Booze 101: All about malts


To bourbon and scotch drinkers, malt is everything. In the beer world, it takes a kindly backseat to hops in San Diego IPAs, but shines front and center in brown ales, stouts and porters.

So what is malt and why is it so important to delicious beer and spirits?

Think of it this way: Pure and simple, malt is the backbone that gives beer depth and body. In fact, it’s common to hear a tasting note go something like, “Floral and citrus hops resting on a caramel malt backbone.”

Here’s the lowdown on malting and popular types of malts.

What is malting?

This refers to a process whereby barley, oats, wheat or rye is soaked in water, which encourages the grain to sprout and begin the germination process. As soon as sprouting begins, the grains are dried. Malted grains are used to make beer, whisky, malt vinegar and even malt for shakes and candy (think Whoppers!).

FYI: The term malt can refer both to the malted grains and the sugar pulled from the grains. Malt extract, made from any malted grain in both liquid and dry forms, is sold at homebrew shops, and can be used to make beer.

Types of malts

Two-row and six-row: The most common species of barley used for brewing.

Base malt: In an all-grain beer, this large grouping makes up the majority of the grist (ground malt and grain), and can include Vienna malt, Pilsner malt and Munich malt.

Malt alert: As a rule of thumb, the lighter malts lend a sweeter profile and the more they are roasted and become darker in color, the more bitterness and roastiness they lend to the beer.

Caramel/Crystal malt: Strongly associated with English-style ales, porters, and stouts, and can also be in ambers, reds, strong ales and bitters. The terms Caramel and Crystal are interchangeable, with some beer folks associating Crystal with Europe and Caramel with the United States. Find in: Ballast Point California Amber (5.5% ABV).

Chocolate malt: Perfect for browns, porters and stouts, chocolate malt gives flavors of roasted coffee, cocoa and bittersweet chocolate. Dark chocolate malt ups the coffee quotient for darker beers. Find in: Modern Times Black House Stout (5.8% ABV).

Black malt: Can be used to add color and roasted flavors to beer, with varying degrees of bitterness and dryness. A variety, Black Patent malt can be found in porters and Imperial stouts. Find in: Karl Strauss Wreck Alley Imperial Stout (9% ABV).

For lots of malty goodness during San Diego Beer Week, check out these must-attend events.

Dark Side Day, A Feature in Porters

Head to Intergalactic Brewing Company on Saturday, Nov. 4 for a number of variations on the popular style, including three twists on the Space Oasis Coconut Porter (including espresso, chai, and macadamia nut) and vanilla and chocolate versions of the Robotic Porter. Casks will also be on hand for the event, 1-8 p.m.

9715 Carroll Center Rd. #107, Miramar, 858.750.0601,

DRK festival

Stone combines the famous Pour it Black and Oakquinox fests into one dark beer explosion with breweries including Avery, Beachwood, Bear Republic, Lost Abbey, Fifty-Fifty, and The Bruery. Tickets to the Sunday, Nov. 5 event are $49 and include 15 tasters and a commemorative glass. Festival runs 8 a.m. to noon. For more information and tickets, visit

1999 Citracado Pkwy., Escondido, 760.294.7899,

Days of Darkness

Pure Project heads up a 2-day dive into the abyss with six variations of their pastry stout on Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 6-7. Kick off the blackness at 2 p.m. on Nov. 6.

9030 Kenamar Dr. #308, Miramar, 858.252.6143,

Speedway Grand Prix

Get revved up for this fifth annual AleSmith event featuring 12 different variations of the brewery’s beloved classic Speedway Stout, a local obsession since 1999. From Wednesday, Nov. 8 through Friday, Nov. 10 the beers will be broken into three laps and a special VIP lap, ranging from $11-$17. For more information and tickets, visit

9990 AleSmith Ct., Miramar, 858.549.9888,

Alesmith's Speedway Stout, one of five San Diego beers that have changed the world.

Alesmith’s Speedway Stout, one of five San Diego beers that have changed the world.

(Howard Lipin / San Diego Union-Tribune)


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