Keen on Crystal Malts

Keen on Crystal Malts

There are not many recipes that do not contain a crystal malt varietal and for good reason! Lacking in enzymes but heavy in unfermentable caramelized sugars, the crystal malt family is not one to ignore. Follow along after the jump for a guide through the four most commonly used grades of crystal malt, including my favorite; Crystal 120 L.

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Crystal Malts are categorized by their Lovibond number. This number can range from the very pale 2 L that a base malt or flaked oats will impart to something as dark as the 525 L seen in roasted barley. The two pictures below compare the massive range by showing the two extremes.

flaked oats roasted barley

Crystal 120 L, pictured at the top of the post, is my favorite because it imparts not only a roasted, almost burnt, caramel flavor but it even brings a raisin-like after taste to the party. Since these malts contain a large percentage of unfermentable sugars, the flavor really comes through with the right yeast. I use this malt whenever I can, even in lighter beers a small amount of it will introduce some extra complexity to beer's profile. Crystal 120 L is used most commonly in Belgian dubbel and trippels but do not let it be forgotten in your stouts, reds and even IPAs.

Crystal 90 L is the next common step down and despite its apparent lack of a dark outer shell, 90 L is still very rich in roasted caramel flavors. Although it offers some of the roasted flavor that 120 L does, it imparts less raisin and is more caramel focused, almost like a semi-burnt honey flavor. This malt is very common in red ales and brings a fantastic, sweeter, baked bread aspect into the mix. Combing 120 and 90 L in darker beers is an excellent choice.

Crystal 60 L is often ignored due to its lack of outer color, however, their is a lot of flavor packed into this delicious malt. Notice the very dark inside and lighter outside, this supplies a very sweet after taste of fresh candy-style caramel and toasted nuts. This is a great malt for a red ale or bitter and is a common counter to some of the more bitter, heavily roasted grains.

Crystal 20 L is the mild mannered little brother of the Crystal malts. There is very little toasted flavor and more of a sweet, fresh grain flavor. This variety can be used as more of an accent in a beer or as a large base for an amber ale. I would not recommend using just this grain as your only specialty grain, however, with the right hops and base malt ratio - anything is possible!

Specialty Grains are numerous and nectarous, so expect more posts like this! I really enjoy using my macro (if you have not noticed) so I hope you enjoy the closeups.