Every Type of Grain That Can Be Used to Homebrew Beer
Beer brewing is an ancient art form. The process traces its roots as far back as 4,000 BCE when the Sumerians crafted the earliest forms of the beverage. It’s easy to dismiss homebrewing as the pastime of suburban dads, but the practice requires genuine skills and a wide array of specific knowledge.
Types of grains that can be used to homebrew beer include pale malt, pilsner malt, pale ale malt, Vienna malt, Munich malt; carapils, carafoam, and dextrin malts; light, medium, dark, and very dark caramel malts; kettle adjuncts, mashable adjuncts, biscuit malts, and brown malts.
Understanding every type of grain that beer makers can use to homebrew the beverage helps beer makers craft their ideal draft. This article will take a look at each grain and discuss their function in and contribution to the beer you’re looking to brew. Let’s get started!
The Three Kinds of Home-Brewing
Brewers saturate grains to turn them into malt. Malt is the sugar extracted from the grain. It reacts with yeast to create fermentation, making it one of the most essential components of beer.
While these are the basic tenets of beer making, three homebrewing methods exist to accommodate every level of experience and commitment.
- Extract brewing: Extract brewing is excellent for beginners. The simple process uses a malt extract, so the most challenging work is already completed. Brewers don’t need to malt the grains for fermentation, only for colors and taste. This method saves time and effort, perfectly accommodating beginners or homebrewers with limited time to commit to the process. Extract brewing generally requires three to four hours to complete.
- Partial mash brewing: Intermediate brewers may want to try their hand at the partial mash method. Brewers malt some of the grains themselves and use the extract for the rest of the fermentation process. Partial mash brewing requires less time and equipment than all-grain brewing. However, the process helps refine a brewer’s abilities and take greater ownership of their beer.
- All-grain brewing: All-Grain Brewing is strictly for the pros. Only the most advanced homebrewers use the all-grain method, as it relies solely on grains and doesn’t use any extract. All-grain brewing takes between five and eight hours to finish.
Base Malts (Grains)
Base malts aren’t glamorous, but they are essential. These grains provide the foundation for a beer. Base malts provide:
The base malts minimally impact the taste of the beer but are essential to creating the brews’ final form.
Base malts are best used in partial mash and all-grain brewing. The grains comprise anywhere between 60 and 100 percent of the fermentable components in beer.
To learn more about mash and its function in the beer brewing process, I highly recommend checking out this video:
The pale-colored grains have a high enzyme content.
Base malts come in either 2-row or 6-row varieties. The rows in question indicate the number of grains growing on the barley. 2-row malt is the industry standard. Large batch breweries, however, use 6-row malts because they have a higher enzymatic content.
These companies use lower-priced adjunct grains and need increased enzyme activity to
convert the starches.
Base malts come in five varieties: pale, pilsner, pale ale, Vienna, and Munich.
Brewers often keep pale malt on hand, whether or not they have a specific use for it. The versatile grain works in nearly every variety of beer. Pale malt is a 2-row grain, measuring between 2 and 2.5 degrees Lovibond. The grain yields a high and easily achieved extract.
Brewers use pilsner malt for precisely what the name suggests: crafting pilsner beers. The grains are subtle with a mild flavor. Getting the maximum taste requires a large quantity of pilsner malt. The 1.5-2 degree Lovidond grain contains high amounts of protein, which benefits head retention.
Pale Ale Malt
Pale Ale malt is exceptionally versatile. The grain creates a solid base for almost any beer. Pale Ale malt contributes full bodies and darker colors to brews. Many Pale Ale malts are intensely sweet and should be used judiciously—the grain measures between 2.5 and 3 degrees Lovibond.
Vienna malt is a must for Oktoberfests and Vienna lagers. The grain provides a robust and distinct malt flavor to beers. Vienna malt is kilned more than previously mentioned malts, adding an element of sweetness to the grain. The malt measures 4 degrees Lovibond.
Munich malt is the most varied grain on this list, measuring between 7 and 30 degrees Lovibond. The grain can be quite dark or very light in color. The hue of the malt dictates its use, so brewers need to be cognizant of the shade of the grain. Brewers use Munich malt to make bocks, dunkels, and Oktoberfest beers.
Crystal and Caramel Malts
Crystal and Caramel malts primarily function as flavor and coloring agents. The names are used interchangeably for steepable grains that provide sweetness and richer beer hues.
Caramel and Crystal malts are kilned multiple times. During these kilnings, the sugars caramelize, rendering them useless in the fermentation process. Beyond flavor, these grains improve head retention in a beer. Used in excess, however, they can damage a brew, creating a tart, astringent taste.
Crystal and Caramel malts come in 5 varieties:
Carapils, Carafoam, and Dextrin Malts
Carapil, Carafoam, and Dextrin malts are pale-colored and mildly flavored. These grains taste only moderately of caramel. The malts measure 1.5 to 3 degrees Lovibond. The carapils, carafoam, and dextrin malts result from roasting pilsner grains slowly at low temperatures.
Because the grains provide little flavor, their primary purpose is head retention and increased body.
Light Caramel Malts
Light Caramel malts are mildly more robust than carapils, carafoam, and dextrin malts. The grains produce a flavor similar to honey. These malts add moderate sweetness and considerable body. Light Caramel malts contribute a pale yellow hue to a beer. They measure between 10 to 30 degrees Lovibond.
Medium Caramel/Crystal Malts
Brewers use more Medium Caramel/Crystal malts than any other crystal and caramel malt. The grains are sweet without being saccharine and notably alter the taste of a beer. The rich caramel flavor works well in many beers, including:
More than simply agents of flavor, these grains improve a beer’s body and head retention. Medium Caramel/Crystal malts measure between 40 and 60 degrees Lovibond.
Dark Caramel/Crystal Malts
Dark Caramel/Crystal malts provide the bitterness indicative of porters and stouts. These grains are divisive, adding a rust hue to beers. The malts measure between 70 and 90 degrees Lovibond. They add body and head retention to dark beers.
Very Dark Caramel/Crystal Malts
Very Dark Caramel/Crystal malts are the strongest and bitterest grains available. They come in a wide range of dark colors, adding considerable caramel and nut flavors as well as rich hues. Used in excess, the grains quickly overpower a beer and turn it unpleasant—the grains measure between 100 and 220 degrees Lovibond.
Adjunct Grains (Sugar)
Adjunct grains cause a lot of controversy in the beer brewing world. Beer elites often disdain the grains; however, they provide a valuable means of flavoring brews by supplementing the base malts.
Adjunct grains are unmalted, starchy products that provide sugar for fermentation. They contain minimal protein and can help make beer clearer and dispel chill haze.
The malt works best in extract beers. It is devoid of enzymes. Most need to be mashed with base malt to draw out their sugars.
Beers including adjunct sugars are:
- Double IPAs
- Belgian ales
Adjunct grains help create a solid and lasting head of foam and a pleasant mouthfeel. Adjunct grains mellow out many flavors and come in two varieties: kettle adjuncts and mashable adjuncts.
Kettle adjuncts are syrups and sugars soluble by the worst without mashing. These additives don’t require mashing. They’re concentrated and should be used in small amounts. Kettle adjuncts are seldom grains but are often derived from grains like rice or corn.
Mashable adjuncts contain starch. They must be mashed to become fermentable sugars
- Rice: Budweiser helped popularize rice as a mashable adjunct. Due to its high gelatinization temperature, the non-aromatic grain is highly starchy and requires boiling before being added to the mash.
- Corn: The most popular mashable adjunct in America, corn comes in two usable forms. Grits are yellow and white corn milled to remove bran and germ. Grits are easily attained but cannot be added directly to the mash. Grits must be boiled before they can be used to brew. Flakes are basically an unsweetened version of the popular cereal that goes directly into the mash. Corn is often used as an adjunct grain in pilsners.
- Unmalted barley: Unmalted barley’s economical price tag makes it popular among brewers. While the grain is difficult to mill owing to the toughness of the kernels, unmalted barley’s high beta-glucan percentage helps stabilize foam. Brewers should add the grain with a judicious hand; while crafters can add up to 50 percent of unmalted barley, too much hinders lautering.
- Sorghum: American brewers rarely use sorghum, but the grain is frequently used in Mexico and Africa. The fifth most popular global cereal crop, sorghum-or millet- features in lager’s grist.
- Unmalted Wheat: Unmalted wheat isn’t for the faint of heart. The grain requires considerable work, including three mashing periods at 120 °Fahrenheit (48.89 °C) for the beta-glucan phase, 150 °Fahrenheit (65.56 °C) for the beta amylase phase, and 170 degrees Fahrenheit for the alpha-amylase phase. The grain mixes directly into the mash and provides the taste and appearance of Belgian white beers.
- Oats: Experienced brewers know to use oats sparingly. The grain contains high amounts of starch, oil, protein, and beta-glucans. Included judiciously, oats contribute a delightful texture to stouts.
- Rye: Rye makes a pretty poor malt replacement. However, the grain adds flavors that enhance a beer considerably. Rye challenges brewers with its slow and challenging extraction process. The grain provides a distinctive orangish hue to beer and a sharp bite.
Kilned and Toasted Malts
Kilned malts are grains baked until dried to create unique, yeasty flavors. Brewers use these malts in small quantities-a little goes a long way. Use only half a pound per five-gallon beer batch to add unique and unusual flavors.
Kilned malts come in two varieties: biscuit and brown malts.
Biscuit malts create a bready biscuit flavor. Many claim the taste errs closer to Saltine crackers than actual biscuits. The grain works in a wide variety of beers, though brewers should add it judiciously. Biscuit malts are polarizing and can easily over-power a beer—the grain measures between 25 and 30 degrees Lovibond.
Brewers use brown malts to create a subtle nutty flavor, as well as add a brownish hue. Brown malts work best in:
- Old ales
- Mild ales
- Brown ales
- Dark ales
The grain measures between 46 and 56 degrees Lovibond.
Roasted malts cook for long periods at high temperatures. These grains provide the following flavors:
Brewers use roasted malts to create the intense flavors and dark colors associated with stouts and porters.
Because roasted malts have intense flavors, use no more than 10% per 5-gallon batch to add flavor and body without getting bitter.
Roasted malts come in a wide assortment, including:
- Aromatic Malt
- Biscuit Malt
- Black (Patent) Malt
- Black Barley
- Brown Malt
- Chocolate Malt
- Malted Oats
- Roasted Barley
- Roasted Wheat
- Special Roast
These grains are enzyme-free and equally impactful in all three brewing methods.
Grains are essential to a beer’s formation and overall taste. The ingredient works to create fermentation, build body and texture, add flavor, and retain the head. Beer grains come in a wide variety and serve many functions. They are the most essential tool of the home brewer and allow a craftsman control over the finished product and the ability to manipulate the ingredients into their ideal finished product.