MALT VAULT; CARAMEL MALTS
As it’s been some time since we got our overalls dusty, that probably means we’re about due for another trip into the depths of the Malt Vault! Each edition in this series spotlights a very particular grain, and reveals why we covet its use here at BrewDog. Last time out, we looked at roasted and chocolate malts, and in this latest instalment we focus our attention on those potent piledrivers of sweetness – Caramel malts.
Talk of the Tun
This large and welcoming family has been around for some time; their creation being attributed to the change in taste amongst British beer drinkers of the mid to late 19th Century. As the public voted with their palates and the market for pale ales increased (at the expense of porter), brewers needed a grain that could yield body at lower gravities instead of black malt. Enter – Crystal Malt.
As the name suggests, the malting process was adjusted to result in an end product that was glazed and harder, via a method known as ‘stewing’. All malts are dried in kilns to arrest germination, but before they are dried in this way, these particular malts are also heated whilst still moist. The humidity converts starches into sugars inside each individual husk, in a process known as saccharification.
In essence, the malt releases its sugars far, far earlier than intended (in contrast, pale malts retain their sweet goodness right up until the brewer arrives and mashes in with hot water). As the malt is then kilned or roasted, this further heating process caramelises the exposed sugars, and the grains become harder, darker, and sweeter.
So how are Caramel malts best used in combination with other grains in the mash? And just what do they bring to the beer-making party? Here’s Angelos to shed some light:
“Most of their enzymes have been burned off [during the kilning or roasting process], so they cannot convert their remaining starch content into fermentable sugars when mashing. That’s why we always use them with a base malt. In a nutshell if our pale malt (or pilsner or wheat) is the canvas we draw on, then our caramalt is definitely one of the essential colours you throw in. It provides an intense caramel, malty, nutty flavour.”
The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noted so far the use of the words ‘crystal’, ‘caramel’ – and now ‘caramalt’. Whilst the earliest British forms of the malt were referred to as Crystal – due to how the grains looked once the malting process had finished – during the rise of the US homebrewing revolution, the term Caramel malt became popular. Now, they are often used interchangeably.
As with other malts, they are classified due to their colour; with those having been dried for the longest periods of time being darker. Caramalt, for example, is one of the palest members of the family, and yields a light caramel sweetness. At the other end of the scale, Dark Crystal malts give full flavours of dark fruit, raisin, burnt sugar or toffee.
So what brews do we use these malts for, here at BrewDog? Well, they are fundamental in two of the most popular beers we produce, and the variation of Caramel malt therein results in the distinctive flavour of each. Let’s take a look at them, through the eyes of our brewers…
“Punk IPA is a good example of Caramalt co-existing with our house pale malt. Punk IPA contains pale and cara only! It is used to contribute significantly to the mouthfeel and to offer a toasty, malty backbone.”
“The wee splash of Cara in punk gives the beer a soft sweetness to contrast with the fruity hops, and it also gives punk the deeper colour in comparison to Jack [Hammer].”
Five AM Red Ale
“Five AM is a glorious example of Caramalt showing that it can play along with pale, Munich and the biggest crystal malts such as dark crystal malt, and stand its ground. Most of the caramel and toffee flavours in this beer are attributed to the presence of caramalt (and a bit to the Munich)."
“It’s loaded with the stuff, that’s where you get that ballsy smash of tasty caramel. If I was a Caramalt salesman I would just carry a box of Five AM around with me and spray it in people’s faces, the sales would come flooding in; it’s the poster boy for Cara malt. Five AM is also the prettiest beer in the world, I want to paint my house, car and pets Five AM red. Thanks Cara, C150 and Dark Crystal, you’re my malty heroes.“
So it seems that Caramel malts are a fundamental part of modern brewing, as they are a vital component of amber ales and big, full-bodied imperial IPA’s. That little extra work and time investment by the maltster pays off royally when we come to utilise their end product. Do you agree – are Caramel malt-containing beers something that lights up your personal scoreboard? If you homebrew, to what lengths do push their sweetness?