Grains and Hops




On 29th July 2017, I conducted a beer masterclass at the third annual Adelaide Beer and BBQ Festival. The session was an interactive event that involved the audience chewing on 24 different grains and smelling noble and new world hops, all whilst I explained what flavours they impart on the beer. I was asked by some of the audience to post my notes and summary on the different grains, so here it is.

Beer in its purist form is made up of water, malt, hops and yeast. Each ingredient is just as important as each other and if it is not respected, the beer will not be great. Water is the base of the beer and depending on the style of beer, the water chemical composition needs to be altered. The yeast as well changes depending on the style and needs to be healthy for it to work cleanly. Hops are used in three different stages in the brewing process, for bittering, flavour and finally aroma. Depending on what style of beer you want to make, depends on what sort of malt you use. A light coloured beer means you will use grains that haven’t been kilned for as long. Whereas, if you wanted to make a darker beer, you would use grains that have been kilned or even roasted for longer.

Let us dive deeper into malts and look at some of the different varieties used in beer. We will start with the lighter coloured grains, through to the toffee malts, finishing at the chocolate and darker grains. The lightest grain we have today is the light lager grain with a colour rating (EBC) 2.7. This grain can be used as a base malt for a pale lager. A base malt is a grain that is used as the majority in a beer, then from there the specialty malts can be added. All these first grains will be quite sweet as the sugar hasn’t been extracted yet. The light lager malt has gone through a very gentle kilning process. The Pilsner grain is another version of a base malt and can be used for lagers and ales. The next base malt is the German Pilsner grain; this grain will add a pale straw like colour to the beer. You probably won’t notice too much different in tastes between the first three grains, each grain would just change the colour slightly. Some examples of beer that would use grains like this are the Hawkers Pilsner and the Vale Lager. By now you should have tasted three different types of grains, light lager, pilsner and German Pilsner.

Still sticking in the base malts, but this time we are going into the ale versions. Ale and American ale can be used up to 100% of the grain bill. The plain ale malt is said to impart some toasty malt characters and is perfect for an English Ale whereas the American Ale does not have these toasty characters and would be perfect for an American style pale or IPA. Again, pretty similar in taste, simple flavours for a base malt. Some examples of beers that will use these malts is nearly every pale ale made, Pirate Life Pale Ale or Big Shed’s Californicator West Coast IPA.

We are taking a quick break from grain, to try some rolled oats. These oats have been rolled into flakes and aren’t much different from the ones you put in your porridge. Oats are used in beer making to add body to the beer. For example, in low alcohol beers, a brewer may use some oats to boost the body so it isn’t too thin. Oats can also be used in stouts for the same reason, to create a nice thick, luscious mouth feel. Oats might be used in Brewboys Ace of Spades Stout. Wheat is our next tester and you will notice that it hasn’t really got much of a taste to it. That is because wheat is generally used to add head retention, body and make a really light coloured beer. It will impart some wheaty malt characters and is used in all wheat beers. Most wheat beers take their flavours from the yeast more than anything.

Sour Grapes has a mild lactic sourness to it and will drop the PH level of the beer to make the beer slightly tart and sour. They encourage lactic growth during the germination process and then wash the malt in a lactic bath. A grain like this will be used in kettle sours or Gose to produce sour flavours. An example of a beer that might use this grain would be Wheaty Brewing Corps Black Lime Gose or Blackberry Kettle Sour Saison.

Back to the base malts and the next one we have is Vienna. This one is quite sweet and will add a golden/orange colour that is slightly darker than the Ale malt. A versatile malt that will impart biscuit malt aromas and is often used in darker lagers. An example of a beer brewed that uses Vienna is Young Henry’s Vienna Lager.

Rye is next and is not one of the most commonly used types of malt. It will add a spicy character to the beer and tends to also add to the IBUs as it is quite bitter. Every beer will have an IBU rating and again depending on the beer, the more or less bitterness rating it will have. Lagers and pale ales tend to have lower IBUs whereas an IPA or an IIPA will be a lot higher. But Rye tends to be used in IPAs mainly. Wheaty Brewing Corps use rye is some of their IPAs, such as their Non-Corps Promise Rye IPA. Local lads Western Ridge, based in the Barossa Valley, have released a Rye IPA.


The next two are a little left field, the Mild Peat Smoked and Manuka Smoked grains. The mild peat grain is actually intended for distillers but it can be also used in Scotch ales such as Brewboys Seeing Double Scotch Ale or Exit Brewing Scotch Ale. The Manuka smoked is smoked at Gladfields with 100% New Zealand grown Manuka wood. Both grains have Earthy flavours and needs to be used in moderation in beer otherwise, the beer will taste like pure bacon. A rauchbier is an amber smoked beer that descends from Germany, that tends to take on a smoked flavour. A beer that uses smoked malts is Barossa Valley’s I can’t Believe it is not Bacon.

Toffee malt is exactly that, toffee. Sweet, sticky and caramel all in one grain. This one has been slowly roasted to create a light coloured malt that imparts honey and toffee flavours onto the beer. You will find this grain gets stuck in between your teeth, just like normal toffee. A grain like this might be used in a beer such as a red IPA, an example of a red IPA would be Mismatch’s Evil Archies Red IPA or Prancing Pony’s Indian Red Ale.

Munich is a very common variety of malt and most malting companies will do a version of it. Great for making continental lagers or robust, full flavoured ales. Bread, grainy and biscuit flavours shine through into the beer. A deep orange colour is imparted and will be used in quite a few IPAs, such as Pirate Life’s IPA.

Crystal malts also known as caramel malts, are used to add colour, flavour and sweetness to beer. There are three types of Crystal in the Gladfield range, each getting darker as we go from light, to medium to dark. Crystal malts can only make up a small portion of the entire grain bill and must be used in conjunction with a base malt. The light crystal will add mild sweet caramel flavours, the medium full sweet caramel flavours and the dark will add a nutty bittersweet caramel flavour.

Redback and Shepherds Delight are two very similar grains; used mainly on red ales to add colour and flavour. The Redback is the lighter of the two and should only make up about 15% of the grain bill, too much and the beer will take on bitter notes. Shepherds Delight is a lot more full on in flavour and will impart potent bready, biscuit, maybe a tad amount of caramel flavours as well as increasing the red colour. Shepherds Delight needs to be blended with other base malts. An example of a beer that might use these sort of grains, is Clare Valley Brewing’s Red Ale.

The first of our darker malt is the Brown grain and straight away you will notice a difference once you munch on this one. Coffee, burnt flavours ensue but these flavours won’t necessarily transfer to the beer. The Brown grain will give dry, biscuit and toasted hazelnut flavours to the beer, while providing a deep amber/light brown colour. Smiling Samoyed may use this sort of grain in their award winning Dark Ale.

Next, we have light chocolate grains. The first time I tasted chocolate grains was at the Greenwich Meantime brewery in London. On the table sat a glass full of delicious looking chocolate grains and I thought to myself, genius putting chocolate in a dark beer. As I crunched down on the grain, my tongue was hit by a bitter charred taste that tasted more like cocoa powder than real chocolate. The light chocolate grain has a little burnt toast taste to it and this will be used to make stouts and porters.

Take both the Roasted barely and roasted wheat. Roasted Barely is unmalted barely that has been roasted so it is darker than the chocolate grains. Chumping down on this grain will give you a nice roastiness, rather than a harsh burnt character. This grain will really change the colour of the beer to jet black and will be used in dry stouts. For example, Clare Valley’s Foreign Extra Stout.

Roasted unmalted Wheat will have similar tastes to the roasted barley and will give off coffee and light chocolate flavours. The wheat aspect will add body and head retention while imparting a nice smooth creaminess.

The last of the grains is Dark Chocolate and again, tastes nothing like chocolate. Deep, rich dark colours come from using this grain. Potentially used to make imperial stouts or rich porters. A beer that may use this grain is Barossa Valley’s Chocolate and Coffee Stout.

That is it for the grains and as you can see, there is a large spectrum of colour from the lighter grains all the way through to the darker grains.

Noble versus New World HOPS

Now that we have the sugar and the sweetness from the grains, we need to balance the beer out by using hops. What are hops and what do they do? Hops are used for three different aspects of a beer, bittering, flavouring and aroma. Some hops have a dual purpose and can cross over where as other hops are designed specifically for one job. To add to the confusion, hops can also be classified as Noble and New World. The Noble hops refer to 4 varieties that were founded in continental Europe many many years ago. Tettnang, spalt, saaz and Hallertau are the four varieties. Most of these hops reign from Germany with the exception of the Saaz hop that comes from Czech Republic. The New World hops have been engineered from other hop varieties to try and create new aromas and flavours. Galaxy and Cascade are classic examples of new world hops. Breweries such as Weinstephen, the oldest brewery in the world, would use Hallertau and Budvar in the Czech Republic would most certainly use Saaz.

Saaz hops are generally used in pale lagers, wheat beers and some pale ales. The hop has low Alpha Acids and generally is used for bittering and flavouring. Saaz gives off earthy, spicy hop flavours without being too strong.

Hallertau is used in similar style beers but tend to be present in German style lagers and pilsners. Similar aromas on this one but more spicy rather than Earthy and again used for bittering and flavouring.

Galaxy is an Australian hop variety that was discovered when experimental hop J78 was merged with male derived Perle hop. Hop Products in Tasmania were the company to discover this new variety and it is an extremely popular, sometimes hard to get, hop. Galaxy can be used as a flavouring hop but is better known for its aroma. Galaxy gives off tropical, pineapple and sometimes mango notes. If you want to know what I am talking about, go grab a Stone and Wood Pacific Ale or Balter XPA.

Cascade originated in America but since has been shipped to Australia and New Zealand. It was developed in 1956 from combining Fuggles with a Russian hop Serebrianker. It is a citrus style hop that is known for its grapefruit and floral aroma. This hop can be used also as a flavouring and aroma and is very common in pale ales and IPAs. When smelling the difference between the Noble and new world hops, you can smell the earthiness of the first and the strong tropical, floral notes of the new world.

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