Learn­ing Lab: Crys­tal Malt

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents -

In this is­sue’s Learn­ing Lab col­umn, Jester Gold­man turns our at­ten­tion to grain. And to avoid be­ing over­whelmed by all the op­tions, he sug­gests fo­cus­ing on a man­age­able sub­set of grain—crys­tal (aka caramel) malts. Us­ing his mini-batch (1 gal­lon/3.8 liters) method, he demon­strates how you can learn to dis­tin­guish among the types of crys­tal malt.

CRYS­TAL MALT IS ALSO called caramel malt, which re­flects the color and fla­vor that it adds to beer. Some purists dis­tin­guish be­tween the two terms, point­ing out that Bri­tish crys­tal malts are pro­duced in a roaster, while caramel malts may be made in a roaster or a kiln, but we’ll side­step that dis­tinc­tion. In ei­ther case, the bar­ley is soaked and al­lowed to sprout, then the wet bar­ley is heated for a time, al­low­ing for sac­cha­r­i­fi­ca­tion of the ker­nel within the husk. Then, it’s roasted or kilned at a higher tem­per­a­ture, which dark­ens the color and con­verts the sug­ars into un­fer­mentable dex­trins.

Crys­tal malt is typ­i­cally sold by color from 10–120°Lovi­bond. The darker the color, the more pro­nounced the fla­vor, with the high end pos­si­bly con­tribut­ing some bit­ter as­trin­gency. In the lower and mid­dle ranges, crys­tal malt can add a nice nutty caramel com­plex­ity, but the sweet­ness can be cloy­ing and sim­plis­tic if you use too much. As a re­sult, it’s rec­om­mended to hold it down to 5–10 per­cent of the grain bill in your recipes.

It All Starts with a Plan

Our goal is to learn how to dis­tin­guish the types of crys­tal malt and un­der­stand what they con­trib­ute. This lab ex­am­ines two dif­fer­ent as­pects. For the first phase, we work with three dif­fer­ent Lovi­bond lev­els of crys­tal malt. These will vary not only in color but also in mouth­feel and malt char­ac­ter.

We’ll fol­low a mini-batch strat­egy sim­i­lar to the one we used in the hops lab (see “Learn­ing Lab: Hops Aroma and Fla­vor” in the June/july 2018 is­sue). For this lab,

you should plan on four 1-gal­lon batches of beer. The first batch will serve as a con­trol, with no crys­tal malt added. The other three batches will in­clude steep­ing 40, 80, and 120°L crys­tal malt be­fore the boil. We’ll aim for the equiv­a­lent of about 7 per­cent of the grist to hit the rec­om­mended level. For our base­line recipe, that’s about 2.5 ounces (71 g) of crushed malt.

Af­ter you start the first batches, the sec­ond half of our ex­per­i­ment ex­plores what hap­pens when you use too much of a good thing. This phase will use each of the same three crys­tal malts but in more than the rec­om­mended amount. Dou­bling the malt weight would put us at about 15 per­cent of the grain bill, but we want to get a stronger im­pres­sion, so we’ll round up to 8 ounces (227 g) of malt, equiv­a­lent to 20 per­cent of the grist. Go­ing over the top like this is a good way to see how crys­tal malt can over-bal­ance a beer. This will also give you a deeper sense of how the crys­tal-malt char­ac­ter changes as you work with the darker ver­sions.

Base­line Batch

This base­line recipe is a sim­ple ex­tract pale ale.

Vol­ume (af­ter boil): 1 gal­lon (3.8 liters) OG: Phase 1, 1.054; Phase 2, 1.058 IBUS: 40–45

Recipe 1.25 lb (567 g) light dry malt ex­tract (DME) 0.125 oz (3.5 g) Cen­ten­nial [10% AA] at

60 min­utes 0.125 oz (3.5 g) Cas­cade [6% AA] at

30 min­utes 0.125 oz (3.5 g) Cas­cade [6% AA] at 5 min­utes 1/2 pack­age Safale US-05 Amer­i­can Ale yeast Phase 1: 2.5 oz (71 g) crushed crys­tal malt (each batch will use a dif­fer­ent Lovi­bond level—40, 80, 120°L) Phase 2: 8 oz (227 g) crushed crys­tal malt (each batch will use a dif­fer­ent Lovi­bond level—40, 80, 120°L)

Di­rec­tions Note that you’ll be mak­ing one con­trol batch with­out any crys­tal malt. For that beer, skip the steep­ing step.

Fill your pot with 1 gal­lon (3.8 l) wa­ter plus the make-up for evap­o­ra­tion loss. Put the crushed crys­tal malt (phase 1: 2.5 oz/71 g, phase 2: 8 oz/227 g) of the tar­get Lovi­bond level into a small ny­lon grain bag. Turn the heat to medium and al­low the crushed grain to steep, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally. Af­ter about 20 min­utes or when the tem­per­a­ture hits 165°F (74°C), pull the grain bag out of the wa­ter to avoid ex­tract­ing tan­nins from the grain.

Take the brew pot off the heat and add the DME. Stir well to dis­solve, then place the pot back onto the burner and bring to a boil. Boil for 60 min­utes fol­low­ing the tim­ing of the hops ad­di­tions in the recipe.

Chill the wort to pitch­ing tem­per­a­ture (use a cold-wa­ter bath or im­mer­sion chiller). Trans­fer the wort to a gal­lon (3.8 l) jug and pitch the yeast.

Af­ter pri­mary fer­men­ta­tion has fin­ished, bot­tle with 0.8 oz (23 g) per batch of dis­solved prim­ing sugar. Al­low two weeks for car­bon­a­tion.

Re­peat the above process for each of the crys­tal malts in phase one and phase two. In to­tal, this should give you seven 1-gal­lon batches.

Do­ing the Com­par­isons

Phase 1: Sib­ling Ri­valry Part one of our tast­ing ses­sion will fo­cus on the four beers from phase one. Pour a sam­ple of each of the beers and look at their color. As you’d ex­pect, they range from the rel­a­tively light con­trol beer to the dark­est 120°L batch, with the crys­tal-malt beers each fea­tur­ing some de­gree of am­ber color. You should also note the head re­ten­tion, which should be stronger in the beers with crys­tal malt.

Take a sniff of each glass. It’s beer, so you’ll get a mix of hops, es­ters, and malt, but the crys­tal-malt sam­ples will em­pha­size the malt more than the con­trol batch. The malt char­ac­ter may be no­tice­ably dif­fer­ent, too. While all of the crys­tal-malt beers will of­fer some amount of caramel, you’re more likely to get nutty or mild roasty scents from the 120°L batch.

Next, take a sip or two of the con­trol beer. Get a good sense of the bal­ance be­tween hops fla­vor, bit­ter­ness, and malt. Roll the beer across your tongue to gauge the body. Once you’ve taken its mea­sure, cleanse your palate with a saltine cracker and some wa­ter.

Move on to the 40°L beer. Go through the same ex­er­cise of eval­u­a­tion. How does the bal­ance dif­fer from the con­trol? Are the hops more sub­dued? Is it sweeter? In par­tic­u­lar, do you pick up any caramel char­ac­ter? You should no­tice that the beer is less thin-bod­ied. If it doesn’t seem that ob­vi­ous, take a sip of wa­ter and go back to the con­trol beer. Swirl a mouth­ful and swal­low. Then rinse and go back to the 40°L sam­ple. The side-by-side com­par­i­son should make the dif­fer­ence clearer. Write down your ob­ser­va­tions con­trast­ing the two beers.

Do the same for the 80°L and 120°L beers. Af­ter not­ing your ini­tial per­cep­tions, al­ways rinse and go back to the ear­lier sam­ples to pick up on the dif­fer­ences. The darker beers should of­fer more malt com­plex­ity, bring­ing in some of those tof­fee, nutty, and toasty fla­vors. Note that this doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean they’re bet­ter or that you should like them more. You may even think the 120°L beer is a bit much for the rel­a­tively mild base recipe, pulling it out of style for an Amer­i­can pale ale. The goal is to get a sense of how the malts dif­fer so you can choose the right one when you’re de­vel­op­ing a recipe.

Phase 2: Gimme Some More Now let’s dive into the deep end of our crys­tal-malt ex­per­i­ment. We’ll com­pare the three phase-two beers, but you’ll also need the first-round beers on hand for com­par­i­son.

Pour sam­ples of each of the heavy crys­tal-malt beers. No­tice that each is sig­nif­i­cantly darker than its first-round ver­sion, with the 120°L beer mov­ing beyond am­ber into brown-ale ter­ri­tory. If your glass­ware is clean, the head for­ma­tion and re­ten­tion will likely seem a lit­tle bet­ter in this round.

Run through the same eval­u­a­tion process with this set of beers. Check out the aroma and fla­vor. The caramel char­ac­ter will be much stronger, dom­i­nat­ing the bal­ance, turn­ing the base pale ale into some­thing very dif­fer­ent. The pleas­ant caramel that added depth to the round-one beers should come across as sweeter and chewier. You may also get some as­trin­gency. As a re­sult, these beers will likely seem one di­men­sional and less palate pleas­ing.

As the Lovi­bond rat­ing goes up, the cloy­ing sweet­ness builds along with the as­trin­gency, which will in­crease your per­cep­tion of bit­ter­ness. You prob­a­bly won’t en­joy the heavy 120°L beer for this rea­son.

Com­pare the over­done crys­tal-malt beers with their more bal­anced ver­sions, pay­ing spe­cial at­ten­tion to the round-one 120°L beer and the heavy 40°L sam­ple. These two are about the same color, but the malt char­ac­ter will be quite dif­fer­ent be­cause the ad­di­tional roast­ing for the 120°L malt makes deeper changes to husks and dex­trines.

De­spite the big crys­tal-malt beers be­ing less drink­able, they do give a sense of what the malt can of­fer in larger amounts. If you want to do some grad­u­ate work, con­sider mak­ing an­other set in the mid­dle ground be­tween these, with about 4 oz (113 g) of each malt, and see how they fit in. This may help you find your palate’s lim­its for each malt. While 15 per­cent 40°L malt might be work­able, you may pre­fer to keep 120°L malt at 5 per­cent of the grist at most.

You could also do a 10°L crys­tal-malt batch to ex­plore the lighter end of the range.

Ap­ply­ing Your Lessons

This tast­ing ex­pe­ri­ence pro­vides a good foun­da­tion for your fu­ture recipe for­mu­la­tion. Think about the tar­get style and how the fla­vors you’ve iden­ti­fied could con­trib­ute to it. You’ll have a bet­ter sense which crys­tal malt would be com­ple­men­tary and how much to use.

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