Some like to accentuate the malt in their beer, others prefer dry or bitter flavors instead. Generally, malt is a regular flavor and can be enjoyable, but too much becomes unpleasant. Let’s talk about what might cause your homebrew to taste malty.
The malty flavor in beer may be an intentional part of the style. If the flavor is too strong, however, the issue may be related to the ingredients, mineral content of the brewing water, yeast strain, and fermentation temperatures. In most cases, a malty off-flavor cannot be fixed with age but can easily be controlled in future batches.
Some beers are characterized by a malty flavor profile, while others are meant to be crisp. Understanding factors, which contribute to malty flavor, can help you to decide whether or not to have it in your homebrew.
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What makes beer taste malty?
If you landed on this blog, then you have probably created and tasted your first beer. Instead of that fresh, crisp taste… Your beer is malty? Sweet? How did that happen!
As we know by now, beer is brewed from three simple ingredients: malt (from barley or wheat), hops, yeast, and water. Although this list may seem short, there are plenty of resulting variations in the flavor, from light to dark and chocolatey.
In the early stages of learning to brew at home, it’s likely that your beer does not turn out how you would like. I venture that almost every brewer has encountered this annoying problem at some point.
Here are a few contributing factors to consider, regarding the malty off-flavor of your homebrew:
- The malty flavor may be intended in the recipe.
- The basic ingredients of your beer shape the flavor.
- The yeast plays an important role in the resulting flavor.
- A short fermentation or one with improper temperature control can cause off-flavors.
Are you brewing a malty beer?
Malt is responsible for a large part of your beer’s flavor. It provides aroma, color, and mouthfeel. Barley malt is used for many classic beers, such as Pilsner. It has a high content of enzymes and sugars needed for brewing beer. There is also wheat malt, used for beers such as Hefeweizen or Weissbier.
Both types of grains, then the style of roasting, influence the later taste of your beer. For instance, the darker that malt is roasted, the stronger roasted aromas in your beer. The mouthfeel is also determined by the malt, namely depending on the grain.
Pils, as I just mentioned, is made from barley malt, resulting in a crisp, slightly bitter flavor.
Wheat beers, especially common in Germany and Belgium, tend to have a sweeter, maltier flavor. The wheat malt in Hefeweizen creates a creamy texture. Some people love this combination, while others… Not so much. See any homebrew forum for posts like:
“How do you get that soft mouthfeel?”
“Why do my beers lack a malty character?”
On the flip side…
“Wheat beer with disgusting mouthfeel.”
It could be that your beer is just malty because of the recipe used.
Check your ingredients, including the water
Don’t forget the very basis of your beer: water.
Technically, any kind of water can be used in brewing, but hard, soft, or alkaline water will impact the overall taste differently. The pH value and minerals in different types of water affect flavor development. For instance, water with a high level of chloride contributes to creating a full, sweet malt flavor. While hard water more often results in a balanced beer.
Municipal water sources contain total dissolved solids (TDS), including minerals and salts, which affect the mash pH. Some beers benefit from TDS, such as Bohemian Pilsner, characterized by a rich, malty flavor and bitter undertone.
Yeast attenuation contributes to off-flavor
The yeast in your beer is responsible for a successful fermentation process. The type of yeast that you use in your homebrew can have a dramatic effect on the resulting beer. The wrong choice can result in a beer tasting malty or sweet.
Malty flavors often indicate higher levels of unfermented sugars, particularly maltose, maltotriose, and maltotetraose.
…In English, please.
They are brown, flavored constituents found in malt products. The science behind it gets a little complicated. For the scientists here, check out the explanation on Wiki.
Suffice to say that this reaction is responsible for the brown color and malty or toasty flavors in your homebrew.
By-products of fermentation affect your homebrew
So, you checked the recipe and the water. It seems that the issue lies elsewhere. It may be the fermentation.
Fermentation and maturation time can significantly change the flavor of your beer. This is why young – or “green” – beer tastes differently after it has matured sufficiently.
No, not the green-colored beer on St. Patrick’s Day.
Green beer results after the primary fermentation process, before the period of conditioning. That is, the beer has not yet matured in terms of taste. During fermentation, in simple terms, yeast converts sugar into ethanol alcohol. The full taste profile unfolds during storage, also called maturation or secondary fermentation. It can also take place in a storage tank.
All substances that have not yet fermented are converted during this time, namely unwanted by-products of the first fermentation, such as acetaldehyde and diacetyl. Green beer sometimes has a slight aroma of apples – hence the name – due to elevated levels of acetaldehyde. For this reason, green beer is commonly stored from 4 to 6 weeks before it is ready to be served.
How to prevent homebrew from tasting malty
Now that we’ve covered our bases on why homebrew beer could taste malty and why it might have even been on purpose, let’s check out how to prevent issues that could cause an unintended malty off-flavor.
Filtered water as an easy solution
As we discussed at the start, each of the ingredients in your beer play a role in the final flavor. Even the water. In fact, there’s an entire science to it!
For us homebrewers, let’s keep it simple, for now. Use filtered water.
Adding calcium to your water increases its hardness and lowers the mash pH, which results in a stable, well-rounded beer.
Malty flavor may decrease with maturation
In traditional brewing, fermentation and maturation are separate steps, although they overlap significantly. Take this quote for, example:
“Vicinal diketones (VDKs, such as buttery-tasting diacetyl and honey-like pentanedione), hydrogen sulfide (rotten eggs), and acetaldehyde (green apples) are primarily responsible for undesirable flavors at the end of primary fermentation.”Oxford Companion to Beer
The process of maturation is somewhat different between home and commercial breweries. At home, some fill bottles after the primary fermentation and re-activate the yeast in the bottle. The beer should remain at an optimal, cool temperature, i.e. basement temperature, so that the yeast remains active. (A note on temperature later on.) Others carbonize in kegs and do not need a secondary fermentation in the bottles.
Many commercial breweries ferment and mature beer in cylindro-conical vessels, known as Unitanks. These tanks have chilling jackets, so the beer does not need to be transferred to a cellar. The bottom of the tank is cone-shaped, allowing easy removal of the yeast.
Storage in cold temperatures slows down the aging process of beer. However, longer storage can also dissipate certain flavor aspects, such as banana- or sweet-malt, like in Hefeweizen. Some issues, such as high alcohol content or acidic flavor cannot be mitigated during maturation.
Choose a yeast with higher attenuation
If your homebrew tastes too sweet and malty, it means that not enough sugar was converted. The two are often associated, but not mutually exclusive. (Brown ales, for instance, can be both malty and dry.)
You may choose to add less sugar. You can limit the Maillard reaction by controlling the pH of your wort, boiling, and fermenting temperature. Or…
For that sweet-malty flavor, yeast with higher attenuation will do the trick. Attenuation is the level to which yeast ferments the sugar in the wort. Higher attenuation means that the yeast converts more sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, leaving a dryer beer.
There are plenty of options on the market for any taste. Northern Brewer offers this directory of brewing yeasts with characteristics, recommended styles, and reviews.
Take care to pitch fresh yeast
If the yeast does not work, it may have spoiled. Be sure to check the expiration date, as yeast cultures expire when stored for too long. Alternatively, you may be fermenting at the wrong temperature. Yeast is a living organism and requires a comfortable environment. If the wort is too cold, the yeast may go dormant, if too hot, the yeast may die.
Keep an eye on the temperature
The temperature at which to ferment depends on the type of beer. For instance, ale yeast prefers temperatures between 60 and 78 °F. Lager yeast performs well at temperatures between 48 and 58 °F. Maintaining the right temperature is a sure step to creating enjoyable beer.
Excessive sweet, malty flavor in beer is often caused by “stressed” yeast, which creates too much isoamyl acetate. If you taste this off-flavor, a common remedy is to age your beer for longer. To avoid this issue, be sure to pitch the right amount of healthy yeast and maintain the proper temperature. You may want to aerate the wort thoroughly before the primary fermentation.
Final thought on malty off-flavor
In general, flavor preferences are personal. You may enjoy a beer that your neighbor finds unpalatable. (Just think back to the forum topics in the section on malt.) If you are just starting to brew at home, choose beers that you already know. This way, you will be better able to determine “off” flavors.
As I have emphasized in previous posts, brewing beer is a process that improves with more iterations. That is, it pays to experiment with ingredients and processes.
Although I encourage experimentation, try to follow several recipes closely to understand the foundations of brewing good beer. Learning to avoid off-flavors, like excessive malt, takes some time and control. Once you learn the ropes, you can start to add your variations.