The Special Malts That Give Beer A Caramel Flavor

Abraham Lincoln himself once famously declared, "I am a firm believer in the people... The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer." Whether you're a homebrewer or a casual sipper, you probably understand what he was getting at here. But, what you might not know is how some of the most popular beers on the market are produced — and why they taste the way they do.

Beer is a combination of water, hops, yeast, and barley (aka malt), per Insider. And according to Renegade Brewing, malt is a type of seed that creates that characteristic starchy quality in beer during fermentation. When you take that first sip of your foamy brew and the sweet, yeasty flavor hits your tongue, that's malt. In the beer-making process, most barley malts are ran through a grain mill to mash the seed pods, says South Austin Brewery, before their trademark flavors are extracted via steeping (similar to coffee or tea).

In the same way that a coffee bean's roast and origin determines the final flavor and mouthfeel of your morning cuppa joe, the malt a beer is brewed with determines the finished product, as well. If you're in the mood to do-the-brew and have a bit of a sweet tooth to boot, keep an eye out for special malts that give beer a caramel flavor.

Sharpen your sweet tooth with crystal and cara malts

If you're a sipper with a taste for the sweeter side of stout, try looking for beers made with crystal or cara malts. Instead of being dried in a kiln, like most malts, crystal and cara malts are stewed and mashed while still in their husks, says Serious Eats. This causes the malts' natural starches to turn into sugars, which caramelize once the malt is transferred to a rotating drum to process. The resulting flavor notes are akin to caramel or toffee.

Crystal malts (aka caramel malts) are a type of specialty grain that add flavor dimensionality to any brew, per Brew Your Own. Due to their uniquely sweet and rich taste, it says, crystal malts are commonly used in pale ales. Cara malts, on the other hand, are slightly sweeter than crystal malts, and lack crystal malts' nutty base flavor, says malt expert Crisp Malts. Cara malts also add a fuller body to a beer's mouthfeel and introduce less color than crystal malt. So, next time you're perusing your local grocery store beer aisle or cracking open a cold one at your favorite neighborhood spot, consider flexing your brew-knowledge and broadening your taste portfolio by adding a sweet malt into the mix.