March 22, 2010

The plight of over using crystal

There is an evil living among us!

It is the cloying overuse of crystal malts. 

Now, I understand that when a new brewer first discovers them they might seem magical and delightful, because that's what I thought back when I started brewing. But friends, beware of this magic because it is a dangerous black magic that must be used with caution!

Crystal malts can be great if used in the right amount. They can add color and a nice backbone (especially for the ever popular IIPA). Being a BJCP judge really helped me to see the dangers of using too much crystal. When you taste so many different types of beers, you begin the notice subtle differences. Would you rather someone say "This is a great beer Dave, but one is all I need" or (with the right amount of crystal malt) "WOW this is a great beer! Can I have 5 more!?!" I guess that depends on how much you like sharing ...

The problem with crystals like 60, 80, and 120 is they are cloying and sweet. They will leave you with a film on your teeth, a full-belly feeling, and not make you want a second...even if it's a very tasty beer. You are much better off using just a little more crystal 40 instead of 80 or 60; you will almost never need to use 120!  

If you need a dark crystal, I have found that Special B will add the color you're looking for and a touch of residual sweetness without the cloying, and end with a wonderful bouquet of dried dark fruits...and will keep everyone begging for more. The "lesser evil" crystal malts would be CaraMunich®, C40, Special B (and kettle carmelization, even though that's not a malt at all). Or, if you are looking for color and not body, Weyermann Carafa® and Debittered black malt are great choices

So don't fall victim to the dark side as so many brewers have. Reach out for a better world with better beer and be watchful of your crystal surroundings!


  1. So Special B gives that dried Dark fruit flavor? I've been trying to figure that out, because I'm not a huge fan of that flavor in my dark beers.

  2. I don't particularly care for Special B because it can indeed impart a raisin-like flavor! I much prefer the chocolate malts and the flavors that come along with them.
    When looking simply for color, I turn to the Carafa malts. Using 1-5% in your grain bill is the ideal. They do amazing things in Schwarzbiers and can also be used in bocks/dopplebocks. In small quantity, they can be used to adjust the color of something mid-range like an amber or an alt.
    Small amounts of black malt can give reddish hues. Other options include pale chocolate (good for milds and porters) or roasted barley (required for dry Irish stouts).

    True, it is possible to overuse crystal malts, but in the defense of crystal malts, Weyermann has some pretty interesting ones. I see folks using Briess Carapils all the time and in everything, but maybe Weyermann's CaraFoam is the answer to adding body and head to a pale brew...
    Try CaraAroma in a porter or bock.
    They've even got a CaraWheat!
    Others from Weyermann include: CaraHell, CaraAmber, CaraRed, and Melanoidin malts. These can be good in amber-dark lagers, Scottish ales, red ales, and bocks.

  3. What other grains cause that Raisin, dark fruit flavor? I think I've heard Belgian Dark candi Sugar does as well, which makes sense because a lot of Belgian dubbels have that flavor.

    I know a little off subject.

  4. Yeah, Nick. Most dubbels have some portion of Special B and Dark Candi (although the dark candi doesn't really impart the dried fruit character, it is just sugar). I am unaware of grains other than Special B and the dark crystals (90-120L) imparting that signature of dried fruitiness.

  5. Simpson's Golden Naked Oats have great, balanced fruit notes. Towards the middle of the spectrum, though.