Crystal Malts are known as the ‘Swiss Army Knife of Malts’ due to their incredible versatility. In our Crystal Malt guide, we will explore how to start creating excellent beers, ales, stouts, and IPAs with this malt.
There are many types of Crystal Malts ranging from lighter malts which offer lovely sweet finishes right through, to darker Crystal Malts with a bitter and caramel aroma.
In this Crystal Malt Guide, we will look at each type of Crystal Malt, how to brew and store the malts, and what hops to complement it, so you can begin crafting some unique and flavor-busting homebrews.
What is Crystal Malt?
Crystal malt is a variety of malt known as caramel malt; It is a highly popular and versatile malt used in many different beer types. It is a traditional British color malt that can produce a range of different color beers, ales, stouts, and the EBC of Crystal Malts can go from 10 to 320 EBC.
Crystal malts generally have no enzymes, and they are used to flavor beer and enhance the aroma. They have predominantly been used in Britain since the 1920s (but Crystal Malt can trace its roots back to the late 19th century), although they began to be used for bitters after the Second World War.
Types of Crystal Malt
Like many different malts (such as British malt, brown malt, and white wheat malt), there are different versions of Crystal Malt that you will come across.
Light Crystal Malt
Light Crystal Malt (10 – 30L) has a honey taste, and because of this, they add an element of sweetness to the beer. When added to the brewing process, they don’t produce a darker color; typically, light Crystal Malts give the beer a crisp and golden finish.
Medium Crystal Malt
Medium Crystal Malts (40L-60L) is the most commonly used version popular with many homebrewers. The medium malt is where the caramel flavor begins to appeal, and this version of Crystal Malt will help darken beer while still ensuring the sweet aroma.
Medium Crystal Malts are used in many stouts, bitters, and even pale ales and add substantial body and head retention. Briess Caramel Malt is a good example of this type of Crystal Malt.
Dark Crystal Malts
At 70-90 L, Dark Crystal Malts will definitely bring a deeper shade to the brews they are added to. You will experience a much more intense caramel flavor with dark Crystal Malts, and hints of bitterness will also begin to creep in. The finish often has a reddish shade, and this type of Crystal Malt is used for body and head retention. You will mainly find this type of Crystal Malt in darker stouts.
Very Dark Crystal Malts
Lastly, we have Very Dark Crystal Malts (100-220 L), and you will find nutty, bitter, and roasted flavors. This is a malt that will add significant dark colors to your homebrews and intense caramel aromas.
If you are using any very dark Crystal Malts (such as Simpsons Crystal Extra Dark), you should add the malt sparingly as it can massively overwhelm the taste of your brew and produce a nasty bitter flavor.
How to Brew Beer with Crystal Malts
Crystal malts offer a lot of variety, and they have often been described as the ‘swiss army knife’ of malts, given how versatile they are. So let’s have a look at how you brew with this malt type.
Making Your Own Crystal Malts
Crystal Malts are made from barley grain that has been steeped and germinated. The big difference between Crystal Malts and pale malt varieties is that Crystal Malts are stewed. The stewing part of the process ensures that moisture doesn’t escape and that Crystal Malts have a higher moisture content than many other malt varieties.
The final part of the process is killing. This dries out the malted grain and caramelizes the sugar, which helps to give Crystal Malts their distinct flavor and aroma.
You can grow the barley yourself, although Crystal Malt is widely available to buy. Many online resources will help you grow this homebrewing ingredient, although the most straightforward method is simply purchasing Crystal Malts.
When to add Crystal Malts
The amount of Crystal Malt that you add depends on the type you are putting into your homebrew. For example, very dark Crystal Malt should only be used sparingly as it can ruin the flavor of your beer, ale, or stout by adding a lot of bitterness.
The recipe you are following will tell you how much Crystal Malt to add; however, typically, it is between 5 – 20% for this type of malt, which will add color, aroma, and flavor to your brews.
Storing Crystal Malts
Storing Crystal Malts is simple, and the process shouldn’t be much different than storing any other malt type.
You should keep your Crystal Malt in an airtight container, away from direct sunlight, and in a cool and dry location. Crushed malts should be good for around three months, although they will probably last longer than this. After a more extended period of time, the taste and aroma will begin to be impacted.
Uncrushed malt can be kept in good condition for years as long as they are free from moisture and high temperatures.
Complimentary Malt Varieties
You can use Crystal Malts alongside other malts and hops to create fantastic tasting beers, ales, and stouts.
Base malts such as Pilsner Malt and Vienna Malt are often used in conjunction with Crystal Malt. Wheat Malt is another complimentary malt variety and is often used with a lighter Crystal Malt to create English Pale Ales.
Many homebrewers also use a variety of hops with a small amount of Crystal or Caramel Malts. Citra is a popular choice as its intense citrus aroma with refreshing flavor helps balance out the darker Crystal Malt. You can also use Simcoe Hops, which provides a myriad of flavors, including apricot, pine, citrus, and grapefruit, which also contrasts the dark malt. Lastly, many brewers have found success with Amarillo Hops as it offers a lemony and tropical flavor profile which has worked well in IPAs and beers.
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Crystal Malts – Alternatives
If you can’t get your hands on some Crystal Malts or if you want to use an alternative in your homebrew, there are some different malts that will work well.
Munich Malts can be used to make darker-colored beers and ales, and it is a malt that is widely used for Oktoberfest. The flavor of Munich Malts is a deep, rich, and grainy taste, while you get a slightly roasted aroma from brews made from the malt too. Munich Malts have low diastatic power, so they aren’t usually suited for a base malt but are excellent for adding flavor and aroma to darker beers and ales.
Vienna Malts can be used as a base malt, and this malt also provides great aroma, flavor, and color to beer and ales. Vienna Malt gives off flavors of biscuit with some subtle sweetness. It isn’t as dark as Munich Malt or the darker Crystal Malts, and Vienna is often used in amber or lighter beer.
Golden Promise Malt
If you want to create something different and that is more akin to the lighter Crystal Malts, Golden Promise Malt is a good choice. This is used a lot in classic English Pale Ales, and you will also find Golden Promise in many IPAs, stouts, and lagers. It offers hints of caramel with some sweetness, and it provides a refreshing finish too.
Amber Malt is very versatile and can be used in a wide variety of different homebrews. This malt has a roasted and biscuity flavor to it and is often added to stouts, bitters, and darker lagers. Although its clean finish and crisp dryness often act as an excellent balance to hoppy ales.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What does Crystal Malts Taste Like?
Answer: Crystal Malts have a caramel flavor and provide a rich taste. There are different types of Crystal Malt, and the exact taste ranges from honey and sweetness with Light Crystal Malt to intense caramel and bitterness with Dark Crystal Malt.
Question: Can I grow my own Crystal Malts?
If you want, growing the barley and turning it into malt that can be used in your homebrew is favored by many enthusiasts. The process does take a while; however, it isn’t too complex, and plenty of online resources can help.
Question: Can Crystal Malt be Used as a Base Malt?
Answer: Not really. If you did use it as a base malt, your beer or stout would likely turn out incredibly sweet. Crystal Malts have low diastatic power and aren’t suited to the conversion process. Using a malt such as Vienna would be better suited as a base malt.
Question: What Types of Beer Use Crystal Malts?
Answer: A lot. As there are many different types of Crystal Malt, they are used for different kinds of drinks, including beers, IPAs, ales , and stouts.
Question: How do I Store Crystal Malts?
Answer: Crystal Malt, like any kind of malt (such as black malt, chocolate malt, Belgian crystal malt, and roasted malt, to name a few), should be stored in an airtight container. A freezer bag or a plastic box are both suitable for this purpose.
The malts should also be stored in a cool, dry place and away from direct sunlight. You can store and use Crystal Malt for around three months if it has been crushed.
Question: Where Can You Buy Crystal Malts?
Crystal Malts are widely available, and they are one of the most popular types of malts you can buy. If you want to create darker-styled beers, ales, and stouts, we recommend going with Muntons Crystal Dark Malt , while for lighter brews, opt for Muntons Crystal 60L Malt .
Crystal Malt Guide: Final Thoughts
The different types of Crystal Malts mean that you can create a wide variety of different beers, ales, IPAs, and stouts, depending on what kind of Crystal malt you use.
With Crystal Malts, you can start creating a fantastic style of beer and begin experimenting with one of the most widely used and oldest malts. From the light version with their honey and sweet taste, right through to the darker malts, which start to bring in caramel flavors and a trace of bitterness, Crystal Malts are an incredibly versatile homebrewing ingredient.