Making Crystal Malt at Home

What is Crystal Malt?

dry maltCrystal/caramel malt is used to add color, body and sweetness to beer. Commercially-produced crystal malts are sold at specific color levels ranging from 10 Lovibond to over 150 Lovibond. Common levels are 10, 40, 75, 80, 120 and 130 (also known as Special B).

I took my first shot at making crystal malt at home recently. The result came out pretty well, thought I was a bit heavy-handed with it in the beer I made. The flavor was much subtler and sweeter than any of the commercial crystal malts I’ve tried so far. It could be due to its freshness, as I brewed with it six days after making it.

Commercial producers start with green malt, immediately after it is germinated to produce base malt. The temperature is raised to mashing temperature to allow the starches to convert to sugar, then the temperature is raised again to roasting temperature to allow the sugars to caramelize within the grain husks.

Once the desired roasting/color level is reached, the grain is removed from the roaster and cooled.

Rehydrate the GrainGrain covered with water

Since I did not have green malt available, I started with pale ale malt. I measured out three pounds of grain, placed it in a bowl and added enough cool water to cover the malt.

I pressed plastic wrap against the surface of the grain to prevent the top from drying, then allowed the malt to rest for six hours to rehydrate. About three hours in, I noticed the water level had dropped so I added water so it was level with the top of the grain again.

Mashing / Converting

Almost ready to go in the ovenWhat makes beer sweet is the process of mashing. This allows the enzyme within the grain to convert all of the starch into sugar. This happens in nature to provide sugar to the growing plant until photosynthesis can begin. Brewers take advantage of this to produce the sugars in beer to feed the yeast, which results in alcohol and carbon dioxide.

The base malt filled a 9×13 pan. After covering the pan with aluminum foil, I inserted a temperature probe to monitor the temperature at the center of the mass of grain.

monitoring the temperature of the grainI set our oven to 170 degrees Fahrenheit using the convection setting to allow a more even temperature distribution. Once the grain rises to 145 degrees, I set a timer for one hour and monitor the temperature. When it reaches 155 F, I turn off the oven and allow the temperature to coast to 160 F.

Dry the Malt

Grain in the dehydratorIn order to roast the malt effectively, you need to remove most of the water you added to activate the enzymes. At this point, I transfer the mashed grain into trays in our food dehydrator and set the temperature for 165 F. The dehydrator ran for about 9 hours (overnight and into the morning).

In order to increase airflow, and still catch any of the sweet, sugary goodness that might drip from the grains, I alternated solid trays to catch the drippings with mesh screens to allow the air to flow up through the grain.

With the proper ratio of water, meaning there wouldn’t be any extra liquid in the mashing vessel, I would recommend using only the mesh screens for maximum airflow. This would allow your grain to dry more quickly and efficiently.

Roast the Malt

Dried grain with caramel clumpsAs you can see, this batch had a bit too much water in it, which resulted in large caramel pieces in the dehydrator trays. This means a lot of the sugar created above leaked out of the grain. Next time, I won’t worry about the second water addition.

The final stage would be to roast the grain in an oven, if you desire. I skipped this step and wound up with a light-colored caramel malt. Set your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and roast your malt from 10-60 minutes. The longer you roast it, the darker the malt will become.

Darker crystal malts will impart a deeper red color and a stronger flavor. As colors darken, the flavors will change from sweet caramel to raisin, dark fruit flavors.

Try creating your own crystal malt customized for your next recipe. It’s an interesting spin on mashing.

Oak Leaf Wine


I have been homebrewing for almost five years now, and in my first year I heard about oak leaf wine. Members of my homebrew club raved about an oak leaf wine a previous member had made and brought to a club meeting. It was so smooth, and the flavor reminded them of a mild bourbon.

All these voice around me talking about how wonderful this libation was, yet I was unable to find anyone who had made it. And there was no way to get a sample. So I did the only thing a homebrewer could do: I did some research and made some myself.


Oak Leaf Wine
One week into fermentation. You can see my rhubarb wine in the next carboy.

After spending months searching on the Internet, it seems like this is the most common recipe, from Jake Keller’s web site. I read about eleven different sites, and they all pretty much plaigerised Jack’s recipe, so it must be pretty good. The one deviation I remember called for four pounds of sugar rather than three. That sounds like some pretty good deviation.

Based on my reading, I developed my own recipe with a few goals in mind:

  1. Oak leaf wine reminded people of bourbon. Therefore, higher alcohol is appropriate.
  2. I wanted to have more consistent measurements than x number of z citrus fruit.
  3. I wanted to keep the batch small enough to fit in a five-gallon carboy but larger than one gallon.
  4. I needed to use oak leaves from our home’s yard.

As a result, I came up with the following recipe

Jake’s Oak Leaf Wine

  •  4 gallons tap water
  • Approximately 4 gallons of white oak leaves. I wanted to weight them, but the only scale large enough to have a visible screen with a stock pot on it measure in half-pound increments. So there is somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds of leaves.
  • 1 Tablespoon citric acid
  • 1 Tablespoon malic acid
  • 15 pounds sugar – I bought a ten-pound bag and a five-pound bag.
  • 5 campden tablets
  • 2 teaspoons yeast nutrient(1/2 teaspoon per gallon)
  • 1 sachet Montrachet wine yeast

As an aside, I took pictures of the entire process, but when I tried to download them my digital camera corrupted the files so all I have are pictures of the fermentation.

I picked the oak leaves from a Burr oak tree in our front yard. There were some low-hanging branches that needed to be removed to allow better movement under the tree, so I clipped those and picked the leaves into a 5-gallon stock pot, which I filled approximately to the level of the handle rivets.

After picking, I filled the stock pot with cold water and let the leaves soak for a bit to loosen dirt and bugs. Actually, I needed a break while I ate lunch, so I let the leaves soak. The dirt and bugs just sounds like a good justification. After lunch, I made sure to agitate the leaves well in the water and rub them together as I took them from the water, pulling small amounts at a time(5-10 leaves).

Allowing the leaves to stop dripping, I transferred them to a clean container.

I brought the water to a full, rolling boil and lined the pot with my large strainer bag. I then added the oak leaves and allowed the water to return to a boil. I turned off the heat, pushed the leaves below the surface of the water, and placed a lid on the pot.

I left the pot alone for 24 hours.

I added the sugar to the pot and stirred to dissolve.

I drained the pot into a five-gallon carboy.

[notice]Warning: fifteen pounds of sugar adds almost a gallon of volume, so be careful when selecting your volume. Make sure your vessels are large enough.[/notice]

In a glass measuring cup, I placed 1/2 cup water and added the crushed campden tablets and yeast nutrient. Then heated in a microwave to aid is dissolving. Add the campden/nutrient mixture to the carboy, cover with a cloth towel to allow the mixture to off-gas and let rest for 24 hours.

Fill a sanitized container with approximately 1/2 cup warm water and reconstitute the wine yeast. Allow to proof and begin to foam. After stirring to re-suspend any yeast stuck to the container, I pitched the foamy slurry the wine must.

After adding the yeast, it took nearly two days before I noticed pressure on the airlock. I was starting to get a bit nervous, but you can see nice fine co2 bubbles rising in the pictures of the carboy. I’m hoping for the best.

Initial Thoughts

Active Fermentation
Happy yeast make alcohol and carbon dioxide!

When I first transferred the liquid to the carboy, it was the color of very strong tea, nearly coffee-colored. After pitching the yeast, there was a noticeably lighter portion at the top of the carboy.

As the yeast mixed and began fermenting, particles have dropped to the bottom of the carboy and the color has lightened to the color of iced tea.

I tasted my hydrometer sample and it reminded me of overly-sweetened, weak tea. As the sugar gets fermented out, my hope is that the tannic, subtle flavors are brought to the forefront.

It has been fermenting for two weeks, and the rate of bubbling seems pretty consistent. I’ll be racking it to secondary in mid-September. Maybe I’ll sneak a sample then.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever fermented?

Summer Refreshment

Drink Up!

American Pale AleCitrus with pungent pine washed over my senses, refreshing my taste buds and awakening my sense of aroma. As the hop flavors faded, followed by a bready malt flavor that faded quickly with a dry finish.

Some hop flavor lingered, and as it faded, it seemed to coat my tongue almost candy-like.

My first low-alcohol beer turned out rather well. Friends commented on the fact it is a nice, light color that may not scare off people used to drinking light lagers. Members of my homebrew club, serious beer enthusiasts said they enjoy it as well.

The Vision

My attitude going into developing this recipe was to create a light, refreshing, low-alcohol ale so I could have more than one without being unable to function. No caramel/crystal malts were used, and the bulk of the hops were added at flameout to keep the hop flavor without overwhelming bitterness.

Like stepping into spring water deeper than expected, a surprising burst of refreshment to wake you up and enliven your senses. This pale ale was made to pack a lot of flavor in a light, crisp package. I hope you enjoy.

Flash Flood American Pale Ale

My system is for brewing 10 gallons. If you wish to replicate this recipe on a 5-gallon scale, you should be good to cut quantities approximately in half. My system is approximately 67% efficient. If you use brewing software, you should be able to scale the recipe as needed to match your system.

Grain Bill

4.990 kg Rahr 2-row pale malt

907 g Briess Vienna malt

1.361 kg Munich 20L malt


Centenniel 8.7% AA 28 g at 60 minutes

Centenniel 8.7% AA 14 g at 0 minutes

Chinook 11.7% AA 21 g at 0 minutes

Cascade 6% AA 21 g at 0 minutes


Safale US-05 fermented at 66 degrees F

Target Numbers

Target Volume: 12 gallons

Target OG: 1.034

Target FG: 1.008

Target ABV: 3.3%

Mash Temp: 154 F

Actual Numbers

Volume: 13.5 gallons

OG: 1.032

FG: 1.004

ABV: 3.68%

Mash Temp: 149 F for 50 minutes

Batch Sparge to reach 168 F at target volume

I ran into a few problems with this batch: I am still not used to using a ball-valve and tube to transfer to my mash tun, so I lost more heat than expected. My mash temp came in 5 degrees Fahrenheit lower than my target, but I think that helped develop a clean finish.

The other problem was the humidity prevented my normal amount of boil-off. These two mistakes resulted in a happy medium. The lower mash temp resulted in a more-fermentable wort. The extra volume allowed the gravity to stay under 4% ABV.

The End Result

I love the end result. Shortly after bottling, I wasn’t sure I cared for the flavor. The chinook hops seemed a bit harsh. However, I think it may have been a conflict with the priming sugar not being completely fermented out.

It has been three weeks and the beer is really good and very drinkable. As you can hopefully see from the picture, the head is a brilliant white color and the beer is a pale golden color. It may be slightly darker than a light American lager, but not much. I may have to pick up a container of a light beer for comparison.

This isn’t my first recipe, but it was much-needed to deal with the summer heat. What types of beer do you like to brew for summer? Let me know in the comments.