Base malts are important when it comes to understanding the role grains play in the home brewing story and knowing the difference between the traditional types and their uses is invaluable if you’re going for the full-spectrum approach to brewing the best beer you’ve ever tasted.
Whenever you think of a malt that’s traditionally been roasted or ‘kilned’, the chances are you’re looking at a base malt.
The primary goal of enzymes in the brewing process is to turn starch into sugar and often it’s these base malts that will add the majority of both starch and yeast into your home brewing mix.
We’ve covered a list of the most common traditional base malts you’re likely to come across further down in this guide, but generally speaking you’re likely to come across the two most common base malts of the group, namely two-row and six-row.
This might seem confusing (it’s often a point of fear for most novice home brewers), but fear not, these names just refer to the the growing pattern of the varieties of barley that are grown and can be thought of like this:
Two-Row Barley grows with just two opposing rows up the stalk of the plant, whereas Six-Row Barley has three rows which grow on alternating sides as you go up the stalk.
That’s it. Simple.
The reason these are two of the most common base malts traditionally used by both the industry and home brewers alike is that they offer a good mix of light color and enzyme activity.
With that being said, there are of course other traditional base malts out there and it can be useful to know some of the most commonly used names and uses of each type to help you navigate the world of base malts.
Traditional Base Malts
The following are generally considered to be the ‘traditional base malts’. Some of the malts listed below often go by other names, and while they can be combined with specialty malts, all of those in this list can ultimately be used to compose the full compliment of your grain bill.
Two-Row Malt is often known as ‘Base’, ‘Brewers’, or ‘Domestic’ malt and is the most common malt used in the brewing industry.
The flavor of two-row malt is usually neutral and sweet and in terms of color, this kind of base malt is usually found any darker than a pale yellow and will usually feature a high level of enzyme activity.
ALSO KNOWN AS: 2-Row, Base, Domestic, Brewers, 2-Row Pale
Six-Row Malt has a a high enzyme activity level which makes it the go to base malt for use with adjuncts.
In a lot of ways, six-row is almost identical to two-row although it can contain more protein than other bases and may retain more ‘grain’ flavor.
ALSO KNOWN AS: 6-Row, Base, Domestic, American
If you’re looking to add a level of sweet maltiness to your beer, the chances are you’re going to want to include a Mild Malt which is often combined with other base malts.
The lower enzyme activity and higher color of this malt are usually offset by incorporating alongside another base and are the primary reason for mixing.
ALSO KNOWN AS: English Ale, Mild Ale
Munich Malt is available in a ton of different varieties and colors and is known for bringing maltiness to beer.
Popular in many amber lagers, lower colors of Munich Malt are preferable as anything too dark is usually indicative of too few enzymes.
ALSO KNOWN AS: American Munich, Munich 5°L, Munich 10°L
Pale Ale Malt
This is a darker malt and provides a lot more complexity in terms of flavor.
Often viewed as a more sophisticated version of 2-row, this base malt is usually the go-to choice for fuller bodied American beers and English ales.
ALSO KNOWN AS: Special Malt, ESB, Pale, Extra Pale, Best Malt
This is usually the lightest of the base malts available and has long been considered the malt of choice for crafting lagers with a lighter color.
ALSO KNOWN AS: Lager, Pilsner, Pils, Pilsener
If you’re looking to produce a lager that delivers a crisp finish, the complexity of this base malt will help you get there.
This base malt has a slightly toasted and nutty flavor profile.
ALSO KNOWN AS: Vienne, Vienne Malt