Malt’s such an important part of brewing beer that it’s a good idea to know what it tastes like.
Here’s a simple way to develop your own malt flavour profiles and really understand how each malt influences your beer.
Apart from the time factor, a pure chocolate malt beer doesn’t sound very tasty and is not very appealing.
But it’s still important to know what each malt contributes in terms of flavour.
A good start is having a bite on the grains before adding them to the mash. Smelling’s also revealing.
But the flavours change during brewing, so the best thing to do is approximately simulate that process.
Steeping Grain To Explore Malt Profiles
This method is adapted from something I picked up in Brewing Better Beer.
In that book, Gordon Strong really drives home the importance of understanding the materials you’re working with when brewing. That’s what this experiment is about.
Prepare a tea of each malt by steeping 50g/1.75oz grain in 210ml/7oz water at 74°C/165°F for 5 minutes.
After leaving them to cool, taste each one. Really taste them.
Make detailed notes on aroma and flavour, concentrating on every aspect and recording as much information as possible.
I find it helps if the smell or flavour reminds you of something.
You need to focus on the smell and the taste, rather than just drinking or swilling it.
You’ll get more from the exercise if you find somewhere quiet where you can concentrate. It sounds silly but it’s true.
Be warned: some of the stronger grains are unpleasant. They’re very bitter and leave your stomach and mouth feeling truly puckered.
Despite that, I found it an extremely valuable and worthwhile activity.
The point of this is that you build your own understanding of malt flavours, so I’m not going to give any tasting notes for specific malt here.
To take this one step further you could ferment a batch of this steeped liquid, to give you the flavour after fermentation.
As an alternative I do a more practical final tasting.
Tasting With The Finished Beer
My goal with this is to be able to design and brew better beer recipes, so the taste information is only useful in relation to an actual beer.
After really tasting the malts, and cleansing your palette, open a beer that uses the malt in question.
For this example, I revisited a bottle of oatmeal stout. When tasting, I really concentrated on identifying the individual malt flavours.
It’s not easy. In fact, I couldn’t detect the crystal malt. But the black and chocolate are there, and I could tell the two apart.
I can make meaningful adjustments to my recipe now.
This skill (tasting) is something to practice over time but I can already see that it’s a very valuable tool for troubleshooting recipes.
Although it may seem like a step backwards from brewing flavoursome and complicated beers, something that’s certainly possible without truly understanding ingredients, I’m really learning a lot about brewing from these tests.
I’m sure the short-term set-back is worth it.
I can’t recommend this simple experiment enough. It’s an easy way to learn more about a fundamental part of brewing beer.