Many of us started out as extract brewers, and as a result, we loved to use caramel malt for everything. Need more body in your beer? Add some Carafoam or light caramel malt. More malt flavor? Just add some medium caramel malt. Want a darker beer? Just add some dark caramel malt to it. Caramel malt fixes everything—right?
You see, as you move toward the darker caramel malts, an interesting thing happens to the flavor of your beer. It begins to take on harsh flavor tones, particularly if the malts are used in any quantity. In fact, many of the very dark caramel malts, such as aromatic malt, can be used only very sparingly without creating harsh, burnt flavors. In fact, if you look at the color range of available malts, you’ll find almost nothing is malted in the range from roughly 130–320 SRM. The reason is that malts in this range taste awful!
In my opinion, caramel malts, and in particular darker caramel malts, are overused and often abused. The trick to creating a darker beer without giving it a dark roast flavor is actually to skip dark caramel entirely and instead use darker roast malts. You can use just a few ounces of black patent malt (less than 100 grams) and add significant color to your beer without altering the flavor. This is, in fact, how Irish Red gets its color.
As an example, adding 2 ounces (57 g) of black patent malt to a medium body 1.056 OG beer can drive the color above 12 SRM and will give a nice reddish hue to the finished beer. Chocolate malt also works well. Since these make up less than 2 percent of the grist, they should not alter the flavor or add harshness to the beer as dark caramel malts would.
For tips on brewing an English Porter that features dark flavors but not aggressive roasted or burnt flavors, see “Make Your Best English Porter”.
From ingredients to equipment, process, and recipes—extract, partial-mash, and all-grain—The Illustrated Guide to Homebrewing is a vital resource for those new to homebrewing or those who simply want to brew better beer. Order your copy today.