Crystal Malts Explained

Crystal malt is a type of malted barley traditionally used in the brewing of beer. It undergoes a special malting and kilning process that results in a partially caramelised or “crystalised” character. The name “crystal” comes from the presence sugar crystal in the malt kernels after the process.

Close up of crystal malt showing crystalline structures in kernels.

the production process

Malting / steeping

The process begins with malting, where barley grains are soaked in water to initiate germination. During germination, enzymes within the barley start converting starches into fermentable sugars. This stage is crucial for the subsequent caramelisation process.

germination

After soaking, the barley is allowed to germinate for a period of up to six days. This activates enzymes like amylase, which break down the starches in the barley into simpler sugars.

roasting and CARAMELISATION

For crystal malt, the roasting process is unique. Unlike roasted malts which after germination are dried, to create crystal malt, the green malt (germinated barley) is roasted while containing a significant level of residual moisture left over from germination.  

 

The temperature is increased in phases, with phase one often referred to as the stewing phase. This takes place at low temperatures of 65-70°C, and essentially causes the residual moisture to ‘stew’ the interior of the grain until it is liquified, producing large amounts of reducing sugars. 

 

Once the stewing phase is completed the malt is dried at a temperature of around 100°C leaving behind crystal-like sugars. Once dried the malt is exposed to higher temperatures of 120-160°C to develop crystal malts’ sweetness, colour, and flavour. 

colour grading

Crystal malts are often categorised based on their Lovibond colour rating, which indicates the degree of colour imparted to beer. The Lovibond scale ranges from pale yellows and golds to darker browns and even black. Different crystal malts, such as Crystal 20, Crystal 40, or Crystal 120, represent different levels of caramelisation and contribute varying degrees of sweetness, colour, and flavour. 

Different Types of Crystal Malts

Light Crystal Malts (10-20 Lovibond)

Kilning is stopped relatively early in the process, preserving lighter colours and imparting subtle caramel sweetness. Examples include Crystal 10, Crystal 20.

Medium Crystal Malts (40-60 Lovibond)

Kilning is extended, leading to a deeper colour and richer caramel flavours. Examples include Crystal 40, Crystal 60.

Dark Crystal Malts (80-120 Lovibond)

Kilning is continued even further, resulting in darker colours and more pronounced toffee and caramel characteristics. Examples include Crystal 80, Crystal 120.

Special B Malt

This specific dark crystal malt undergoes a unique kilning process, contributing raisin and dark fruit flavours. It’s commonly used in Belgian-style ales.

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