Barleypopmaker's Beer Blog

~I know you drank the beer, but did you experience it?

Barleypopmaker's Beer Blog - ~I know you drank the beer, but did you experience it?

Home Roasting your Own Grains Part 2 (Specialty Roasts)/Making Special B

It’s here! Roasted: the Homebrewer’s Guide to Home Roasting Grain written by yours truly ( Click Here for the Amazon Kindle Version)! It’s available as an Ebook Download through Amazon for only $2.99. The book covers a lot of the information contained in my posts, but also has additional information on base malts, and reading a malt analysis sheet. It’s not the longest book, but it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of books that cover how to brew and brewing science. This book focuses solely on the art of home roasting grain for beer. If you don’t have an Ereader, CLICK HERE to download the PC version of the Kindle App. You can then read the book on your PC.

In this post I will be working on a specialty malt called Special B. In order to do this, researching the best base malt to create your homemade version of any special malt is very important. I turn to malt datasheets, along with the special malt flavor andaroma profile to hel develop what I want this malt to taste like. To research and develop your malts, you are going to want access to datasheets. I use a lot of Briess products so I refer to the data sheets on their website often to get color and basic flavor profiles. You can find these here, if you only want to see an example of a data sheet, click here for a data sheet on standard 2 row. Mostly what I get from these sheets is the color, the type of roast, and general flavor profile. I can’t really control much else. (Just an FYI, I have a part 3 in this series as well, you can view that HERE.)

The major draw for me in making my own specialty and roasted malts is that it adds another depth of homemade flare to my homebrew. The downfall is that unlike commercial malts, you don’t usually end up with the consistency of the commercial product. If you can overcome that hurdle, home roasting your malts can become addicting. But let’s be honest. As homebrewers we tend to be quite anal about consistency. From mash temps to alpha acids to fermentation temperatures. Any minor change in a process or recipe can give you an entirely different beer. You can produce consistent malts at home, but you also need to be OK with minor differences from time to time. Also, because I use an oven and a nut roaster, doesn’t mean that is the only method of roasting. You can try coffee roasters, a grill, or whatever else you think may produce the result you are looking for. With all that out of the way, let’s look at my first run at making Special B.

First I had to look at what Special B is like. Special B is an An extremely dark caramel malt with a sharp, almost toffee like flavor. It should have a heavy caramel taste and is often credited with the raisin-like flavors of some Belgian ales. It is also 147 degrees Lovibond. Since special B is a Belgian Malt, I chose to use Belgian Pale Ale Malt as my base. Since it is essentially a very dark caramel malt, I decided to take that Belgian pale ale malt and simply use my caramel malt process to make the grain. Originally I was going to roast at 400 degrees in the oven to get the dark color, but as you will see in the pictures later, after drying, the grain darkened enough that I reduced the roast time and temp from 400 degrees for 40 minutes in my plan, to 300 degrees for 30 minutes. As you can see, you should plan prior to making a specific malt. you can also just wing it and experiment with creating your own malts. During my Special B project, I also wanted to make a very very dark caramelized Munich malt. You will see pictures of that during this post as well. That is why I wanted to mention it. Making this grain was just for fun and not based on anything in particular.

I started out Special B by taking a pound of Belgian Pale Ale Malt and soaking it for 4 hours. Once the grain is all soft, it is time to start “mashing” it in the husk. I bring my stove up to 180 degrees and place a thermometer in the grain. It is important to make sure the grain is kept in a thick pile to prevent it from drying out. You can even keep a little water in the bottom of the pan and stir often during the mash to make sure the grain always stays wet. After about 2 hours (which is how long I mashed this batch) then you are going to want to transfer the grain to a flat cookie sheet or shallow jelly roll pan for drying.

I mash the grain in a cake pan lined with tin foil. This ensures that if there was any oils on the pan do not get on the grains

Drying the grain on a large cookie sheet. For drying, make sure you keep the grains spread as thin as possible.

When drying, you do not want to roast the grain yet. If you have a food dehydrator, you may be able to use that but I wonder if it would take too long. I dry in the oven at 250 degrees and stir the grain often. It usually takes about 3 hours (sometimes more) to dry the grain. Once the grain is dry, you can then start the roasting process. If you have a specific malt in mind, you may or may not have to adjust the roast based on how far along the grain came during drying. This happened to me on the Special B Project and I adjusted my process to what looked to me like it needed 300 degrees for 30 minutes instead of 400 at 40, which a general roast of already dry grains will get you into that 145 degree lovibond range. This case, the grain already darkened a bit during the drying process.

Below is a picture of when i should have stopped roasting my Special B. I pulled the grain out 20 minutes into the roast for another stir and it looked to be right on. I took a picture of it, in case my extra 10 minutes made a drastic change int he grain. While it did not make a drastic change, it did bring the grain in a shade darker than it should be.

Special B, 20 minutes into the 300 degree roast

After the full 30 minutes was up, you can see that my first run at Special B brought in the grain a bit darker than it should have been. However, the taste is very close. As a matter of fact when I placed a small bit of each grain in each side of my mouth, the difference was very slight. My version has a little more of a roasted flavor, but both seemed equally as sweet and had very similar flavor profiles. Below is a side by side of commercial Special B and my home made version, I placed some Special B in the bowl on the left half and my home made version on the right half of the bowl. I had a few more darkened grains than what you see in the commercial version as you can see. I really wish I would have stopped at 20 minutes.

Side by Side of commercial Special B and my version

So all in all, here was the grains I made that day. The commercial Special B is on the left, then my version in the middle, and a dark roasted caramel Munich malt on the far right.

Home Roasted grains.

So Below is my recommended process for making homemade Special B.

Soak 1 Pound of Belgian Pale Ale malt  for 4 hours in filtered water. Place the malt in a cake pan (or pour the grain into a pile) the place in a 180-200 degree oven for 2 hours. Monitor the grain, and if the grain temp gets above 160 degrees turn off the oven for a while. Keep the grain in that 150 degree range for 2 hours, stirring often (about every 15 minutes). Once the mash is done, spread the grain into the thin layer and dry in the oven at 250 degrees, again stirring often. Once the grain is dry, based on the finished color, ramp up the oven to 300 degrees and roast for 20 minutes (or when the grain looks done). Let it rest for 2 weeks before using in a beer.

Dark Caramelized Munich Malt

Soak 1 Pound of German Munich Malt for 4 hours in filtered water. Place the malt in a cake pan (or pour the grain into a pile) the place in a 180-200 degree oven for 2 hours. Monitor the grain, and if the grain temp gets above 160 degrees turn off the oven for a while. Keep the grain in that 150 degree range for 2 hours, stirring often (about every 15 minutes). Once the mash is done, spread the grain into the thin layer and dry in the oven at 250 degrees, again stirring often. Once the grain is dry, ramp up the oven to 325 degrees and roast for 25 minutes (or when the grain looks done, but not burned). Let it rest for 2 weeks before using in a beer.

Have fun, and Experiment!

Is it important to use filtered water when making caramel malt? Can I just use tap water? You could, but municipal water tends to have either chlorine or chloromine in it. These will get into your grain and could cause some off flavors in the final product. For piece of mind, I’d stick with filtered or bottled water. If you must use tap water, I would let it sit overnight before using it. This will help if your water utility uses chlorine, but will do nothing for the chloromine.


  • garae says:

    Well, let’s first say that all of your posts have been very helpful.
    I just roasted about 20lb of crystal malts yesterday ( i was there for about 10 hours!!!). I don’t know how to give the roast a number (lovibond), because to me that’s too subjective. But I kinda remember the roast level that I like to make a specific beer. No particular style due to the lack of knowledge about the grains that i use (’cause I roast them myself). I just have several sacks of 100 pounds of 2 row, so i’ve always started from there.
    The best of the beers that i’ve made with these home-roasted grains, are the “orfy’s mild ale”
    and a recipe that i came up with trying to make a red color on the beer, which couldn’t be achieved, but i got myself a great beer. I’ve always liked maltier beers with a lower hop profile. So, if your not into “big beers” (with high gravity) and you like a discrete hop taste, then i’ll be glad to give you the recipe.
    I’ve never bought a sack of specialty grains just to have’em as a reserve to use them when needed. I always read a recipe, and try to roast the grains (based on your posts) to get the desired color and taste. I have just used specialty grains when bought in a recipe from AHS, but honestly my recipes, and the ones that i’ve got from the guys in HBT are MUCH BETTER than the ones that can be bought. It took me about 3 years to be convinced of that. Good beers (most of times) cannot be bought as a premade recipe. You have to try hard and your efforts will become the best beer!! (sorry for my spelling, as you may have noticed, English is not my mother language, but i do what i can)

    December 4, 2011 at 2:05 pm
    • barleypopmaker says:

      That is a pretty amazing feat! I do 1 or 2 pounds at a crack and find that time consuming enough for me. But 20 lbs is amazing. My hats off to you. I also have had some great success with my home roasted malts as well. I think they add a bit more of a rich malt flavor. I am also quite honored that you used my suggestions to help you get the color and flavor profiles you are looking for. I would love for you to send me your recipe, I’m always looking for new recipes. I am a recipe tweaker though, I just can’t ever seem to make a recipe exactly as I get it. I like to add my own personal tastes to it, which is what it sounds like you do too. Generally I tend to be a hop head, but I like malt enough where I feel many IPA’s done have enough malt backbone, so my IPAs tend to be not only hoppy, but quite malty on the back end. Feel free to email me your recipe. I’d like to see it! Cheers.-Jason

      December 7, 2011 at 7:32 pm
  • kingwood kid says:

    First, thank you for all of this. It’s awesome and I have used it several times. As far as producing carafa and other dehusked grains, you might try rye malt. It’s huskless and commonly available. It obviously imparts a different taste, but at 400 lovibond, you’ll mostly just get roast. It is smaller than barley, so it would probably cook more quickly. Normally I mill rye much finer than barley, but the 400 lovibond lessens that as a concern as well.

    December 29, 2011 at 11:22 am
    • barleypopmaker says:

      Thanks for the ideas, right now I am working with pearled barley to see what sort of flavors I can product. I will put rye malt on my list of malts to work on. That’s a great idea too, I have a beer that I used chocolate rye, I could attempt to make my own chocolate rye and see how that turns out.

      January 14, 2012 at 10:36 am
  • Nick says:

    I tried my hand at a brown malt the other day. I loved it, this post was really helpful. I have a question about the two week rest though. I’m wondering where that number comes from? I used to work in coffee and our beans would generally be de-gassed for 6-7 days after roasting. Would there be that much difference between coffee and barley and what’s making the difference?

    April 15, 2012 at 12:12 am
    • barleypopmaker says:

      I’m glad you found the post helpful. To be honest I got the 2 week reccomendation from Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher if I remember correctly. I did a bit of research on the topic before I posted to my blog to see if it was actually needed and I found that the major malters (Like Breiss, Rahr, ect) use a 3 week rest. The reason is for exactly the same reason you would do the degassing for coffee. I just stuck with what I read about a 2 week rest because I don’t have the scientific instruments to test the grains, but in all honesty they taste fine to me after a week or so anyway.

      April 16, 2012 at 4:35 pm
      • Nick says:

        Hmmm… I wonder if the husk on the grain has something to do with the longer degassing time? Whatever it is, I just need to get more organised and patient I think.

        One of the big trends in specialty coffee these days is to go for much lighter roasts and the light roasted coffee is often used within 24 hours of roasting. That seems to match with your experience of being able to use the lighter roasted grains after only a week.

        I’ve got a mate who’s made a coffee roaster with a bread maker and a heat gun. It gives really good circulation and better heat control than an oven. I’ll see how that goes with roasting barley.

        April 16, 2012 at 7:56 pm

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