The Sweet Secrets of Crystal Malts

Crystal malts are a fascinating ingredient that can elevate the flavor and appearance of your favorite brews. These malts undergo a unique roasting process that sets them apart from traditional pale malts. Unlike their pale counterparts, crystal malts are not dried in a kiln but are instead roasted in drums after undergoing a steeping and germination period.

The process of making crystal malts begins with barley grain, which is steeped and germinated just like pale malts. However, the key difference lies in the subsequent stewing process. Crystal malts are heated in a closed system that prevents moisture from escaping. This unique technique gives crystal malts their distinct characteristics.

One important thing to note is that crystal malts do not contain any enzymes. This means that they are primarily used to enhance a 's color, flavor, body, aroma, and head retention. While they can add sweetness and color to both extract and all-grain brews, they are typically used in smaller quantities, making up around 20% of the grain bill.

The sweetness provided by crystal malts can vary depending on the color. Lighter crystal malts tend to be sweeter, while darker varieties may also contribute roastiness or nuttiness to the flavor profile. This versatility allows brewers to experiment with different crystal malts to achieve their desired taste.

In addition to their flavor contributions, crystal malts also play a crucial role in enhancing the appearance of a beer. They add depth and richness to the color, transforming a pale brew into a visually appealing .

When using crystal malts, it's important to keep in mind that they are steepable, meaning they can be added directly to the process without the need for mashing. This makes them a convenient ingredient for both extract and all-grain brewers.

Whether you're a professional brewer or a homebrew enthusiast, crystal malts offer a world of possibilities for experimentation. Their ability to enhance flavor, color, and aroma make them a valuable addition to any brewing process. So why not try incorporating crystal malts into your next batch of beer and see how they can elevate your brewing experience? The possibilities are endless!

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What Are Crystal Malts Used For?

Crystal malts are a type of specialty that brewers use to add color, flavor, body, aroma, and head retention to their beers. These malts are made by kilning malted barley at a specific temperature and moisture level, which caramelizes the sugars and creates unique flavors and colors.

Personally, I have used crystal malts in several of my own homebrewed beers, and I find that they can really enhance the overall character of the beer. The colors can range from light amber to deep red, depending on the type of crystal malt used and the amount added to the grain bill.

In terms of flavor, crystal malts can contribute a range of sweet, caramel, toffee, and sometimes even fruity or nutty notes to the beer. The intensity of these flavors will depend on the darkness of the crystal malt and the amount used in the recipe. For example, a light crystal malt will provide a subtle sweetness, while a darker crystal malt can add a richer, more pronounced caramel flavor.

Crystal malts also contribute to the body and mouthfeel of the beer, giving it a fuller and more rounded texture. This can be especially beneficial in lighter beer styles, where a little extra body can add depth and balance to the overall profile.

When it comes to aroma, crystal malts can lend a gentle sweetness and a hint of toasted or caramelized notes to the beer. This can be particularly appealing in beers like amber ales or brown ales, where a touch of maltiness in the aroma can complement the hop character.

Lastly, crystal malts can contribute to better head retention in a beer, meaning that the foam produced when pouring and drinking the beer will be more robust and long-lasting. This can be desirable in many beer styles, as a good head can enhance the overall drinking experience.

While crystal malts are primarily used to enhance the color, flavor, body, aroma, and head retention of a beer, some brewers may also use lighter crystal malts in larger amounts, up to 20% of the grain bill, to achieve specific characteristics in certain beer styles. For example, a higher amount of crystal malt can be used in a Scottish to create a rich, malty profile.

Crystal malts are a versatile and valuable ingredient in beer brewing. They offer a range of benefits, including color enhancement, flavor enhancement, body and mouthfeel improvement, aroma enhancement, and better head retention. By carefully selecting and using crystal malts in a recipe, brewers can create beers with unique and appealing characteristics.

What Do Crystal Malts Do In Beer?

Crystal malts are a type of specialty malt that are commonly used in brewing to add sweetness and color to beer. They are made by kilning malted barley at a specific temperature and moisture level, which results in the caramelization of sugars and the development of unique flavors and colors.

When it comes to sweetness, crystal malts can range from lightly sweet to intensely sweet, depending on their color. The lighter crystal malts, such as Crystal 10 or Crystal 20, tend to have a more subtle sweetness that adds a touch of complexity to the beer without overpowering other flavors. On the other hand, darker crystal malts like Crystal 60 or Crystal 120 can have a more pronounced sweetness, with hints of toffee or caramel.

In addition to sweetness, crystal malts also contribute to the color of the beer. The longer the malt is kilned, the darker the resulting malt will be. This allows brewers to achieve a wide range of colors, from pale amber to deep ruby or even dark brown. The color contribution from crystal malts can enhance the overall appearance of the beer, making it more visually appealing.

Furthermore, crystal malts can also lend some additional flavors to the beer. The lighter crystal malts tend to have a clean, sweet taste, while the darker ones can have more complex flavors, such as notes of biscuit, roasted nuts, or even a touch of raisin. These flavors can add depth and character to the beer, making it more interesting and enjoyable to drink.

Personally, I have used crystal malts in several of my homebrews, and I have found them to be a fantastic way to enhance the flavor profile of my beers. For example, when brewing an American Amber Ale, I used Crystal 40 to add a subtle sweetness and a beautiful reddish hue to the brew. The result was a well-balanced beer with a touch of caramel and a smooth finish.

To use crystal malts in brewing, they are typically steeped in hot during the mashing or steeping process. This allows the sugars and flavors to be extracted from the malt before being added to the boil. The amount of crystal malt used can vary depending on the desired sweetness and color, and it is often recommended to start with a small amount and adjust to taste.

Crystal malts are a versatile ingredient that can add sweetness, color, and flavor complexity to beer. Whether you're brewing an , a , or a Belgian ale, there is likely a crystal malt that can help you achieve the desired profile. So, next time you're planning a brew, consider incorporating crystal malts to elevate the taste and appearance of your beer. Cheers!


Crystal malts are a valuable ingredient in the brewing process for enhancing the visual appeal, flavor, body, aroma, and head retention of beer. These malts are made from barley grain that undergoes a steeping and germination period, followed by a moist heating procedure instead of drying in a kiln. The roasting process, often done in drums, gives crystal malts their distinct color and flavor characteristics.

Crystal malts do not possess enzymes like pale malts, making them unsuitable for conversion of starches into fermentable sugars. Consequently, they are primarily used to add sweetness and color to both extract and all-grain brews. Some brewers may even incorporate lighter crystal malts in their grain bill up to 20% for certain beer styles.

The sweetness of crystal malts varies depending on their color. Lighter crystal malts tend to impart a strictly sweet taste, while darker crystal malts can contribute additional notes of roastiness or nuttiness along with sweetness.

Crystal malts offer brewers a versatile tool to create a visually appealing and flavorful beer. Whether it's adding a touch of sweetness, enhancing the beer's body, or deepening its color, crystal malts play a crucial role in the art of brewing.

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Thomas Ashford

Thomas Ashford is a highly educated brewer with years of experience in the industry. He has a Bachelor Degree in Chemistry and a Master Degree in Brewing Science. He is also BJCP Certified Beer Judge. Tom has worked hard to become one of the most experienced brewers in the industry. He has experience monitoring brewhouse and cellaring operations, coordinating brewhouse projects, and optimizing brewery operations for maximum efficiency. He is also familiar mixology and an experienced sommelier. Tom is an expert organizer of beer festivals, wine tastings, and brewery tours.