Thursday, March 17, 2011

British Malts, Part I

I thought it would be 'fun' to take a break from my usual beer reviews and recipes to write about a facet of brewing that is typically ignored or gets little attention from most American homebrewers; the use of British malts. Now, I know this is not going to be everyone's idea of a fun time - most people don't give a damn about the subtle differences between barley varieties and couldn't care less about the various shades of biscuit flavor - but I think it is important to have at least some familiarity with British malts if you intend to use them. 

Now I must say that I am no expert on the subject of malts and hold no degrees in malt science, nor have I ever worked at a malting company. However, I have spent a lot of time and money brewing with many different British malts, testing and trying them over and over again to find the best combinations thereof. Also, I am not trying to recreate truly authentic, historical British beer. I only aim to produce something that is traditional in the use of ingredients and balance of flavors. Lastly, I won't bore you with a rehash of what malt is and the differences between two-and-six row and all that nonsense. If you would like to know more about the history of malting and the role it played in the development of our modern styles, there are books out there that can describe it much better than I.

With that said, lets get started!

Base malts. There are a lot of choices out there these days when it comes to choosing the grain that you'll use the most of in your beer, each with its own unique characteristics. Here are some of the ones I've used and my thoughts on them.

TF&Sons, Maris Otter: I've been using this malt for a few years now and personally like it the best of all the traditional Maris Otter varieties. This malt has a lot of the bready, biscuit character that Maris Otter is famous for, though the Thomas Fawcett seems be a bit more toasty than the others. This malt is traditionally floor malted. I like using this one in my bitters and those beers that I want a lot of clean biscuit aroma and flavor. I typically won't use a lot of dark crystal and roasted malts with this one.

Crisp, Maris Otter: Another excellent malt, with much of the same biscuity flavors as the Thomas Fawcett, though maybe a tad less agressive. This one is also floor malted. Very similar to the TF and pretty much interchangeable.

Bairds, Maris Otter: This is the workhorse grain of my homebrewery. This malt tends to have a bit more protein and extract potential than the other Maris Otters, though is not floor malted. I really like this malt for its slightly grainy, biscuity flavor and it does really well in light and dark colored beers. Cheaper than TF and Crisp malt and just a tad less complex. I use this one in just about any British style ale.

Golden Promise, TF, and Bairds
TF& Sons, Golden Promise: From the lands of Scotland comes this wonderful pale ale malt made of spring barley. I think much of its popularity stems from its use in Timothy Taylor's Landlord ale, though it makes a pretty good beer. Not nearly as biscuity as Maris Otter, I found this one to be very sweet and clean tasting and it makes a much less bready tasting beer. I bought a sack of this a while ago and have been really enjoying it in simple recipes with an emphasis on late hopping. Supposedly used in distilling and lager brewing too.

Halcyon Malt: Supposedly one of the "last remaining traditional English pale malts", though some sources claim it is a cross between Maris Otter and Sargent barley varieties (?). I have only used this malt once and was not terribly impressed with it. The literature on this one says it produces a clean, bright wort with a slight biscuit character and is less sweet than MO. I used it in an ordinary bitter and got a pretty bland, cloudy tasting beer. Could have been bad grain or my process. Anyone use it regularly?

TF& Sons, Optic Malt: Another supposed 'heirloom' malt. Lighter in color than MO, this one is a pretty standard pale ale malt with aromatic properties. I have used it a few times now, though I really didn't notice much of any difference than it is a very 'plump' and easy to crush grain. I don't see any need to buy this over any other English pale malt.

Muntons, Pearl Malt: I've used this one some, bought a half sack thinking this stuff would be the cats meow. Sadly, I wasn't too happy with it - still got about 15lbs sitting around. Another pale ale malt, this one is a bit lighter in color than MO and lacks some of that intense biscuit-toasty quality. Apparently is popular with IPA brewers as it makes for a very sweet, mildly bready wort. Again, didn't find this malt any better than MO I already use. More flavorful than Golden Promise.

Mild Ale Malt: I see this malt listed a lot in historical recipes and a while back I picked up 10lbs of it for testing, though I don't remember the malting company it came from. Apparently historical versions of this were made from the Triumph barley variety. So far I've brewed two milds with it and have really enjoyed the results, though it has a more toasty flavor than biscuit; reminds me of a vienna or light munich malt.

Well that will do it for base malts, part deux will be more interesting and scientific, as I'll be covering non-roasted specialty grains and even a bit on home toasting malt. If anyone has any more information to add, please leave a comment.


  1. Did a grain tasting lat night that included Halycon and Mild Ale Malt. But both the Halcyon (very earthy and minerally) and the Mild Ale (OK, but kind of booring) were uninspiring. The Mild ale seemed to be the Britsh Malt most like the American 2-row - light, low on character, grassy even, but with a touch of British malt character by comparison.

    There was no MO or GP around for direct comparison, but I'm sticking to MO and/or GP. I will say that the "British 2-row" (Crisp) was the most enjoyable and intense base malt I tried, and seems like a good sub all around when MO or GP are not available. That malt was even more toasty than Fawcett MO if I recall correctly, though with slightly less of that upfront sweetness.

  2. Hey Will,

    Did you ever do a part 2 of this? I've found this page very useful.

    Been brewing lately?


    1. Never did get around to writing that part 2. Probably should do that.

      I have been brewing a lot lately though; have a bitter in fermentor for the first time in months!


  3. Hey Will, have you tried the Muntons Maris Otter? I've used it and it's got a strong nutty toasty flavour to it, almost like ground nut skin or shell. It's very pronounced compared to Simpson's MO.

    Trying to get my hands on TF or Warminster


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