Getting the Wow Factor from Specialty Malts

posted Nov 5, 2012, 1:45 PM by Josh Hartley   [ updated Nov 5, 2012, 1:45 PM ]
by: Nathan Powell

It isn't hard to make good beer, but what is it that makes a beer great?  Let’s assume you practice proper technique in your brewing concerning yeast pitching rate, fermentation temperature, sanitation, etc.  Aside from that what is it that will really make your beer go from good to great?  What is it that makes one brown ale rise above and stand out from another?  You can research and examine beer recipes and usually find a general base ingredient list that fits the particular style of beer that you are wanting to brew.  Finding the right specialty malt will add that extra “wow” factor to your beer to bring it from mediocre to outstanding!
Specialty malts were very limited when I first started brewing.  You pretty much had caramel malts, dextrin malt, adjuncts, biscuit malt, roasted barley and chocolate malt.  A quick search on an internet homebrew store will show you just how many different specialty malts are available today.  Most people rely on other’s recipes when deciding what to brew; and most of those recipes are based on batches brewed five to ten years ago.  There really aren't even many brewing books that take advantage of what the market has available for us today.  Many online home brew stores have a huge variety of specialty malts to choose from, most of which you may have never heard of or ever seen in any recipe.  Do not be afraid to try these out!  They will often give that extra bit of character to your beer that will propel it into greatness!
Here are a few suggestions for some uses of some specialty malts that I have found work out great and can help your beer stand out:
  • Brown Malt – try this in an American or English brown ale or a brown porter.  It will give a light chocolate, less roasty, and smooth flavor to these beers that you just can’t get from using only chocolate malt.
  • Amber Malt/ Kiln Amber Malt -  I love this in a Northern English Brown and it is amazing in an American amber.  This malt will give a nutty toasted flavor that will really stand out.
  • Kiln Coffee Malt – I was able to experience this in a porter and I liked it better than beers made with actual coffee.  Try it in a Robust Porter or Oatmeal Stout/”Breakfast” Stout.
  • Honey Malt -  This is similar to a crystal/caramel malt but has a honey-like aroma to it.  Adding honey itself to a beer will ferment out and not leave much honey character.  Try this in a Honey Brown or an American Wheat.
  • Pale Chocolate Malt – This malt will give you that chocolate flavor you look for in many darker beers without so much roasted character to it.
  • Victory Malt – This is one of my favorites and is probably used in fifty percent or more of the beers I make.  It will add depth and some complexity without sticking out like regular biscuit malt.  It provides a toasty, bread flavor that will blend well with many other malts.
These are but a small example and some of my favorite specialty malts to use.  Try using half a pound of a new specialty malt in your next recipe and see how it turns out.  Chances are you’ll end up with a beer that has that little something extra that will make you want to brew it again and again.
Here’s a recipe for my favorite English Brown Ale that includes a few of these specialty malts:
8lb 2-Row/Pale Malt (or 6lb Pale Liquid Malt Extract)
.75lb Brown Malt
.50lb Crystal 40
.50lb Victory Malt
.25lb Pale Chocolate Malt
1.25oz East Kent Goldings hops @60 min (~24 IBU)
.50oz East Kent Goldings hops @5min (~3 IBU)
1 pack Windsor Dry yeast or Wyeast 1968 or WLP002
*All-grain mash at 156 degrees for 60min.