Beer Malt Guide – Understanding Malt Types

Beer Malt Types Guide Picture

Understanding Beer Brewing Malt Types

Malts are divided into categories by the way they are kilned and how they are utilised by brewers. The groups move from light in colour and enzyme-rich to intensely roasted and void of any enzyme action. The terminology related to malt can be unclear. There are usually different names for the same malt, and the same word can denote different things in different places. Maltsters often use branded names for their malts and can be fairly cagey about how their malts are created. The variances between malts can be astounding, there’s pretty much no way you can have any success building a recipe until you have a personal understanding of what different malts taste like. Get hold of as many different types of malt as you can and do what great brewers always do—taste.

Table of Contents

  1. Base Malts
  2. Colour Malts
  3. Roasted Malt
  4. Caramel & Crystal Malts
  5. Wheat and Other Non-Barley Malts
  6. Other Speciality Malts

Base Malts

Lightly coloured malts are known as base malts, as they can form the majority of a beer recipe, even in the darkest beers. Pilsner, pale, Vienna, mild, and Munich malts can be found in this group. Base malts have enough enzymes to transform their starches into sugar, while darker malts usually don’t. Certain base malts are often associated with the continental or British brewing customs. British malts are usually kilned at lower moisture levels, which yield toasty flavours, while continental malts are kilned with higher moisture levels, producing softer, caramel notes.

Beer Malt Colors Picture

English pale ale and German Oktoberfest, both pale amber beers are brewed from similarly coloured malt, but their malt characters are different, largely due to the different moisture levels used during kilning. The contrast of toasty versus caramel can be observed in the darker base malts, 5°L, and right up to about the 30° range, where the toasty biscuit/amber malt contrasts with the cookie-like melanoidin malt.

Malts with modest amounts of colour can still have some enzyme action. In modern malts, enzyme activity fades above 30°, but when porters were in their prime, malts such as brown and amber apparently had enough enzymes present to convert themselves.

NOTE: If you struggle to understand the stats of the examples below, we recommend checking out our guide to Understanding a Malt Analysis

Six-Row Pilsner Malt

Colour = 1.4–2.2 (Lovibond) 3–5 (EBC)

Enzyme Activity = Excellent

OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0068 (1.75°P)

OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0129 (3.30°P)

Max % = 100

Origin and Notes: Pilsner malt appeared in the beer scene in 1842 in Plzen, Bohemia, in connection with the first pale lager, Pilsner. This popular malt is now produced worldwide; it forms the basis for the majority of the beer consumed on this planet. American versions tend to be higher in protein content than European ones.

Production: A light and fast kilning at 176 to 185°F/80 to 85°C, just enough to remove moisture and much of the DMS precursor, results in a very pale colour.
Flavour and Aroma: Clean, malty aromas, possesses white bread–like or cracker-like qualities. Flavour differs by maltster and particularly due to climate, soil, and grain origin.


  • Used as the primary malt in many forms of pale beers, ranging from Pilsners and other lagers to blonde ales and Tripels.
  • Can lift the colour and reduce the toasty edge influenced by pale malt in IPA and golden/summer bitters
  • Equalise or thin out the rich, caramel aspect of Vienna or Munich malts in Märzen and Vienna lagers, and in maibocks.

Two-Row Pilsner Malt

Colour = 1.4–2.2 (Lovibond) 1.8–4.4 (EBC)

Enzyme Activity = Very Good/Excellent

OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0070–73 (1.80 to 1.87°P)

OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0133–140 (3.40 to 3.57°P)

Max % = 100

Origin and Notes: Very similar to Six-Row Pilsner Malt (see above).

Vienna Malt

Colour = 3–4 (Lovibond) 6–8 (EBC)

Enzyme Activity = Good

OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0071 (1.82°P)

OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0135 (3.45°P)

Max % = 100

Origin and Notes: Vienna began in the city from which its name hails in the mid nineteenth century, a transition between the darker Munich and paler Plzen types.

Production: Malt is treated like Pilsner malt, and then kilned at 194 to 203°F/90 to 95°C for a few hours in order for the colour and flavour to develop.

Flavour and Aroma: A clean, caramel character which lacks toastiness.


  • Favoured malt for the Vienna style
  • With its pale colour, it can be worked to lend complexity in blond ales and pale lagers (2 to 20%)
  • Base malt when a caramel quality is required, without a toasty edge.

Mild Ale Malt

Colour = 3.5–5.5 (Lovibond) 7–11 (EBC)

Enzyme Activity = Adequate for self-conversion

OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0070 (1.80°P)

OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0133 (3.40°P)

Max % = 100

Origin and Notes: Back in England, there was a significant hierarchy to malt types and the beers which used them. At the top of this structure was pale ale malt and beers such as October ale, the long-lived pale ales made in country-house breweries. Further down you could find mild ale malt, from slightly less plump barley and employed in dark beers designed for quicker consumption.

Production: Similar to pale ale malt, but with further kilning for slightly higher colour.

Flavour and Aroma: This is essentially the British version of Munich malt, with a dry, caramelly aroma.


  • Advised to be used as a base for all darker British ales, such as mild ale, sweeter stouts, porter, and darker Scottish ales
  • Provides depth and complexity to darker bitters and pale ales (5 to 25%)

Pale Ale Malt

Colour = 2–4 (Lovibond) 4–8 (EBC)

Enzyme Activity = Very good

OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0073 (3.55°P)

OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0139

Max % = 100

Origin and Notes: Prominent with robust, extremely high-quality October and March beers brewed on English country estates, the beers that would develop into pale and India pale ale. These malts had existed over a century before their popularity in the industry sored around 1780, when brewers began to measure the gravity of their worts, as the pale malt produced more extract than the brown and amber malts which had been standard for dark beers up to that time.

Production: Traditionally used for only the very best, lowest-protein barleys were used for pale-malt production, because they gave the beers the capability to age well. Traditional (Tizard, 1850) pale ale malt kilning increased temperatures slowly from 80°F/27°C to 120°F/49°C over a period of four days. Current kilning schedules for pale ale malt are usually shorter and hotter, with a drying at 104 to 113°F/40 to 45°C and a five-hour kilning of up to 203°F/95°C.

Flavour and Aroma: Clean, malty aromas, possessing slight hints of toastiness. Certain strains such as Maris Otter provide a more subtle and complex character.


  • As the primary malt in pale ale, India pale ale, and pale barley wines
  • Can attach a slight crisp edge to blonde or golden bitter ales crafted mainly from Pilsner malt
  • Equalises the richness of mild ale malt by merging into the base malts of darker beers such as stout, porter, and mild ale

Colour Malts

This group is a little darker in colour and with lesser-to-no enzyme action, occasionally known as kilned or high-dried malt. These malts are made in the same kiln that’s also used for drying, however, once the moisture level gets to a certain point, the temperature is increased and the malt gains further colour. The level of moisture at this phase governs where the malt lands the spectrum from sharp and toasty to smooth and caramelly. In addition to this, time and temperature determine the extent of the colour and the flavours related with the kilning.

There is no simple threshold which divides base from colour malts. For example, Munich malt has enough enzymes to transform its own starch to sugar, and so can be used as base malt in darker beers, but in paler beers may be used mostly for colour and complexity that it adds to the beer.

NOTE: If you struggle to understand the stats of the examples below, we recommend checking out our guide to Understanding a Malt Analysis

Munich Malt

Colour = 6–12.5 (Lovibond) 12–25 (EBC)

Enzyme Activity = Sufficient for self-conversion

OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0070 (1.80°P)

OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0133 (3.40°P)

Max % = 100

Origin and Notes: Traditionally, a city’s malt indicated the flavour and appearance of its beers. Munich was well-known for a rich, reddish-brown lager developed from a dark malt, however, the modern version of Munich was created in the mid-nineteenth century.

Note: There are plenty of dark versions of Munich that go as high as 20°L /40°EBC in colour, these are principally pale versions of melanoidin malts, with a transitional character: slightly more toasty, but not the full-on, overbaked cookie flavour melanoidin malts possess.

Production: High-protein malt is initially dried to 20% moisture, and then kilned at 212 to 221°F/100 to 105°C for five hours for colour and flavour development.

Flavour and Aroma: A distinct caramelliness with a cookie-like toasty bite, which lends balance to the heavy, sweetish beers conventionally brewed from it.


  • Vital in dunkel lagers
  • Commonly used in Märzen and altbier
  • Frequently used as base for darker Belgian ales
  • Can yield caramel underpinnings to porters and stouts
  • Flavour enhancer on golden and amber beers (1 to 25%)

Amber Malt

Colour = 20–30 (Lovibond) 40–60 (EBC)

Enzyme Activity = Poor/none

OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0066 (1.70°P)

OG per kg in 20 L = 1.039 (3.55°P)

Max % = 30

Origin and Notes: Amber malt has been made in England centuries, boasting a lineage that extends back to the days of unhopped ale 500 years ago and maybe even longer.

Production: Essentially a toasted pale ale malt, most likely of great antiquity. Hough, Briggs, and Stevens (1971) say, “Amber malts are prepared by kilndrying well-modified malt to 3 to 4% moisture and then ‘ambering’ in the kiln or a drum by heating rapidly to 200°F/93.3°C, in 15 to 20 minutes and then gradually to 280 to 300°F/138 to 149°C. The higher temperature is maintained until the correct colour, 35 to 100 EBC units is obtained.” A notable fact is that this malt is kilned in a dry state, which provides it with a different aromatic profile from moist-kilned malts of similar colour such as melanoidin. It is also one of the simplest malts to produce at home, the starting point is just dry pale malt.

Flavour and Aroma: Amber malt possesses a sharp toasty, brown character, which lacks caramelly notes.


  • Signature malt in brown ale
  • Provides depth and complexity to dry stouts, due to the fact that it doesn’t add sweetness which would be inappropriate for most versions of the style
  • Dry, toasty accent (1 to 5%) in pale ales, barley wines

Melanoidin Malt

Colour = 15–33 (Lovibond) 30–66 (EBC)

Enzyme Activity = Minimal/none

OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0070 (1.80°P)

OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0133 (3.40°P)

Max % = 30

Origin and Notes: A variety of flavourful amber-coloured malts most connected with Belgian and German brewing styles, a range of terms surround this malt. Look out for confusing nomenclature—check colour and descriptions to ensure they match the features you’re looking for. We recommend tasting before buying.

Production: After malting, high-moisture malt is artificially starved of air, this halts respiration but permits proteolytic and amylolytic enzymes. Thus forming a range of sugars and nitrogenous products to nourish the Maillard activity that occurs during kilning. Dried in a similar way to Munich malt, and then cured at 239°F/115°C.

Flavour and Aroma: A considerable yet soft cookie-like or cake-like maltiness, different qualities to similarly coloured amber/biscuit, which is kilned dry and possesses much more toasty characteristics. They also can provide some caramel aroma but lack the raisiny chewiness and unfermentable dextrin that caramel malt adds.


  • Involved in dark Belgian ales, in which they provide richness and depth to amber or brown beers such as Belgian pale ales, Dubbel, or strong dark ale
  • Complexity enhancers, ideal for providing a little balance in many kinds of mid- to dark-coloured beers from Oktoberfest to Scottish ales to bock to stout

Honey Malt

Colour = 20–30 (Lovibond) 40–60 (EBC)

Enzyme Activity = Some to none, depends on the manufacturer.

OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0070 (1.80°P)

OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0133 (3.40°P)

Max % = 15–25, depends on the manufacturer.

Origin and Notes: A crystal/melanoidin mix, primarily from German sources, although Hind, in 1948, depicts a British malt called diamber which matches its profile closely.

Production: A proprietary process is required to produce it, but Hough, Briggs, and Stevens (1971) describe a 122°F/50°C oxygen-starved rest of twenty-four hours at the end of malting, followed by a kilning at 212°F/100°C. Because this stewing and moist-kilning process is less intense than crystal, it holds sufficient enzymes to convert itself.

Flavour and Aroma: In spite of the name, it tastes only slightly like honey, but it is cleaner and lighter than crystal of comparable colour, with a more friable, less sugary texture, with some of Munich malt’s caramelliness.


  • Used as an alternative to the heavier flavours and sweetness which crystal malts possess, particularly in extract and steeped-grain brewing
  • As a signature malt in French and Belgian mid-coloured beers, such as bière de garde, Dubbel, and a range of specialty brews.
  • Provides a reinforcing maltiness in dark beers including schwarzbier, Baltic porter, or sweeter stouts like Imperial, London, or oatmeal stout

Brown Malt

Colour = 50–65 (Lovibond) 100–130 (EBC)

Enzyme Activity = None

OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0066 (1.70°P)

OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0125 (3.20°P)

Max % = 80

Origin and Notes: Initially, porters were based completely on brown malt brought in from Hertfordshire, but as brewing scientists equipped with hydrometers (Richardson, 1777) discovered how much less extract was yielded from brown malt, things began to change, this information was the incentive for the invention of black patent malt, which was far more efficient.

Production: As recently as the mid-twentieth century, brown malt was puffed and roasted by roasting swiftly over a roaring fire, conventionally of oak or even hornbeam logs. Hough, Briggs, and Stevens (1971) give a kilning profile of two and a half hours at 350°F/177°C and mention the “characteristic flavour derived from wood smoke.” This “material” they noted in 1971, “is now only used rarely.” These days, it gets a more conventional kilning, but brown malt still possesses a very unique flavour profile.

Flavour and Aroma: Extremely toasty, with chocolate overtones, it can have a campfire character, despite contemporary versions not being smoked.


  • A useful tool in all kinds of dark beers including mild ales, stouts, and porter, particularly when a bright, coffee-like touch is desired.
  • Historic porters, where it can form the basis of the grist (with enough pale malt included for conversion)
  • Complexity addition in red ales, Scotch “ales,” and old ales, or Belgian strong dark ales when just small amount can provide a bright, roasty flavour.


Caramel & Crystal Malts

Caramel, or crystal malts as they are sometime referred to as, both belong to the same family of malt. The method of treating these malts is very different. On the last day of malting, the maltster increases the temperature to 113 to 122°F/45 to 50°C, this starts the enzymatic destruction of proteins and carbohydrates; an exclusive stewing process which essentially mashes the grain inside the husk, transforming the starches to sugars and providing it with its distinctive glassy texture. The maltster “stews” this soggy malt to saccharification temperature, around 150°F/66°C. When the majority of the starch has been transformed into sugars, the malt is dried then kilned to various levels of colour. There are plenty of simple sugars present, as a pose to starch and so the caramelisation process is rather different from regular malts. Crystal malt has a wide range of caramel, burnt sugar, and raisiny or dried fruit flavours present and each maltster’s caramel/crystal malts differ.


Crystal Malt Picture
Crystal Malt

The same stewing process also forms a lot of short, unfermentable starch chains known as dextrins. They provide body and mouthfeel to a beer. Due to their distinctive chemistry, dextrins do not degrade further during mashing; resulting in their body enhancing traits ending up in the finished beer. The palest caramel/crystal malts are designed with this in mind, to provide body and richness to otherwise thin beers; extract brewers especially value crystal malts because malt extract is usually deficient in this aspect.

Though caramel/crystal malts have delicious flavours, they can be domineering if used incorrectly, producing thick, sickly sweet beers. Lots of brewers get in the habit of using these caramel malts a little too much, as they can be a suitable solution to the thin dullness extract beers sometimes have. For me, a light touch is best when it comes to crystals, except if you have a very specific reason for wanting them to take over, as in red ales. A further malt group, known as honey malt or brumalt, is a transitional malt between caramel and ordinary kilned malts. It has holds of the rich flavours of caramel minus the burnt sugars and heavy dextrins.

The procedures and resources used to make caramel malts by different maltsters results in a vast range of profoundly different flavours and aromas, even among caramels of the same colour. It is imperative to taste any malt you are thinking about using to ensure it has a flavour which will be beneficial to your recipe.

While we have split them into groups, there is in fact a pretty much constant spectrum available from different maltsters, so our description may be slightly limited—yet reason for tasting everything before you use it.

NOTE: If you struggle to understand the stats of the examples below, we recommend checking out our guide to Understanding a Malt Analysis


Colour = 1.8–2.5 (Lovibond) 3.5–5 (EBC)

Enzyme Activity = None

OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0067 (1.72°P)

OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0127 (3.25°P)

Max % = 15

Origin and Notes: Rose in popularity as an additive to high-adjunct lagers, it helps counteract the missing malt by the addition of dextrins, body, and foam.

Production: Caramel malt process, but a light kilning just to lower the moisture content, producing a very pale colour.

Flavour and Aroma: Neutral; used primarily for body and foam.


  • Provides body and head benefits to paler beers
  • Vital for high-adjunct beers (it’s most common commercial use)
  • Valuable in honey beers where it adds body and head

Pale Caramel/Crystal

Colour = 10–30 (Lovibond) 20–60 (EBC)

Enzyme Activity = None

OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0066 (1.70°P)

OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0125 (3.20°P)

Max % = 15

Origin and Notes: Pale amber-coloured caramel-type malts.

Production: Caramel malt process, kilned to 302 to 356°F/150 to 180°C for between one and two hours.

Flavour and Aroma: Strong caramelly aromas, usually with soft dried-fruit aromas —apricots, raisins, figs. Be careful the caramel flavours can be rather assertive.


  • Body and flavour enhancer for pale-to-amber beers, particularly pale ales and IPAs
  • Not very useful in lagers, except in extremely small amounts simply to add complexity

Medium Caramel/Crystal

Colour = 40–80 (Lovibond) 80–200 (EBC)

Enzyme Activity = None

OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0066 (1.70°P)

OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0125 (3.20°P)

Max % = 15

Origin and Notes: These malts usually possess very reddish colours.

Production: Caramel malt process, but kilned at 356 to 410°F/180 to 210°C for one to two hours. Addition wheat (Cara Wheat) and rye versions (Cara Rye) are also available.

Flavour and Aroma: Strong toasted caramelly and burnt sugar aromas persist at the higher colour range, or toasted-marshmallow aromas, usually accompanied with strong dried-fruit aromas—caramelized raisins, figs, prunes. Use carefully, the burnt-sugar flavours in the darker ones can be very assertive and often rather bitter.


  • Body and flavour enhancer for darker beers such as amber and stronger brown ales, porters, and stouts
  • Provides a toasted raisiny, fruity aromas in Belgian Dubbels and strong dark ales
  • Not very useful in lagers, except in extremely small amounts simply to add complexity

Extra Dark Caramel/Crystal

Colour = 100–140 (Lovibond) 200–280 (EBC)

Enzyme Activity = None

OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0057 (1.47°P)

OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0108 (2.77°P)

Max % = 15

Origin and Notes: An extra-dark version of caramel malt, first pioneered by DeWolf-Cosyns as Special B, this malt is now produced under that name by a number of producers.

Production: Caramel malt process, but kilned above 400°F/204°C for at least two hours.

Flavour and Aroma: Unique, intense flavours of roasted sugar, toasted raisins, or Turkish coffee. Use cautiously, as this malt is very assertive and often somewhat bitter too.


  • Body and flavour enhancer for very dark beers such as porters and stouts
  • Provides unique toasted-sugar aromas in any dark ale or barley wine (1 to 5%)

These specialty malts come in a wide range of colours. Keep in mind that each manufacturer’s range has a unique taste, so taste often and get to know them.

Wheat & Other Non-Barley Malts

Wheat has been on the beer scene since the very beginning, long ago in the Middle East. Due to the efforts of those ancestral farmers in the ancient Middle East, wheat threshes “naked,” meaning that it comes without the husk that clings to barley, when wheat is used in large proportions in the mash it is usually required to add rice hulls or other filtering substances during brewing. Out of the cereal grains, wheat needs the highest quality soil, and because it is the favoured ingredient for baking bread, its use in brewing has been limited to ensure there’s enough to make bread.

Malt Wheat Picture

When wheat is used in brewing it produces a fine beer, slightly more neutral in flavour and richer in texture than malted barley. Its split into two categories, hard and soft, with the low-protein “soft” type is often preferred for malting and brewing. Wheat malt is usually obtainable as a very lightly kilned product, though kilned and caramel wheat malts are available in some places.

Due to its protein structure, wheat provides a lot of the mid-length protein necessary for beer’s body and head. Consequently, wheat malts have a long history in beers such as Kölsch and English bitter, where slightly more head is beneficial, and they should be used by homebrewers for this reason. Five to fifteen percent is the usual range as a head booster.

I’m sure as a homebrewer you have an understanding of some wheat beer styles, Bavarian hefeweizen, Berliner weisse, and American wheat ales are some great styles which utilise wheat. The percentage of wheat differs by style, but 30 to 70 percent is the typical range for these styles. The Belgians are known for their use of wheat in beers including witbiers and lambics, but this is usually unmalted wheat, which requires special mashing methods that are often particularly challenging for the small-scale brewer to achieve. Malted wheat can provide excellent results using step infusions; as it is not as powerful in character as unmalted wheat, it is often used in larger proportions, up to 60-70 percent as opposed to the typical 40-50 percent.

Wheat is infamous for producing short-lived beers, and from my occurrence I have to agree. It doesn’t possess the strong malty flavours which barley malt does, extremely strong “wheat wines” are usually on the bland side. While there is no solid historical precedent for them, I feel that wheat makes a great supplement to a porter or a stout, providing smooth, creamy textures that offset the sharpness of the roast malts.

NOTE: If you struggle to understand the stats of the examples below, we recommend checking out our guide to Understanding a Malt Analysis

Malted Wheat

Colour = 1.5–2.0 (Lovibond) 3.0–4.0 (EBC)

Enzyme Activity = Sufficient for self-conversion

OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0078 (2.00°P)

OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0146 (3.73°P)

Max % = 100

Origin and Notes: Malted wheat has been used for brewing since for hundreds of years, but due to its requirement for baking bread, its use in brewing has been limited.

Production: A light and rapid kilning at 176°F/80°C leaves this malt with a rather pale colour. Dark (5.5 to 20°L), chocolate (300 to 450°L), and roasted versions can be also be found, as well as caramel wheat.

Flavour and Aroma: Deficient in flavour of its own, except a clean graininess, it provides a creamy mouthfeel and great foam.


  • Authentic wheat beers including Bavarian hefeweizens, Berliner weisse, and American wheat ales
  • Substitute (in larger proportion) for unmalted wheat in Belgian witbier and lambic recipes
  • Head-enhancing grain for wide range of beers styles, from bitter to Kölsch to saison

Oat Malt


Oat Malt Picture
Oat Malt

Colour = 2.0 (Lovibond) 4.0 (EBC)

Enzyme Activity = Moderate; high in beta-amylase

OG per lb in 5 gl = 1.0050 (1.29°P)

OG per kg in 20 L = 1.0148 (3.87°P)

Max % = 30

Origin and Notes: Due to their viscosity in the brewhouse and unpredictability in the beer, oats have always been seen as an inferior grain for brewing, but they can be used well, particularly in dark English ales and variants of Belgian witbiers.

Production: Malted and kilned to a pale colour in a similar way to barley malt.

Flavour and Aroma: Lacks its own flavour, they mainly provide a creamy texture and head-retention. May be toasted at home to produce rich cookie aromas.


  • Whenever a rich, creamy mouthfeel is desired
  • In oatmeal stouts (10 to 20%)

Other Speciality Malts

Acid or Sour Malt

This is malt which has been stewed in a Lactobacillus culture prior to kilning, presenting the malt with 2 to 4 percent lactic acid, it was traditionally used as a Reinheitsgebot-legal technique to acidifying a mash. Nowadays it’s a convenient way of inserting an acidic touch to beers which require it such as a Berliner weisse or witbier. At 1 percent of the grain bill, acidic flavours are hardly noticeable; at 20 percent, the beer will be fairly sour.

Smoked Malt

This is unique final process used to reproduce historic malts when kilns used wood. Beechwood is conventionally used for the smoked beers of Bamberg, though oak is sometimes used; peat-smoked distiller’s malt from Scotland is not long-established in beer, but can contribute some whisky aromas. Briess malting produces a cherrywood-smoked malt that has a powerful spiciness.