The Kilned Malt Group
As I explained in my previous article on malting and malt groups, kilned malts are produced using the same basic malting process as base barley malts. They are then toasted at different temperatures and durations to achieve various colors. This group includes Munich malts, amber malt, biscuit malt, aromatic malt, melanoidin malt, honey malt, and brown malt. Generally, these malts need to be mashed for conversion and are not typically used in extract brewing.
You can also create your own kilned malts by purchasing pale or pilsner malt and toasting it in the oven at a low temperature. By adjusting the time and temperature, you can create a malt that closely resembles any of the kilned malts. This method is similar to how maltsters kiln their malt after the basic malting and drying process.
The Flavors and Aromas of Kilned Malts
Because many brewers initially start with extract brewing, they are more familiar with the Caramel/Crystal malt group rather than the kilned malt group. Caramel/Crystal malts can be steeped for extract brewing, while kilned malts require mashing. As a result, kilned malts are generally less familiar to beginner and intermediate brewers.
Kilned malts at the lighter end of the color spectrum, such as Munich and Light Munich, have a malty, slightly caramel finish with a hint of cookie-like flavor. As we move towards amber malt, the flavor becomes more biscuit-like with toasty notes and even light chocolate flavors. However, unlike mid-range caramel/crystal malts, the middle kilned malts lack the caramel and fruity notes. Honey malt does not taste like honey, but it does have some of the caramel character and flavor found in Munich malt.
Medium colored kilned malts like melanoidin begin to develop more cookie/cake-like maltiness with less toasty flavor. They may have a touch of caramel flavor, but still lack the fruity/raisin notes present in mid-range caramel/crystal malts.
As we reach the darkest kilned malt, brown malt, we enter a more intense range. Therefore, brown malt should be used sparingly. Brown malt, widely used in historical Porters, offers a deep, toasty mocha flavor with hints of chocolate. If overused, it can contribute a campfire or burnt toast character.
When to Choose Kilned Malts Instead of Caramel/Crystal Malts
Many brewers struggle with deciding when to use Caramel/Crystal malts versus similar color kilned malts. Caramel/Crystal malts are made using a different process where the malt is essentially mashed within the grain while it is still moist (after sprouting). This results in sugar conversion inside the grain husk. The Caramel/Crystal malt is then dried and kilned at various times and temperatures to create malts of different colors.
This process generates more sweetness from the malt itself and produces the fruity flavors commonly associated with English beers, such as raisins, figs, plums, and prunes. The main contrast with kilned malts is the absence of fruity flavors.
For example, if you are brewing a traditional English ale, brown ale, porter, or stout, a generous amount of crystal malt is appropriate to capture the fruity flavors inherent in these styles. However, if you are brewing a continental lager, certain Belgian beers, or German wheat beer, Crystal malt would not be the right choice. Raisins, prunes, figs, and plums do not align with the flavor profiles of these styles, making kilned malts a more suitable option.
Many German lagers incorporate a high percentage of Munich malt. This provides a solid malty foundation, a beautiful color, and a hint of caramel without the fruity notes. When brewing a darker beer like a Bock, it is advisable to lean towards using dark Munich or one of the medium kilned malts instead of caramel malt.
However, these style guidelines are not set in stone. For instance, I often use brown malt in my English Porters, but I typically include at least one dark Crystal malt as well to enhance the roasted plum character specific to those styles. This approach forms part of my strategy to create flavor depth by utilizing malts from different malt groups.