Homebrewers have a particular affection and appreciation for dark beers. Often considered too harsh, bitter and assertive by the timid or uninitiated, they are just as often agreeable, even mellow. The proper use of roasted grain and malt makes them possible, and in some cases they are fairly defined, or even dominated by these emphatic specialty ingredients. They offer everything from the palate-rattling, bitter edge of stout and porter, to the soft, nutty contour of brown ale, to the delicate suggestion of smoke in Scottish ale. Their flavor contributions are many, and the powerful color that they carry can be used to full force or subtle tint.
In “light” of all this, it is important to know the discrete characteristics of these specialty grains, as they can be used alone or in combination to exquisite effect in many styles. If you are married to, or challenged by, stylistic brewing, then it is critical to get a handle on proportions lest that Scotch ale becomes a porter or Baltic porter becomes an imperial stout. On the other hand, dark beers are usually quite forgiving, so some leeway may not matter to the competent brewer. Brew and learn. The new breed, like Belgian black ale and black IPA, shows that roasted malts are certainly worthy of extrapolation.
There are four kinds of grain/malt that are considered collectively as “roasted.” They are chocolate malt, Carafa, roasted/black barley and black patent malt. All are made from malt except roasted barley. Below is a glance at them individually, followed by list of brews that run the continuum of roasty expression. They can be used as a style-defining feature grain, accent or something in between.
Chocolate malt: This specialty grain is the most eclectic of the lot, and lends nuttiness in particular, but also toasty hints of vanilla, cocoa and coffee. It resembles chocolate in color and contributes a mahogany hue to beer. The humble brown ale or dark mild particularly are excellent choices to showcase this malt, often used to set them apart as styles, but works well in tandem with fully roasted grains in most dark beers, whether ale or lager. It generally comes in at 350 to 450° L and has a higher extract potential than black grains. Dark versions are excellent for porters. Less common varieties are chocolate rye and wheat malts, if roggenbier or dunkelweizen are on your docket; and pale chocolate at 250° L and below.
Carafa®: This is actually a series of roasted malts (Reinheitsgebot-friendly) made by Weyermann of Bamburg, Germany. Weyermann themselves refer to this group as “chocolate” malt. In fact, the lightest of them is on par color wise with other chocolate malts, the dark versions similar to black patent and roasted barley (dark chocolate perhaps?), and the medium roast, somewhere in between. There are three grades: I (300-375° L), II (413-450° L) and III (488-563° L). There are also two groups, regular and special, for a total of six different renderings. The special versions are partially de-husked for a smoother roast character. So if it is a softer edge you want in your darkest beers, give the special a shot. In general, all types can be used as any other roasted grain. Baltic porter and schwarzbier fairly beg for them as a prominent characteristic, and dunkel and doppelbock as an accent.
Roasted (or Black) Barley: Made from un-malted barley, it is often the signature flavoring and coloring agent in stouts of all types. Its color rating is 500° L and above. Roasted barley supplanted black patent malt in many stouts and porters since it required less processing (as it is un-malted). Aside from the inky black color that we are familiar with, it also imparts dryness, espresso and smoky notes. Irish dry stouts rely on this grain for its intense, austere and parched quality. For more complex versions of stout, it can be used with black patent and chocolate malt, and also marries well with caramel malts for a bittersweet, burnt sugar flavor. For color adjustment and accent proportions, use it in Irish red ale (red tints), all Scottish ales (faint roast), brown ale or dark mild.
Black Patent Malt: The most aggressive roast, it imparts the sharpest flavor components. Black patent is roasted at high temperatures (450° F), on the verge of carbonization. Its color is roughly the equivalent of roasted barley (500°+ L), but with a sharper edge. Flavor contribution could best be described as bitter, burnt, gritty and ashy. Nineteenth-century porters first utilized black patent and,in fact, London porters that relied on brown malt changed their recipes to accommodate this malt, which was patented in 1817. Given the love for intense roasted flavors, microbrewers are not timid about using black patent at fairly high levels (as much as 10 percent) in porters or stouts, razor edges notwithstanding. For a complex and reasonably traditional porter, a grist with 5 percent black patent and 15 percent brown or amber malt atop English base malt, fermented with a London ale yeast would get the job done admirably. For color adjustment and minor flavor contribution, a low percentage would improve brown or old ale nicely. It, like roasted barley, works well with caramel, chocolate and Munich malt in porters and stouts. Also of note, Dingemann makes a de-bittered black malt.