By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In the beer world, there are brews that cover nearly every shade of the yellow-to-brown spectrum. This huge array is possible thanks to the careful addition of grains. Grain doesn’t just add color; it also helps shape the flavor of any particular style. Not unlike hops, the grain helps the consumer identify the type of brew they’re enjoying (or choking down).
What’s Out There?
Although there’s a large selection of grains to choose from and an even greater number of combinations to be used, don’t be alarmed. This is the most exciting part about brewing — the experimentation. Not only is there barley in all of its malted, unmalted, caramel and roasted glory; you can also brew with wheat, rye, spelt and some gluten-free grains that have been given the same treatment to add more dynamism to your batches.
With all of this variety, you can also opt to use a roasted malt that’s had its hulls removed. This provides a great deal of color with only a small amount of roasty character and little-to-no bitter/astringent flavor. Some grains like Chocolate Wheat also offer that flavor and color profile, but it can also enhance mouthfeel.
Of course, the grains you select help you determine the style of beer you’ll brew, but they can also be used in crazy ways to create new, interesting concoctions. The only limiting factor is your imagination.
Experimentation is aided by brewing software. You can also guesstimate by researching the malt and knowing how it’s produced. First and foremost, every grain you use has a measured color that will contribute to the Standard Reference Method (SRM) of the finished product. The unit of measure in the U.S. is called Lovibond. The Lovibond of the grain will tell you where it sits on the range of colors: from light yellow to amber to pitch black. There is a different unit of measurement used by European malting companies called European Brewing Convention (EBC). Thankfully, the conversion to Lovibond is easy and most malting companies provide both measurements.
Just as important as color is the flavor the malt contributes. Using too many specialty malts can result in a product that’s overly sweet or tastes burnt. On the SRM scale, anything above 40 is only adding roastiness. Take care to avoid going overboard with roasted barley, otherwise your brew will have an ashtray-like quality. And if you add too many caramel malts, you’ll be stuck with a cloying finished batch. If either of these things happen, the flavors will not fade with time.
The process of creating specialty malts requires more heat and time to allow the sugars to caramelize, eventually begin to toast and then burn. In the caramel malt world, you have flavors that run from a light caramel note to those that taste like dried fruit or burnt sugar. In the roasted malt category, there are characteristics that range from light toast to charcoal. With the wonderful variety of flavor and color combinations available, grains are definitely the paint on the brewer’s palette. When creating your next award-winning homebrew, remember that there is a spectrum of options.
Squealing Pig Wheat Pale [AG]
Squealing Pig Wheat Pale [Extract]
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.