Malty Beer – What Does It Taste Like? (Plus the Best Ones To Try!)

Many homebrewers are fond of hoppy-tasting ales. But what about a good malty one? What does it taste like?

Malty beer is earthy and complex. Several flavors can be noted depending on the beer and the characteristics of the grains used. They can be sweet with caramel, chocolate, or coffee notes, or they can be nutty, fruity, bready. Dark and brown ales, lagers, porters, and stouts are more malt-forward than lighter, hoppy beers such as Pilsners and IPAs.

Read on to find out more about how malty beer tastes, and the ten best ones to try. 

What does it mean if a beer is malty?

A malty beer tends to have the most prominent taste from the malts used in its brewing. 

Malty beers are darker in color and sweeter than those made with lighter malts. Malty beers usually have a more subdued hop flavor to balance out the sweetness from the malt. As a result, malty beers taste sweeter, heavier, and more complex than hoppy beers.

Malted barley is the most commonly used grain to brew beer, but others include rye, wheat, oats, and sorghum. Malting is the process of soaking and draining the grain to induce controlled germination of the seeds. 

Germination activates enzymes that break down starches in the grain to convert them to sugars. The germinated grain is then put through the kilning process (dried) to remove most of the water and stop the germination process. 

Malts can be categorized into several types. The amount of heat used during the kilning process for each type plays a role in the color of the malt and its flavor. The lightest malts are referred to as base malts. Following those are crystal/caramel malts, toasted malts, and roasted malts. 

The types of malts used in a beer have a big impact on the final color and flavor. The darker the malts used in the beer, the darker the color and the maltier the flavor of the beer.

What do malty beers taste like?

If you’ve stuck to mass-produced Pilsners and trendy IPAs, you may think all beers are hoppy or, less complimentary, reminiscent of Pine-Sol. Malty beers, on the other hand, tend to be perfect for cooler months as they are usually stronger and heavier.

Malty beers can be broken down into several commonly noted characteristics:

  • Caramel
  • Toffee
  • Coffee
  • Fruits (like raisins, figs, bananas, prunes, and cherries
  • Bread or biscuit-like 
  • Chocolate
  • Toast
  • Burnt coffee
  • Smoke

Are malty beers sweet? 

The process of malting the grain is used to produce the fermentable sugars that yeast will feed on during fermentation. So, all malty beers have some sweetness to them. 

Some, however, are sweeter than others. For example, beers made with crystal malt have a strong, sweet caramel flavor. Others like brown ales, stouts, and porters made with chocolate malt have low sweetness with more coffee-like flavors. 

Which beer styles are the maltiest?

The maltiest beer styles are made with the darker malts, and have more earthy, complex flavors than their hoppier counterparts.

The maltiest beer styles are:

  • Brown Ales 
    • American
    • Belgian Dark
    • English, 
    • English Dark – Mild
  • Dark Ales
    • Dubbel
    • Rye Beer
    • Scottish Ale
  • Strong Ales
    • Barleywine, American, and English
    • Belgian Quadrupel
    • Belgian Tripel
    • Belgian Dark Ale
    • Belgian Pale Ale
    • American Strong Ale
    • English Strong Ale
    • Red Ale – Imperial
    • Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy
    • Wheat Beer
  • Dark Lagers
    • American Amber/Red
    • Marzen/Oktoberfest
    • Dunkel
    • Rauchbier
    • Schwarzbier
    • Vienna
  • Bocks 
    • Traditional Bock
    • Doppelbock
    • Eisbock
    • Maibock
    • Weizenbock
  • Porters 
    • American 
    • Imperial
    • Baltic
    • English
    • Robust
    • Smoked
  • Stouts 
    • Sweet/Milk
    • American
    • American Imperial
    • English-Style
    •  Oatmeal
    • Irish Dry)

Malty vs hoppy

Malt is a key ingredient in beer because it provides the fermentable sugars that eventually become alcohol and carbonation. Hops are also crucial to beer because their bitterness balances out the malt flavor. 

Some styles of beer are either malt forward or hop-forward based on their flavor profiles. 

Malt-forward beers, such as brown ales or porters, have a stronger malt profile and the hops are less pronounced. Hop forward beers, such as Pilsners and IPAs, have a more pronounced hoppy flavor, and the underlying sweetness of the malt balances out the bitterness. 

Some common traits of malt-forward beers are:

  • Bread or biscuit-like
  • Coffee, toffee, caramel
  • Chocolatey, nutty 
  • Smokey

Hop forward beers also have a variety of aromas and flavors. They can be:

  • Spicy
  • Floral
  • Citrusy
  • Piney
  • Tropical
  • Woody or earthy

The best malty beers to try in 2021

If you want to dip your toes into some malty goodness but you’re not sure where to start?

Here are 10 great malty beers to try in 2021:

  • Samual Adams – Boston Lager
  • 3 Floyds Brewing – Robert the Bruce
  • Cigar City – Maduro Brown Ale
  • Ayinger – Bavarian Dark Lager
  • Deschutes – Black Butte Porter
  • Jack’s Abby – Smoke & Dagger
  • Samuel Smith – Oatmeal Stout
  • Van Steengerge – Gulden Draak
  • Doppelbock – Salvator
  • Founders – Dirty Bastard

Samuel Adams Boston Lager 

Brand: Samuel Adams Boston Brewing 
Style: Vienna Amber Lager
From: Boston, Massachusetts
ABV: 5% 

This popular lager is made with two-row barley and German Noble hops. It has slightly sweet, roasted with notes of caramel and honey, and a smooth, dry finish with a pleasant citrusy bitterness.

Find it at TotalWine.com and many liquor stores, bars, and restaurants. 

Robert the Bruce

Brand: 3 Floyds Brewing
Style: Scottish Ale
From: Munster, Indiana
ABV: 7.5%

This deep ruby ale is full-bodied roasted, with nutty flavors, hints of caramel, and biscuit-like notes with a balanced bitterness at the end.

Currently, 3 Floyds beers are available in 18 states across New England, the Midwest, and the East Coast. Head to the website and enter your zip code to check availability in your area. 

Maduro Brown Ale

Brand: Cigar City Brewing
Style: American Brown Ale
From: Tampa, Florida
ABV: 5.5%

This is a deep brown ale. It is full-bodied and silky with semi-sweet chocolate and espresso notes, rounded out with toffee and a light woody hop presence on the finish.

This is one of my personal favorites!!

This beer is available at TotalWine.com or upscale liquor stores with a large craft beer selection.

Ayinger Bavarian Dark Lager

Brand: Ayinger Private Brewery 
Style: Dunkel
From: Munich, Germany
ABV: 5.0%

This beer has a lightly sweet, bready character, with nutty, toasty, chocolate notes with a moderate hoppy bitterness at the finish. It looks great in a glass and is a deep brown amber.

You can find this beer at TotalWine.com or most liquor stores, bars, and restaurants with a good German beer selection.

Black Butte Porter

Brand: Deschutes Brewery
Style: American Porter
From: Oregon
ABV: 5.5%

This dark, nearly black porter has flavors of dark fruit, molasses, and dark chocolate with just a hint of coffee and a slightly bitter finish. 

This porter is available at TotalWine.com or upscale liquor stores, and Whole Foods stores. 

Smoke & Dagger

Brand: Jack’s Abby
Style: Schwarzbier
From: Massachusetts
ABV: 5.8%

This beer has a rich, smokey malt taste with hints of bitter chocolate and smoked tobacco, and subtle earthy hops. The deep opaque brown beer gives you a hint of sweetness at the start with a well-balanced finish.

Find this beer at TotalWine.com or an upscale liquor store with a large craft beer selection.

Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout

Brand: Samuel Smith
Style: Oatmeal Stout
From: England
ABV: 5.0% 

Brewed with well water, this deep mahogany stout is sweet and complex with toffee, caramel, dark chocolate, and oats.

This beer is available at TotalWine.com or most upscale liquor stores, bars, and restaurants with large import selections.

Gulden Draak

Brand: Brouwerji Van Steenberge
Style: Belgian Tripel Dark Ale
From: Belgium
ABV: 10.5%

Brewed with caramel malt and refermented with Bordeaux wine yeast, this ale is a deep mahogany color. It has flavors of dark fruits (prunes, figs, raisins) with notes of cherry, brown sugar, and clove. Sweet plum finish with almost no bitterness.

Find this ale at TotalWine.com or an upscale liquor store with a good imported beer selection.

Salvator 

Brand: Paulaner
Style: Doppelbock
From: Munich, Germany
ABV: 7.9%

This beer has been brewed using the same recipe and unfiltered bottom-fermented process for more than 375 years. It has a smooth chocolatey and dark caramel flavor with a fruity maltiness that is slightly sweet upfront.

You can find this beer at TotalWine.com or an upscale liquor store with a good imported beer selection.

Dirty Bastard 

Brand: Founders Brewery
Style: Scottish Wee Ale
From: Grand Rapids, Michigan
ABV: 8.5%

Brewed with seven varieties of imported malts, this ale is full-bodied and complex with hints of smoke and peat, paired with a malty richness and a pop of hops at the finish.

It is available at TotalWine.com or you can search the Founders Brewing Co. website to find bars, restaurants, and liquor stores in your area.