How to Toast Specialty Malts

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Modern specialty malt manufacturers can get a vast array of colors and flavors that are consistent from batch to batch. Toasting malt at home in your oven can yield good results, but it can be pretty inconsistent from batch to batch. You might wonder why you’d want to make your own. My answer is that it’s still fun—and you learn about the toasting process. Even if the toasting schedule isn’t exactly repeatable, there’s still something to be said for starting with a sack of pale malt and being able to make a variety of specialty malts from it.

You need

  • Oven
  • Baking sheet
  • Aluminum foil
  • 2–3 pounds north american or British 2-row malt
  • Paper bag

Making toasted malt

The simplest of specialty malts to make at home is a toasted malt. A lightly toasted pale malt would be in the 20°l range and would be similar to biscuit malt. If you keep heating the grain, you get into the amber malt or special roast–type malts. These give more of a red hue and a distinct bready flavor to a beer. You can even wait until the malt starts to turn a light-brown color and create a brown malt with an almost coffee-like character.

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°f.
  2. Cover your baking sheet with foil and place malt on top. (the foil makes removing the grain from the pan much easier.)
  3. Place the sheet in the oven. Toast for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, for malt in the 20°l range. Toast for 30–40 minutes for malt in the 40–60°l range. For an even darker malt, along the line of an 80°l brown malt, turn the oven up to 400°f and leave the malt in for almost an hour. Stir it occasionally, but stir it very frequently near the end.
  4. Remove the sheet from the oven and let the malt cool.
  5. After the malt is cool, fold the foil into a makeshift funnel and pour the malt into a paper bag. Most people who regularly home-toast recommend letting the malt sit for a few weeks before using it. This curing process allows the grain to release some volatile flavors.
  6. After it rests, spotlight your malt in a beer so you can taste the results! A simple amber ale with a clean base-malt flavor and not too much going on in the hop department works.

Making crystal/caramel malts

Making crystal malt is similar to making toasted malt except that you need to develop the sugars in the grain before toasting it. This is the same technique as mashing, but the grain isn’t crushed first, and you aren’t going to try to rinse the sugars off the grain afterward. Instead, you want the starch inside the grain to convert into sugar. Then you caramelize those sugars by heating them up. In addition to the supplies needed for toasted malts, at left, you’ll also need a large pot to hold 2 pounds of uncrushed pale malt, filtered water, and a thermometer.

  1. In a pot, soak 2 pounds of uncrushed pale malt in room-temperature filtered water (enough to barely cover the grain).
  2. Heat the mixture to 155–160°f and hold it for another hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 250°f. Drain the grain and spread it on a baking sheet as with the toasted malt. The malt needs to be dried before toasting, so put it in the preheated oven for about 2 hours.
  4. When the malt is dry, you could stop and have a light crystal malt around 10°l. Turning up the oven to 350°f and waiting 15–20 minutes will give you a medium crystal in the 40–60°l range, and waiting for 45 minutes will give you a full-flavored dark crystal malt in the 100–120°l range. As with the toasted malts, crystal malts should age in a paper bag to mellow for at least two weeks.

Making roasted malts

Making roasted malts is very tricky without the right equipment. In a malt house, a roaster activates a water spray to chill the grain quickly right before it catches fire. Oh yeah—there’s a lot of smoke involved. You really don’t want to do this in your kitchen! But if you’re in a postapocalyptic scenario and you need to make stout from a sack of pale malt, here’s what you should do.

  1. Preheat your oven to 450°f.
  2. Start out like you’re making toasted malt, stirring the malt often for about an hour.
  3. When the malt starts turning chocolate brown, keep a close eye on it. When you smell the slightest hint of smoke, take the pan from the oven and put it outside. Wrap the grain up in foil and let it cool.
  4. Store it in a paper bag for about two weeks to mellow.

Note: You’ll have to judge by taste how much you want to use in a recipe: 5 percent should give you a smooth porter or brown ale, while 10 percent should give you an almost black stout. Even if the beer comes out great, you’ll appreciate being able to buy roasted malt at your local homebrew shop from now on!

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Reprinted with permission from Home Brew Beyond the Basics by Mike Karnowski and published by Lark, 2014.

Inspiration for edible alchemy.