Many home brewers know of, or have heard of base malts. You’ve probably seen them in recipes but may not really know the major differences about them. There are quite a few different base malts: 2-Row, 6-Row, Pilsen Malt, Pale Malt, Wheat Malt, Maris Otter, just to name the ones that come to the top of my head. Yes, all of them are different.
If you are an all-grain brewer you know that when you use a base malt it will normally be about 5lbs up to 15 lbs. On a small scale, base malts in general have very little differences but when using that much of them these differences get magnified. That’s why we created, The Answer Guide To 5 Base Malts.
I’m generally a laid back brewer, I really go with what works and really eager to learn new stuff. No matter how laid back of a home brewer I am I have this itch to know why I do things when brewing, that allows me to be more flexible with my brews and change them if needed. I don’t need to know the scientific reason but something that I could repeat to other home brewing friends. Knowing the different base malts when doing an all-grain brew is one of those things that I just feel is important to have a basic understanding of. So with out any more hesitation lets dig into the only guide you’ll need to know for base malts.
So what is a base malt? Well a base malt is the key source of getting fermentable sugars in your beer, but it also deals with the main flavor in the beer as well. Normally in all-grain recipes you will see these as 5lbs and more. With the guide below one note I would like to make, Lovibond is the color. With most grains a “L” is put next to the number. An example of that would be for crystal malts: 20L, 40L, 60L, 80L, 120L. But for the base malts we are going to look at:
1) 2-Row 2) 6-Row 3) Pilsen Malt 4) Pale Malt 5) Maris Otter
Flavor: It is clean and sweet with a mild malty finish.
Note: This is a good base malt for most American Beers. It has a higher yield then 6-Row but lower lower protein then 6-Row.
Flavor: Mild, grainy and a bit malty.
Note: More husk then 2-Row, more enzymes then 2 row. This is a great base malt for American beers as well.
3) Pilsen Malt
Flavor: Sweet and clean. This particular base malt is the lightest of the base malts and really allows the specialty grains to come threw.
4) Pale Malt
Flavor: Biscuit/nut like flavors. It is a heavier version of 2-Row. Low in protein. Again its another American base malt.
5) Maris Otter
Flavor: Biscuit/nut like flavor. Very good in producing beers with full body flavoring. This is an English style base malt so it’s really good with English style beers.
What to do with this information:
When looking at the pictures above, you might be thinking, ‘Ya, they look like the same grain…” If you are thinking that I really couldn’t argue with you. While they look like the same grains, the characteristics of these are completely different. Also remeber that the differnce in color between these is on the lines of 2 Lovibond. So your not talking about a difference such as chocolate malt and white wheat, these are really light color differences. The differences in color, taste, aroma are all small, but when using 10 lbs they turn out to be big.
I really enjoy making session beers, most of them are actually european brews. In the times that I make my European brews I like to use Maris Otter because it brings out those malty flavors. I find that Maris Otter is a great one for the session brews because you don’t have to use as much to get an alcohol that fits into that style. Maris Otter also brings out nutty and biscuit flavors that are not found in other types of base malts.
6-Row in my mind is the wild card. A lot of the time home brewers will skip over the notion to use 6-Row as their base malt. If you are using high levels of rice or corn in your recipe, I would recommend using 6-Row as your base malt because it has a higher nitrogen level. Without getting into straight up, “beer geek” talk, it’s important because you will significanlty reduce the buttery taste in your brew (or known as diacetyl flavors). Another great time to use 6-Row is when your using wheat malt. I find that it helps with the sparging a bit because it is huskier then the the 2-Row.
Pils Malt is one that I can tell you that I don’t use a whole lot because in general I don’t make those types of beers a lot. I can tell you though, if you are looking to make a lager this is the brew. It is clean and light so it will add to the crisp flavor of a lager. Also if you are really trying to bring out flavors from the specialty malts, this is a good option for you as well. I have a buddy that this is the malt that he uses all the time even when recipes call for 2 Row. I’ve tasted his beer as well, they taste great. I think that’s what ends up happening though, you brew to what you like and what you want to bring out of the recipe it’s self.
There is much discussion on the internet about the difference between 2-Row and Pale malt. Honestly, I don’t think a lot of people would notice a difference between the two if you wouldn’t point it out. Pale malt is a bit darker in color then 2 row and you’ll also find that it has a maltier flavor to it. It’s getting into the ball park of M.O but it really isn’t there.
Not all base malts are the same. In fact they really hold a lot of different characteristics based towards the type of brew that you might be thinking about making. When in doubt most people will just use 2-Row. While I’ll be the last person to to tell you that there is something wrong with that line of thinking, I just believe that you should know why you are using certain grains and especially base malts in your brew. The only real reason is I believe that it allows you to be a better brewer in the sense that you are more flexible in your recipes as well as more versatile. With that said, is there any type of malt that you prefer to use for all-grain?