitterness and roasted bread
  • Rate: up to 30%

Patagonia Caramel 190L

  • Lovibond: 180 – 205
  • Description: provides intense red/ruby color without overwhelming sweetness.
  • Flavor: see Patagonia Caramel 15L
  • Tasting: Intense and lightly burnt caramel.
  • Rate: up to 15%

Rahr Malting CompanyRahr 2-Row

  • Lovibond: 1.7 – 2.0
  • Description: a light-colored base malt made from a blend of American 2-Row barley varieties.
  • Rate: up to 100%

– Grains from other maltsters –

Grains from other MaltstersBriess Blackprinz

  • Lovibond: 500
  • Description: will contribute the same color characteristics as Black Malt but without the bitter, astringent, dry flavors or aftertaste.
  • Flavor:
    • Subtle, smooth
    • No bitter, astringent, dry flavors or aftertaste
    • Very delicate, clean flavor
    • Mild roasted malty flavor
  • Tasting: Burnt.
  • Rate: up to 10%

Briess Victory

  • Lovibond: 87
  • Description: Good for Nutty Brown Ales.
  • Flavor: Toasty, biscuity, baking bread, nutty, clean.
  • Tasting: Full-on maltiness.
  • Rate: up to 25%

Castle Abbey (Aromatic)

  • Lovibond: 17.4
  • Description: Gives a strong taste of cooked bread, nuts and fruit. Has a bitter flavour which mellows on ageing, and can be quite intensely flavoured.
  • Tasting: Intense maltiness.
  • Rate: up to 10%

Castle Belgain Biscuit

  • Lovibond: 19.3
  • Description: a very pronounced “toasty” finish in the beer. Imparts a warm bread and biscuit-like aroma and flavour. Promotes a light to medium warm brown colour of the mash. This malt is used to improve the roasted flavour and aroma that characterize ales and lagers lending the subtle properties of black and chocolate malts.
  • Tasting: Cracker and biscuity.
  • Rate: up to 5%

Castle Special B

  • Lovibond: 140 – 155
  • Description: used to produce a deep red to dark brown-black colour and fuller body. Unique flavour and aroma. Gives much colour and raisin-like flavour. Imparts a rich malty taste and a hint of nut and plum flavour.
  • Tasting: Black treacle and raisin.
  • Rate: up to 10%

Dingemans Belgian Caravienne

  • Lovibond: 20
  • Description: a light crystal malt used by Belgian breweries in producing Abbey or Trappist style ales and is appropriate for any recipe that calls for crystal malt.

Gambrinus Honey

  • Lovibond: 20 – 25
  • Description: sometimes known as Brumalt, has an intense malt sweetness free of astringent roast flavors which makes it perfect for any specialty beer.
  • Tasting: Honey after-taste.

L.D. Carlson Flaked Oats

  • Lovibond: 2.5
  • Description: Used in producing oatmeal stout.

BSG HandcraftI would like to extend my sincere thanks to BSG Handcraft for sending me the grain samples that I could share at my local homebrew club meeting and enable a group of us to explore a variety of different malts as well as improve our homebrewing knowledge. BSG Handcraft can be found here:


Comments or questions? If you have any questions or comments about this article, or advice on sampling appropriate types of malted grains to brew with, please do not hesitate to share them below.

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