What is malt in beer?

Beer has four main ingredients. Those are water, hops, yeast and grain. When you are drinking beer, you might have heard people mentioning malt. Or maybe you read beer reviews where people describe a beer as having a malty taste or aromas. But what are they all talking about?

If you are an expert in beer and beer tasting, you already know what we are talking about. If you are an amateur and want to get better at recognizing beer flavours and aromas, then read along. 

We already covered one of the main ingredients of beer, which is hops. Now we are going to have a closer look at another ingredient - the malt. 

malt biere


In this article, we are going to discuss the following: 


  1. What is malt in beer?
  2. How is malt made, and what is malting?
  3. How do we use malt in beer?
  4. Different types of malts
  5. Which types of malt to use for brewing beer at home?
  6. Which types of malt to use for which style of beer?



What is malt in beer?



Malt is a grain specially grown for brewing beer. Malt provides the sugar that is essential in brewing beer. For brewing beer, water is used to extract sugars from grains. During fermentation, that sugar turns to alcohol and creates carbonation and other flavours. It is also possible to use other sugars in a beer like honey, syrup or fruit juice. But if you use more other sugars than malt cereal, it is no longer beer. 

That is why we use malt in beer to bring out the sugars. Nevertheless, that is not the only reason we use malt when brewing beer. Malt can also add flavours to the beer or even aromas. For instance, aromas like coffee, toast, almonds, and others, are generated by malts. 


How is malt made, and what is malting?


Malting is the process of how malt is made. Not everyone thinks about this process when making beer. Some brewers also buy ready-made malt done by maltsters. So how do maltsters make malt? Cereals like barley, rye or wheat are full of starch that the yeast cannot consume as it is. This is why the raw cereal is made into malt. Then it can be assimilated by the yeast.

The malting process starts with the maltster collecting the grains from the farmer. The grains are then cleaned, sorted and soaked. The soaking leads to germination, but the germination is stopped before the grain can turn into a plant. Hot drying is used for that. Afterwards, the grain is degerminated, and all the rootlets and dust are removed. Now we have malt ready to be used for brewing beer. 

How do we use malt in beer?


During the process of brewing beer, the malt is infused with hot water. The juice that is resulted from this will be used to brew beer. 

malt biere


Different types of malts


What are the different types of malts for brewing beer?

  • Barley malt

Barley malt is one of the preferred ones by brewers. Even some wheat or rye beers use a lot of barley malt. Barley has less protein, and the bark is easier to use. The bark enables the beer to be filtered naturally. There are also many types of barley malt that each contribute with different flavours. 

  • Rye malt

The advantage of rye is that it can grow in poor conditions. Rye malt has a strong character, which is why most microbreweries only use small quantities. Rye malt beers give a grain-like flavour with spicy notes. 

  • Wheat malt

It is mostly used to create wheat beer, and unlike rye malt, it can be used in large quantities. The only disadvantage is that wheat malt has no bark, so it is often paired with other, like barley malt, for better filtration. 

  • Roasted malts

When brewing beer, you can also use malts that are roasted. The malts have been cooked at high temperatures. The roasted malts are often used to give beer coffee, chocolate or black fruit aromas. 

  • Crystal malts

These malts have gone through some extreme temperatures to influence the beer flavour, colour, and smell. You can find some caramel flavours and biscuity aromas. These malts are often used in Indian Pale Ales to balance the bitterness. 

  • Smoked malts

Smoked malts are actually often used in whiskey and not beer. For beers, it is often used in smoked ales and lagers. The aim is to create a pleasant smoky taste. 

types de malt biere


Which types of malt to use for brewing beer at home?



If you are starting, then use some of the most basic malts. If you are an amateur brewer, choose a simple recipe and read carefully which malts are suggested there. Stick with that to learn first how to make your beer. Rye malt, for instance, is something that you need to be precise with. Improper quantity can ruin the beer flavour. 
Once you’ve already got some experience and own your beer brewing kit, go ahead and start experimenting. Then you can start choosing more special malts to test out different tastes like crystal malts or smoked malts.


Which types of malt to use for which style of beer?



Another thing to know when choosing malt is which style of beer you want to brew. 


  • Barley malts are used for ales and lagers, pilsners, IPA beers and Pale Ales. 
  • Rye malt is chosen for brewing special beers
  • Wheat malts are mostly used for wheat beer but also sometimes amber beer.
  • The roasted malts are good for brewing stouts, porters and brown ale beers. 
  • Crystal malts are often used to brew amber beers, IPA’s, brown beers, red ales and stouts.
  • Smoked malts are only used to create smoky beers. Many Scottish beers have used it to get a whiskey-like flavour. 


So now you can bring something to the table when discussing beer flavours. The next time you are drinking a stout beer, you know that either crystal or roasted malts have been part of the process. 



Further reading: 


If you are interested in making beer at home, read our complete home brewing guide

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