From pale yellow, to jet-black, beer comes in a massive range of colors. The darker the beer, the more toasty and roasted it will taste. Brewers use roasted grains to achieve specific flavors and colors depending on the beer style. Although homebrew shops offer a wide array of specialty grains, homebrewers might want to try roasting their own grain.
Roasting your own malt is a straightforward and quick process. All you need is an oven or gas grill, a roasting tray, and some standard pale malt, like 2-row barley. A quick roast can make great tasting golden or biscuit malt. Roasting for longer achieves darker, toastier malts, like amber malt or chocolate malt. You can even make your own crystal malt or black malt at home, with some special techniques.
Home-roasting is a fun complement to homebrewing for all levels of brewers. Although there are hundreds of commercial specialty malts, roasting your own malt has a certain romantic quality. It also falls in line with homebrewing’s DIY spirit.
Roasting your own malt is a worthwhile experiment and a great way to learn about how the roasting process impacts flavor in finished beer. Curiosity and experimentation aside, there are certain brewers who may be left with no choice but to roast their own malt, as well.
Depending on where you live, you might not have easy access to a full range of homebrewing products. If you find yourself without a supplier for specialty grains, you may have to resort to roasting yourself. No worries, you’ll be able to produce great tasting and high quality roasted malts that rival the commercial versions.
Many local homebrew contests are structured in a way that each entrant must brew with a limited amount of ingredients. One type of grain, one type of hop, and one yeast, for example. They’re often run by homebrew clubs or organized by local homebrew shops.
A clever way to circumvent these limited restrictions is to get creative and roast your own malt! Set your beer apart by adding complexity, color, and toasty or roasted flavors.
If you’re an avid gardener, farmer, or just happen upon some barley, you might want to try brewing with it! For that, you’ll first need to malt the grains. Malting requires germinating and drying barley. We aren’t covering the malting process here as it’s an advanced and specialized technique. There are plenty of resources available to help you get started.
After you’ve malted your grain, you’ll be able to experiment with roasting to achieve a wide variety of speciality grain products.
Roasting your own malt can be done with basic kitchen tools you already have. The longer you roast malt, the more color and roasted flavor you’ll get. Whether you need lightly roasted biscuit malt, or dark brown and chocolate malt, home roasting is a great tool to add to your brewing skillset.
Malted barley is the base for almost all specialty grains. Starting with high quality, high-modified malt will help you produce the most consistent roasted grain.
Using standard uncrushed 2-row barley is a great option but any malted grain will work. Pilsner, Marris Otter, even Wheat malt can all be roasted at home.
The roasting process happens inside an oven. Household ovens work well for golden to amber malts. For darker roasts, an outdoor gas grill is prefered. There’s a high potential for smoke to be generated when roasting very dark grains which can set off smoke alarms in your house.
As built-in oven thermometers are often inaccurate, it’s a good idea to verify the temperature with a standalone oven thermometer. For best quality results and consistency, dialing in the exact oven temperature is very important.
Nearly any baking tray will work. A cake pan, deep cookie sheet, or cast iron grill all make great options. You’ll want a tray with 1” or 2” sides as the grain will be spread out with a depth of about ½”.
Depending on how much grain you’ll be roasted at a time, you should pick a pan size that will allow for this uniform grain depth of ½” to help ensure an even roast.
The whole process of roasting your own malt takes between 45 minutes to 90 minutes.
We should say that home-roasting does have its limitations. Very dark malt, like black malt, requires high heat. This causes lots of smoke with a high chance of burning the malt. For making black malt, see our section below covering advanced techniques.
For roasting your own malt up to 175 Lovibond – like a light chocolate malt – follow these easy steps.
Heat your oven or gas grill to the desired roasting temperature. See the table below for estimated roast temperatures and times. Most roasted grains work well at 300°F. We’ve found that keeping the temperature on the low side allows for a more even roast with less chance of scorching.
Use an oven thermometer to verify the temperature. Also, if your oven has a fan, turn that on to keep the heat consistent throughout the oven.
Starting with 2-row malt, the following table is a rough guide to achieve various speciality grains. Depending on your oven, roasting tray, and malt selection, your results will vary. Once you’ve got a few roasts under your belt, you’ll be able to accurately predict the roasting times to get the exact malt you’re after.
Specialty Grain Color (Lovibond) Temperature Time Golden 15 – 25 °L 300°F 20 minutes Biscuit malt 25 – 30 °L 300°F 30 minutes Victory / Amber malt 30 – 35 °L 300°F 45 minutes Chocolate / Brown malt 160 – 175 °L 400°F 60 minutes
Grab your roasting tray and spread the grain out to a thickness of about ½” inch deep.
When your oven is at the right temperature, slide in the roasting tray. Use the middle rack if using an oven.
Allow the grain to roast, giving the tray a shake every 5 to 10 minutes to ensure a consistent color.
The grain should start to smell delicious, like freshly baked, crusty bread. Watch for burning of the grain husk or smoke. If any grain is starting to burn, shake or stir the grain more often to prevent scorching.
Remove the freshly roasted grain from the oven or gas grill. Allow to cool to room temperature. Home-roasted grains are ready to use right away, but it’s advisable to let the grains mellow out for at least two weeks. Time helps remove some harshness from the grains and provides a smoother flavor, especially for darker grains. Leave the grains in a paper bag to mellow for two weeks.
Store the grain in a cool and dry place in a sealed container for up to one year.
Crystal and caramel malts add sweetness and mouthfeel to beer. Through specialized roasting processes, the sugars in these malts are caramelized. Crystal malts are typically roasted in a drum at 150°F which creates steam, causing the starches to convert to sugar inside the husk. This is kind of like the mashing process when brewing. Caramel malts are kilned with added moisture to become partially caramelized.
In order to mimic these tasty malts at home, a few extra steps need to be taken in the roasting process.
First, the grains must be soaked in water to convert the starches inside the grain to sugars. In a pot, add enough water to just cover the grain. Heat to 155°F and hold for an hour. Next, strain the grains and spread them out on a roasting tray, ½” deep. Roast in a 250°F oven for about 2 hours, or until completely dry.
At this point, you will have something close to crystal 10°L. For darker crystal malt, turn up the oven to 350°F. Roasting another 15 minutes will get you medium crystal, about 40°L. Dark crystal malt, about 100°L, needs around 45 minutes.
Very dark roasted grain, like black patent malt, has a Lovibond color rating of over 500°L. At home, achieving this level of roast without burning the grain is difficult. Commercial maltsters use a water spray to prevent grains from scorching in specially designed kilns.
At home, heat your gas grill to 450°F. Roast the grains in your roasting pan but stir them with a spoon every 5 minutes. After 15 minutes, spray the grains with water while stirring to cool the husks to prevent burning. Roast the grains until they’ve evenly turned a dark chocolate brown, about 45 to 50 minutes.
Roasting your own malt is straightforward, quick, and surprisingly easy. It also offers a great insight into how particular roasted flavors are developed in malt, and how those flavors translate to beer. With very basic equipment and a little experimentation, you’ll quickly become a home-roasting expert.
Try out roasting your own grains for your next amber ale, brown ale, or stout. Not only will it add a delicious layer of complexity to your homebrew, you’ll have a great story to go along with the beer.
Determining the color and flavor contribution of home roasted malts is a trial and error process. It’s difficult to know the color the malt will produce in wort without performing a test.
Crush a handful of your newly roasted grain and perform a mini-mash in a mason jar. Let the grain steep for 20 minutes at 150°F. Strain out the grains using a coffee filter or fine mesh sieve.
Now, perform the same experiment with some commercial roasted grains around the same estimated roast level. Compare the color of your malt with the commercial malt. You might have to repeat the process a few times to narrow down the exact color.
If you don’t have access to commercial roasted grain for comparison, brewing a batch of beer will be your only way to test. Follow a known recipe using your roasted grain. Once the beer’s ready, you’ll be able to see if it’s too light, too dark, or just right.
Soaking the grain before roasting can lead to sweeter malt flavors with less chance of burning. Dry roasting tends to produce toastier and crisper flavors.
If you’d like to try wet-roasting, soak the grain in room temperature filtered water for 24 hours. Strain the grain and add them directly to the roasting tray. Follow the same procedure as the dry-roasted malt.