I am going start a small series that goes more in depth in the flavors and aromas you can expect to find in beer. I will start with the common flavors and aromas contributed by your malt. I hope you find this helpful.
Common Malt Flavors and Aromas
Biscuity: The flavor and aroma of biscuits. Often like fresh baked buttermilk biscuits.
Bready: This descriptor is fairly straightforward. Most of the time when people are talking about a bready flavor or aroma, it is the smell and flavors of your standard white bread.
Brown Sugar: A sweet and brown sugar-like flavor and aroma, sometimes gets mixed in with caramel flavors. But brown sugar tastes like a toned down molasses.
Caramel: Caramel can be complex, and the flavors can vary from light and delicate to heavy. The flavor and aroma itself can range from that of typical milk caramel, to that of more of an old world true caramel candy one would make at home. I suggest the best way to become familiar with the flavor and aroma of true caramel; you make a batch at home. (See Appendix III) This will also help you differentiate between caramel and toffee flavors. Sometimes people tend to confuse the two.
Chocolate: Often the flavor and aroma of bittersweet, unsweetened, or dark chocolate. At times, you may even experience a milk chocolate flavor and aroma, but most of the time the chocolate flavors are on the dark chocolate side.
Cracker-like: Imagine a saltine cracker without the salt. The flavor is light and delicate, with just the slightest amount of toast.
Crusty: If you take out an uncut loaf of fresh baked French bread and you smell the crust that is the best way to describe that aroma.
Coffee: The coffee flavor and aroma will typically come solely from roasted grain, but some people do make beers with coffee in them. The coffee flavor and aroma can range from very light to almost espresso like.
Corn: Not to be confused with DMS, some grains can impart a sweet corn-like aroma, as do beers that use some form of corn as an adjunct. The best way to differentiate between DMS and grain derived corn aroma is that DMS will be more like a canned corn aroma, but corn characteristics that come from grain is closer to the aroma of fresh corn.
Grainy: The flavor and aroma of fresh grain. It is often very similar to the cereal grape nuts. If you have ever smelled or tasted your grains, which I’m sure you have at some point, that raw flavor and aroma can transfer over to your beer.
Honey: What else can I say? It’s the flavor and aroma of honey. Now, not just the sweetness of honey, but honey itself. This is one item that people really should pay attention to, and smell and taste honey. Put the sweetness of it out of your mind, and pay attention to the aroma and the flavor.
Huskey: A dry and slightly astringent flavor of grain husks.
Melanoidin: Melanoidin flavors and aromas are rich and complex, and actually very hard to describe because it is a flavor and aroma all its own. Munich and Vienna malts are great examples of malts that have a lot of melanoidin flavor and aroma, as well as Melanoidin malt. Melanoidins are formed by the browning action of the beer. If you want to think about what melanoidins flavor is, take some white bread and taste it, then put it in the toaster and toast it. The flavor difference you get is what melanoidin is. I will cover melanoidins a bit more in depth in part 4.
Molasses: The flavor and aroma of molasses. It can range from mild though blackstrap. Molasses is a flavor all on its own, if you are unfamiliar with it, you really should pick some up for training your palate.
Nutty: Often this is the smell and flavor of almonds, but this descriptor can take the form of any nut. Chocolate malt in small amounts can lend nuttiness to the beer as well as some medium range toasted malts.
Raisin: Believe it or not, you can get this flavor from malt. Special B is a good example of malt that can help bring you a raisin-like flavor to the beer.
Roast: The generic flavor and aroma of roasted grain. It will have a burnt and acrid flavor and aroma. In most cases, small doses of that flavor/aroma is OK in many dark styles, but when over done it can be very off putting.
Toast: See Melanoidin.
Toffee: Toffee will often have a brown sugar-like and buttery flavor. It is similar to caramel but a little softer.
Treacle: Treacle is syrup made during the sugar refinement process. You have 2 types of treacle, one lighter shade called golden syrup and one darker shade called black treacle. It is a slightly bitter and very distinctive type of syrup. This is also a flavor to become familiar with by buying some in the store. Some of your darker crystal/caramel malts can impart a treacle-like flavor into a beer.