A Brief List of Specialty Malts & What They’re Used For

One thing I was very surprised to learn as a newbie homebrewer is that most beers are made up of very plain (and similar) base malts. Your base malts are going to be

  • Pilsner
  • American 2 row
  • American 6 row
  • Various pale ale malts
  • Vienna
  • Munich

For example, a Belgian Saison can use 90{a60bef903c54612bed20edb95d22500dcc3da56ac2b90be5eb4391998d03cdd5} pale ale malt, while an American IPA can use the exact same pale ale malt, albeit in probably smaller percentages to account for the style. But really what starts to define a beer is the specialty grains and malts you use, plus of course the yeast in many cases, depending on style.

When we're talking about specialty malts, they are basically divided into two categories, caramelized and roasted. Once we break it down into those two categories, it's a little easier to understand. Crystal malts are going to be divided by the color they impart on a beer. Their addition will give the beer some color based on the amount and type you use. They will also greatly influence the body, mouthfeel, and residual sweetness of a beer The roasting process makes the sugar unfermentable, with darker versions having fewer fermentables than lighter versions.

Specialty Malts Known as Caramel Malts

  • Cara-Pils
  • Cara-Vienne
  • Cara-Munich
  • Special B
  • Crystal Malts 1-180

As far as roasted malts go, you can of course further divide them into different levels of roast. I'd divide them into 3 sub categories

  • Chocolate malt
  • Black Malt
  • Roasted Barley

Roasted barley is technically not a malt because it's not been malted. I guess this could be called  specialty grain instead, but I'll probably write another post on specialty grains another day.

There are a number of different varieties of chocolate malt that act to produce a dark color within beer while also providing a chocolaty flavor. This chocolate flavor is similar to the taste of non-sweet, slightly burnt chocolate, or cocoa. There are significant differences across varieties of chocolate malts, with some producing a more toast and biscuit-like flavor, while others produces flavors that are more reminiscent of actual chocolate. Each maltster also will also create a style that is unique, so similar colors on the lovibond scale do not always product similar results in your finished beer!

Caramel malts are used a huge variety of beers, but the more obvious uses are going to be orange, copper, or red colored beers. Flavors vary wildly, but anything that's on a the maltier side with more residual sweetness is also a sign. Vienna lagers, bocks, strong belgian darks, red IPAs, and oktoberfests are just some examples.

Types of Chocolate Malt

  • Chocolate Wheat
  • [brand] Chocolate Malt
  • Pale Chocolate
  • Chocolate Rye
  • Carafa 1
  • Carafa 2 (almost considered black malt)
  • Coffee Malt

Black malts have simply been been roasted for a longer time, resulting in the removal of all malt aroma and flavor. This type of malt is commonly used in dark beers, particularly Stout and Porter. It's sometimes used in very small quantities to add nothing but color to the finished product. However, lighter versions in higher quantities can add roasted, coffee, burnt, smokey, or astringent qualities to beer. There is some crossover with the ‘chocolates' listed above, but I'd list the following as black:

  • Carafa 3
  • [brand] black malt
  • debittered black malt
  • light roasted barley (maybe)
  • Midnight Wheat

You'll see chocolate, and black malts used in stouts, porters, black IPAs, smoked beers, and pretty much anything that's chocolate or dark themed!

Other Specialty Malts

Some don't really fall into categories as I would define them, so here are a few more I found around the web. I haven't used all of them, so I can't give real insight into flavor and usage quite yet, but here they are, as far as I understand them.

Biscuit Malts

This type of malt is lightly kilned and creates a taste and aroma that is similar to toast. Additionally, biscuit malt can create a nutty quality within the beer. It seems to be used more often in low gravity beers like bitters, milds, and brown ales. I would typically associate this with being English style beers, but apparently it works for many styles.

Light Malts

These malts are light colored and create a fuller flavor and aroma of malt within the beer. It's not just a base malt! They are kilned at higher temps and have more malt flavor, ie Munich and Vienna when they are not being used as base malts. I'd honestly never heard of this classification till reading this.

Aromatic Malts

Surprise surprise, this is used to give more aroma to beer. Apparently it's very easy to overuse this, but when done right, can create some awesome beer. It's amber color and malt aroma goes well in more malt-forward beers like Oktoberfest, Vienna lagers, and Marzen beers.


What are your favorite styles of specialty malts and what beers do you use them for?

Resources: BYO – Specialty And Roasted Malts

photocredit: Michelle.Schrank


About Nate

I created this website almost two years ago when I first started homebrewing. Like my brewing, it's been through many changes over the years.

I'm a full time online marketer and brewing beer is my hobby. You'll find a mix of all topics related to craft beer and homebrewing at xBREWx!

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