Roasted Malts in Beer Brewing

Good To Know

Still Life with a draft beer

This week I take a close look at the roast malt group, and explain when and why you would want to use these malts in your beer.

The Roast Malt Group

The roast malt group includes pale chocolate, chocolate malt, carafa I, II and III, black patent malt, red malt and stout roast. These are the darkest malts available to a brewer, starting at around 200 L and going up to 600 L or more.

As I explained in my earlier article on malting and malt groups, roasted malts start using with raw barley and then go through the malting process, much like any other barley malt. However rather than kilning them at low to moderate temperature, these malts are instead roasted at very high temperature, generally above 400 F (200 C).

One exception to this is roasted barley, also called stout roast which is actually made from unmalted barley that is roasted at very high temperature.

Due to the high temperature used, very few fermentable sugars are left in a roasted malt. They provide plenty of color, body and flavor, but yield little in the way of fermentables. As a result, roast malts can be steeped and used in extract brewing without requiring a malting step. If you want to reduce harshness in all grain brewing, you can separately steep roast malts as a tea or achieve the same effect by adding dark grains at the end of the mash before sparging.

You can roast your own malts at home in an oven by placing them in a shallow roasting pan and roasting at 400 F (200 C) or above. Roasting at that temperature for 60 minutes will give you something close to a chocolate or light chocolate malt.

The Flavors and Aromas of Roasted Malts

Most brewers are familiar with the basic roasted malts which are chocolate and black patent malt, and these are commonly used by beginning extract brewers to make darker beers. These malts, in general, provide a dark roasted flavor to any beer with varying degrees of tannins and harshness. Common flavors include coffee, mocha, burnt toast, roasted flavors, bittersweet, tannic (sucking on a tea bag), and dry acrid flavors.

What many brewers don’t know is that the lighter roasted malts including light chocolate and chocolate malt are sharper and more harsh than the darker malts. This is due to the fact that chocolate malts are very close in color to the harsh zone, an area of harsh and unpleasant flavors between roughly 70 and 200 lovibond. If you want to read more about the harsh zone you can do so here.

Light chocolate malt has the lowest color (200 L) but also some of the sharpest, somewhat harsh flavors. Because it is adjacent to the harsh zone on the color wheel, you need to limit the amount of light chocolate you use. Light chocolate has some of the harsh burnt toast, tannic flavor that brown malt or special B has but without the dark fruit flavors you might get from Special B. It is best used as an accent malt in combination with other malts to provide flavor depth and complexity.

Chocolate malt (350-400 L) is a staple roast malt used in many browns, porters, stouts and other dark beers. Despite the name it tastes nothing like chocolate. However as it is closer to the harsh zone, it does have a sharper more tannic finish than black patent malt or carafa malt. The flavor profile is roasted, mocha-coffee, somewhat tannic (tea bag sharpness) and sharp.

Carafa malts originated in Germany and come in three darkness levels of I, II and III. Carafa I is close in color and flavor profile to a chocolate malt. Carafa II is slightly darker, between chocolate and black patent (400-500L), and finally Carafa III is similar in color and flavor to black patent malt.

There are also debittered versions of carafa malt that have been dehusked. Removing the husk takes away the major source of tannins which cause a lot of the “tea bag” harshness you get from many roast malts. So the dehusked/debittered carafa malts are a great choice for beers like sweet stout, browns or mild porter where you want the dark color and smooth roast flavor without the harsh tannic finish.

Bestmalz also uses a roasting technique called “air-stream” that reduces the tannins in its dark roasted malts without de-husking them, so you can consider using some of their air stream roasted malts if you are concerned about excessive tannin flavor for a particular beer.

Black patent malt (475-600 L) is surprisingly smoother and less harsh than chocolate malt. You can use it in small percentages to add color and a bit of roast flavor to a light to medium color beer, or layer it with other dark malts to create a robust porter or strong stout. It has a distinctive coffee-like, roasted flavor but lacks many of the sharp tannins that chocolate malt have. It is a staple in most stouts and porters as well as some dark continental beers.

Stout roast is deeply roasted unmalted barley. It has a distinctive dry-coffee flavor that is best known by anyone who has tasted a dry Irish stout like Guinness. It is not smooth like black patent, but instead is dry, with a strong coffee finish. Roast barley can also be used in tiny amounts to add a red hue to beers like Irish Red ale.

When to Use Roast Malts

Roast malts are primarily used in darker beer styles such as English and American browns, porters and stouts, black IPAs as well as continental dark beers like Bock. Which malt to use depends on whether you are looking for a smoother or sharper finish in the beer. For a smooth finish in something like a sweet or milk stout I will select black patent, while if I’m looking for a sharper edge to a robust porter or strong stout I will use pale chocolate, chocolate or carafa malts.

I personally prefer to combine dark malts with medium malts from other malt groups to create flavor depth in my porters and stouts. This technique involves using small amounts of dark malts, some of whom are near the harsh zone, to create layers of dark roasted flavor.

For lighter beers that need a bit of color, I personally prefer to add a bit of black patent (or roast barley – see below) to color a beer rather than using a dark kilned or caramel/crystal malt. The reason is that the dark kilned and caramel/crystal malts all are in the harsh zone and will throw off the flavor balance of a lighter beer. In contrast a very small percentage of black patent will give me the color I need without significantly changing the flavor.

Finally there is roasted barley/stout roast which is a distinctive flavor I primarily use for dry Irish stouts or coffee stouts. However roast barley also has a distinctive red color if used in tiny amounts, so it is also my go-to for coloring red beers like Red Irish Ale. A few ounces of roast barley will give the beer its red color without changing the flavor balance.

I hope this article has helped you to understand roasted malt flavors and their use in beer brewing. Thank you for joining me on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter or my podcast (also on itunes…and youtube for more great tips on homebrewing.

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