Back to base-ics…

Our series on all-grain brewing continues today with a look at base malt.  For those unaware of what exactly base malts are let me quickly explain.  In general grain used for brewing can be split into two groups, base malt and specialty grains.  No matter if you are an all-grain brewer or an extract brewer we are all fairly knowledgeable about what specialty grains are.  Specialty grains are a variety of different grains that give your beer specific characteristics.  These grains can consist of dark malts like chocolate and roasted barley, crystal malts, specialty Belgian malts such as biscuit and special b, or even some more obscure malts such as honey malt, aromatic, and coffee.  These grains release certain flavors and colors into your beer.  Furthermore some specialty grains such as some of the crystal malts, and grain such as carapils contain unfermentable sugar strains that when added to the beer can help with the formation of a fuller bodied beer with better head retention.  While most of these grains contain at least a percentage of fermentable sugars their main purpose is general to affect style, color, flavor and mouthfeel.

The question then becomes, where do the majority of our fermentable sugars, the things needed to create alcohol, actually come from?  For extract brewers this answer comes in the form of “extract”, hence the style of brewing.  These extracts which come in both dry and liquid forms, are literally concentrated forms of fermentable sugar made from different types of barley and wheat.  The grain that these extracts are derived from are what we call base malts, or grain that makes up the majority of a beers grain bill and contains the majority of sugars needed to create the beers alcohol content.

One of the main reasons that extract brewing is considered easier and quicker is because the base malts have already been broken down into a sugar content and simply need to be added to the boil.  For all-grain brewers the step of mashing and extracting these all important sugars has not been done for you.  Instead, all-grain brewers must create a mash, that consists not only of the specialty grains but also of all the base malt that is required for the particular beer.  While extract brewers generally only use a couple of pounds of grain in a batch (specialty grains) along with a few pounds of extract, all-grain brewers must add several pounds of base malt grain to their grain bill and then go through the process of extracting sugars.

While many people out there may think that it is only the specialty grains which affect body, color and taste, and that the base grains simply release the needed sugar content, the fact of the matter is that using any of the variety of base grains also plays a major role in the type of beer and the characteristics of the beer that you are creating.

Therefore, for the remainder of this blog, I am going to introduce and briefly discuss the wide variety of base malts available to brewers, talking about their characteristics and the types of beer each grain could and should be used to produce.

Let’s start from the most commonly used base grain by homebrewers today.

2-Row (US) – Lovibond 1.8

2-row malt, in my opinion, is the mostly commonly used base malt by homebrewers today. While 2-row is brewed in a variety of different countries, for the sake of our discussion we are going to look at the two most common types of 2-row, U.S. and British.  First let us look at the U.S. version.  U.S. 2-row is a fantastic all-purpose all style base malt.  It’s lovibond, or color checks in at only 1.8 meaning that it is capable of creating beers very light in color.    Furthermore, this malt is very easy to use and generally gives brewers very good efficiency.   A higher efficiency leads to a higher extract percentage, thus making 2-row a fantastic grain to pull sugars out from.  In terms of flavor, 2-row is clean, simple and slightly sweet.  It has character but is nowhere near “overwhelming”.  In other words this base grain makes the perfect foundation for any sort of ale.  Whether a very subtle, mild flavored beer, or a beer full of flavor, this is the perfect blank canvas.  2-row is also incredibly affordable, especially that which is malted in the U.S.  Generally this grain can be found for $1.50 a pound or even cheaper when purchased in bulk.
Important Stats: Crushed Yield 79%   Proteins: 12.3%  Moisture: 4%   (All statistics are basic averages)

2-row (British) – Lovibond 2.15-2.9
Basic British 2-row is shown above.  I call it basic because, surprise suprise, there are a few different types of British 2-row each with their own unique characteristics.  Before I introduce you to those however, let me first talk about common British 2-row and the major differences between its U.S. equivalent.  There are “3” differences between these two base grains.  First is the lovibond, with British 2-row being slightly darker, or having a little more base color than U.S. 2-row.  Second, British 2-row is a more well-modified grain, leading to this malt producing slightly fuller bodied beers.  The third difference, is the fact that British 2-row is noted for having a slightly “breadier” flavor profile to it.  Again just like the U.S. version, this malt is great for any style of ale, especially any of your British classics such as ESB’s, pale ales etc.  British 2-row such as that malted by Muntons is general a few cents more expensive than U.S. 2-row by the pound.
Important Stats: Crushed Yield: 78%  Protein: 10.1%  Moisture: 4% (All statistics are basic averages)

Golden Promise: Lovibond 2.1-2.8
Golden Promise base malt, is a version of British 2-row.  More specifically this version is derived from springtime barley.  Generally referred to as the Scottish version of Maris Otter (discussed next) This is a classic British base malt most commonly found in pale ales and scottish ales.  Golden Promise has a slightly more distinct flavor profile then the more basic British 2-row and can be described as malty and robust.  Like most 2-row base malts this version can be used in almost any type of ale to create a more distinct and often sweeter flavored beer.  The general usage of Golden Promise, especially at larger breweries has diminished over the years due to the grains propensity to deal with mildew and other diseases.  Because of the cultivation issues, this base grain is more expensive than most and can sometimes be difficult to find.  That being said, it is a truly wonderful base grain and certainly worth locating and using.
Important Stats: Crushed Yield: 81%  Proteins: 9.5%  Moisture: 3.5% (All statistics are basic averages)

Maris Otter: Lovibond 3.5-4.5
The darkest of all of the British 2-row’s, Maris Otter is cultivated from winter barley.  This is another base malt that is great for any English style beer, and my preferred base malt for any winter ales that I make.  Besides having a little bit of a darker color, Maris Otter gives off a heartier, fuller and nuttier flavor than its brothers.  Beers brewed with this base malt often are fuller bodied and contain a heavier more biscuit-like flavor.  Maris Otter is also generally lower in proteins and is also a useful base malt when looking to enhance head and foam formation.  Maris Otter is another specialty British 2-row, like Golden Promise.  However, unlike Golden Promise this malt is much more common and can usually be found for about $1.95 a pound.
Important Statistics:  
Crushed Yield: 82.5%  Proteins: 11.2%  Moisture: 2.8% (All statistics are basic averages)


6-Row: Lovibond 1.8
Similar in color and sweetness to its relative 2-Row, 6-Row malt can be used in a similar fashion.  However, unlike 2-Row this malt has a few significant advantages that make it better for high adjunct brewing.  For styles such as high gravity lagers or high adjunct lagers that use as lot of flaked oats, rice or corn this is the perfect base malt due to its high amount of enzymes and higher amount of huskiness (amount of husks) compared to its cousin.  Furthermore this is a great base malt for American Wheat Beers due to its husk content and high amount of proteins.  Because of the high level of proteins there will be an increase in break and protein haze which is preferred in American Wheat Beers which should appear hazy and unfiltered.  Because of the increased amount of husks and proteins however, it is always recommend that a protein rest is done during the mashing process to properly handle the grain’s proteins.
Important Stats:  Uncrushed Yield: 78%  Proteins: 13.5%  Moisture: 4.5%  (All statistics are basic averages)


Pale Ale Malt:  Lovibond  3.5
Pale Ale Malt, is an often forgot about, yet exceptionally flavorful base malt.  Darker then typical 2-Row malt, this base grain implements a golden color along with a very rich malty flavor containing notes of biscuit and nutiness.  While very unique in flavor, unlike other unique flavored base malts such as vienna and munich this low protein base malt contains enough enzymes to work through the most fickle of specialty grains without requiring the brewer to extend the mash time and cycle.  Try using this malt in beers where you are attempting to create a flavor that is malty, rich and nutty such as an English Brown Ale.
Important Stats:  Crushed Yield:  80%  Proteins:  11.7%  Moisture:  4%  (All statistics are basic averages)


Ashburne Mild Malt:  Lovibond 5.3
This darker base malt (5.3 Lovibond)  can also be used as a specialty grain in certain beers, and provides a toasty flavor with slight maltiness and sweetness.  For those who are familiar with the beer style “mild ales”, this is the perfect base malt for it.  Unlike any of the other base malts, Mild Ale Malt has a high level of dextrin chains in it.  Dextrin sugars are unfermentable thus leaving more residual sweetness in the beer and providing less potential alcohol.  Besides mild ales, this grain’s flavor profile is perfect for barleywines, Belgian Ales and Brown Ales.
Important Stats:  Crushed Yield:  79%  Proteins:  11.7%  Moisture:  3.5%  (All statistics are basic averages)


Vienna Malt:  Lovibond 3.5
Moving away from the ideal base malts for ales, we take a look at vienna malt.  This malt creates a light golden color, and provides maltiness and a light biscuity flavor.  Vienna malt can also be used as a specialty malt, but when used as base malt, it is perfect for several styles of lagers including Vienna Lagers, Oktoberfests and Marzens, and even some hybrid beers such as Altbiers.  Vienna malt can also be used in base malt hybrids that use 2 or more base malt styles in conjunction with one another.
Important Stats:  Crushed Yield:  77.5%  Proteins:  13%  Moisture:  3.8%  (All statistics are basic averages)

Important Note about Vienna: There is another version of Vienna malt called Gold Pils Vienna, this particular version of vienna malt has a similar flavor profile but tends to give off a cleaner taste.  Furthermore the color is a little deeper in the golden hue.  I personally haven’t seen or used this particular malt before, but I have heard it gives a very interesting and fresh spin for any beer considering vienna as a base malt.


Pilsen Malt:  Lovibond 1.2

My favorite base malt for making lagers, Pilsner malt is the lightest of all the base malts in color and also comes in a variety of flavors that are each slightly different.  (Pilsner malt, bohemian pils, floor-malted, belgian etc)  While sweet in flavor, PIlsen malt, more so than any other base malt really allows the specialty grains to be the star.  Thus, Pilsen malt is a great choice for just about any beer style, with its niche being lagers.  The flavor is slightly sweet but very crisp and clean, creating a wort that really does well in cool lagering temperatures.
Important Stats:  Crushed Yield: 80.5%  Proteins:  11.3%  Moisture:  4.5%  (all statistics are basic averages)


Wheat Malt: Lovibond 2.3-2.5

No surprises here, wheat malt is the ideal base malt for any type of wheat beer.  Whether it is a Hefe, a Dunkel, or a Wit (or anything in between) Wheat malt is the primary element in these styles.  While there are a lot of different types of wheat malt, for the case of our base malt discussion we will focus on three specific types, Red, White and unmalted.  Both red and white wheat are malted versions of wheat malt, what most people find surprising is that contrary to the names, red wheat is actually lighter in color than white wheat.  Red wheat is the ideal wheat for Hefeweizens because it has a strong flour-like flavor.  Besides its flour profile this malt is also sweet and creamy making it the perfect starter for a sweet hazy wheat beer.  White wheat is still sweet and creamy but tends to have a bready almost sour dough characteristic instead of a flour-like essence.  White is ideal for wheat beers that are looking for less sweetness but still trying to retain the hazy full-bodied characteristics of a wheat beer.  Besides using these malts as base grains, malted wheat is a fantastic specialty edition to any beer if the brewer is looking to add a little extra body and create a fuller longer lasting head.  When using wheat malt for this purpose the brewer should aim for the wheat content to make up about 5% of the total grist.

Unmalted wheat is different then both red and white wheat in the sense that, you guessed it, it does not go through the malting process.  Unmalted wheat is generally used as part of a larger base malt bill, generally in conjunction with one of its malted counterparts.  Also called raw wheat, this wheat can be used as 40% of the grist in a witbier, or as 30% of the grist in a lambic and will ultimately create a hazy beer with a higher starch profile.

Wheat is a fun unique grain, however when mashing with wheat grain ALWAYS use a percentage of rice hulls.  Wheat malt tends to get very soft and almost mushy which can cause stuck sparges very easily.  By using the rice hulls enough space is created in the grain bed to allow the wort to drain and to prevent any major stuck sparges.
Important Stats:  Crushed Yield:  81%  Proteins: 14.5%  Moisture: 4%  (all statistics are basic averages)


Munich Malt:  Lovibond 10

For the purposes of base malt, I recommend only considering Munich 10 or light munich to be usable.  Using dark munich not only imparts to much color but its diastatic power is to low for quality mashing.  Personally I don’t agree with the concept that you can use 100% Munich 10 in a grain bill.  While people argue the grain has enough enzymes to fully complete a mash when being used as 100% of the bill, I personally believe munich should always be used as part of the base grain bill.  That being said, feel free to experiment, try different things and tell me I am completely wrong.  In terms of flavor, munich malt as a base malt provides a rich, warming sensation.  It has a very full malty flavor and is a very good grain for making a rich lager.  Munich malt is used in a lot of different beer styles both as a base malt and a specialty malt.  It’s flavor is unique and it is fairly dark for a base malt allowing brewers to create some unique beers.
Important Stats:  Crushed Yield:  76%  Proteins:  13%  Moisture:  3.3%  (all statistics are basic averages)

Abbey Malt: Lovibond 16-19

One of my favorite base malts and perhaps the most unique one on this list is the mysterious abbey malt.  This fairly dark base great is the ideal malt for any beer in the Belgian family.  Whether it is a Blonde to a Bruin, a Fest to a Trappist this grain is the perfect base malt.  Generally this base malt should make up no more than 50% of your grain bill and will impart some very unique flavors and characteristics.  Vivid sweetness and a noticeable honey quality are the two most obvious flavors, however in my opinion this particular grain also has a very unique but pleasant dryness to it.  I’ll be honest, this grain is not terribly common amongst home brewers, however, it is an amazing grain and anyone looking to try and create true to style Belgians should consider picking some of this up.
Important Stats:  Crushed Yield:  79%  Proteins:  10%  Moisture:  4%  (all statistics are basic averages)


Rye Malt:  Lovibond  3.7
I am somewhat hesitant to include rye as a legitimate base malt.  That being said because rye beers, whether RPA’s or roggen’s have become more and more popular, I think it is worth mention as a quasi-base grain.  For what it is worth however, I would never use more than 35% in a grain bill and for RPA’s and pale ales I would stick closer to a 15% max.  Furthermore like wheat malt always use rice hulls when doing a mash with rye.  Rye malt is very unique, light in color but bold in flavor.  Most noticeable this malt provides a dry spicy flavor to beer.   Besides its basic flavor profile, rye also aids in beer complexity helping boost the flavor and characteristics of other specialty grains that it is mashed with.  If you plan on using rye in a beer I suggest starting small as this grain can quickly become overpowering.  Have fun with it though as it does create some amazing beers.
Important Stats: Crushed Yield:  63%  Proteins:  10.3%  Moisture:  4%  (all statistics are basic averages)

So there is a fairly complete list of the available base malts for your brewing.  The last thing that I want to talk about in this entry is the concept of Diastatic Power.

Why is diastatic power important?  For the most part home brewers ignore this very important statistic because it appears somewhat intimdating, but the fact of the matter is, especially in all-grain brewing diastatic power is very important to understand.

Ultimately diastatic power refers to the enzymatic quality of the malt.  In other words the power or ability a specific malt has to convert starches into fermentable sugar strains.  The higher the diastatic power the higher the capability a malt has at creating fermentable sugars.  During this enzyme conversion process there are two separate diastese enzymes that go through conversion, “alpha” and “beta” enzymes.  For any brewer who has ever wondered why the premier mashing temp’s were betwen 148-158 degrees it is because it is between those temperatures that the majority of those specific enzymes become active.

Thus, when we are choosing base malts and specialty grains it is important to make sure we have enough diastatic power to create fermentable sugars to eventually become alcohol.  If a brew has weak diastatic power then a very low ABV, starchy beer will be created.

Here is a good chart provided by  that shows a basic rundown of diastatic power in some of the more commonly used malts.

  • American 2 Row Pale Malt: 140 °L
  • American 6 Row Pale Malt: 160 °L
  • British Pale Malts: 40-70 °L
  • Maris Otter Pale Malt: 120 °L
  • Belgian Pale Malt (2 row): 60 °L
  • German Pilsner Malt: 110 °L
  • Munich Malt (10 SRM): 70 °L
  • Munich Malt (20 SRM): 25 °L
  • Vienna Malt: 50 °L
  • Wheat Malt, German: 60-90 °L
  • Wheat, Unmalted (flaked, Torrified): 0 °L
  • Crystal Malt (all): 0 °L
  • Chocolate Malt: 0°L
  • Black Patent Malts: 0 °L

Finally, as is the case with most brewing calculations, diastatic power, measured in Lintner units can be calculated by most brewing software.  However if you are interested in figuring out if you have enough power in your beer on your own, here is an easy and simple way to get an approx. calculation.

First for proper conversion you need at least 30 lintner’s of diastatic power to convert properly.  For our example we will calculate a very simple beer that consists of a grain bill of 7 pounds of U.S. 2-row, 1 pound of crystal 60 and 1/2 pound of wheat malt.

The first step is to make individual calculations for each malt, to do this we take the malt’s diastatic power and multiply it by the total weight of that specific malt.
2-row= 7*140= 980

crystal 60=1*0= 0

Wheat Malt=.5*60= 30

Next we add together the total diastatic power of all the malts and finally divided it by the total grain weight.
980 + 0 + 30 = 1010
1010/8.5 = 118.82 Lintner

Clearly this beer has plenty of diastatic power, and most of it came from the use of the 2-row, showing why it is an excellent base malt for high conversion.  If using 2-Row as your base malt you won’t need to worry about diastatic power, however understanding how it works is an important tool to have in your repertoire especially if you begin using base malts that are lower in diastatic power such as vienna and munich malts.

Until next time…


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