Grains 101 By: Tom Ayers

Four basic things combine to create beer - grains, hops, yeast, and water.  In this week’s article, I’m going to discuss the variety of malts and adjuncts that you can use in your beer to produce the sugars that are consumed by the yeast.


Base Malts:

Base Malts  | 

Base malts are the grains that make up the majority of the grain bill in your beer.  These grains provide sugars for the yeast to ferment, along with other important items such as proteins, yeast nutrients, color, and of course flavor.  Some general base malts include 2-row, 6-row, Pilsner, and Pale along with Rye and Wheat.  They will contribute light colors up to yellow darkness while providing bread and cracker flavors.


Base malts are used in all beer varieties and can make up to 100% of the grain bill.  For example and Bohemian Pilsner can be made with a grain bill of all Continental Pilsner Malt.



Crystal (Caramel) Malts:

Caramel Malts  | 
Crystal malts serve primarily to add color and flavor to a beer.  Due to the malting process, Crystal malts are not able to convert the sugars they contain; however if they are mixed with base malts in the mash, the enzymes in the base malts will convert the sugar in the crystal malt (more on malting and conversion in a later article, but feel free to send me questions in the mean time).  The Crystal malts range in color from 10 to 120 lovibond and are used in a large variety of beers including IPA, Pale Ale, and Munich Dunkel.  You can expect to achieve amber colors and flavors ranging from caramel to toffee. 


Avoid excessive usage of crystal grains, no more than 20%.  Unbalanced beers with excessive Crystal malt can taste cloyingly sweet when not balanced by appropriate amounts of hops. 



Toasted Malts:

Toasted Malts  | 

Toasted malts will provide similar color to Crystal malts, however the flavors vary significantly.  As the name suggests you can expect toasted flavors.  Additional flavors may include biscuit and fresh baked bread.  Toasted malts include (but are not limited to) Victory, Munich, Vienna, Biscuit, Melanoidin, and Brown malts.  These malts are common in Brown ales, Marzen (Oktoberfest), Vienna Lagers, and Bocks.


Usage of Toasted malts vary by style.  Some types such as Biscuit, Brown, Melanoidin, and Victory sould be limited to 10-15% of the grain bill while Munich and Vienna can make up 80-90% of a grain bill.



Roasted Malts:

Roasted Malts  |
Roasted Malts are kilned until they are quite dark ranging from 350 to over 500 lovibond.  Malts included in this category are black patent, roasted barley, and chocolate malts.  From these malts you can expect very dark brown and black colors with roast, coffee and chocolate flavors.  You will find these malts in styles such as Stouts, Schwartzbier, and Porters.


Use these malts extremely sparingly (5-10%).  Too much roasted grains and you can expect to have an astringent beer that will be difficult to drink.




Adjuncts  | 

Adjuncts include corn, rice, oats, and any other sugar sources you may use in the mash in addition to grains.  These sugar sources are commonly used in the mass market lagers.  Adjuncts can reduce production costs, mellow flavor, and contribute additional sweetness.  Oats are also a good option to increase head retention.   


This is only a short summary of the large variety of malts and adjuncts out there.  I certainly did not cover all of the options and I did not cover these options in great detail.  But I encourage you to try each malt before you use it in the mash, and continue to taste all along the production path.  One final suggestion to learn more about the flavor of the malts is to create single malt beers such as a pilsner.  This is an effective route to learn about the flavors of base malts.  I do not recommend attempting to brew 100% toasted, crystal, or roasted beers.


An excellent reference of grains and their usage in styles is Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels.


Next week I’m going to talk about hops.  Until then, cheers and happy brewing!

ions, comments, or topic requests send me an email at and I’ll be sure to respond.