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Home Brew Forums > Home Brewing Beer > General Beer Discussion > Flavors: Malty vs sweet vs dry
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Old 06-11-2009, 10:30 PM   #1
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Default Flavors: Malty vs sweet vs dry

I was going to post this in the AG forum as it relates to the planning of my first AG batch, a Premium Bitter. But it's pretty general so here she is:

Once upon a time I had a moderately well-developed palate for wine and could get some of the more subtle notes (leather, tobacco, pasture, etc.) but there were much more general descriptors of sweet and dry. The definition of sweet is obvious and dry is a gentler way to say sour, so sweet and dry are opposites of each other. With beer, both of those are used, but I would say that next to hoppy or bitter, the next most common term used us malty.

As I try to learn more about beer flavors, it seems that malty is sometimes used interchangably with sweet and I'm wondering if that is correct. I've been noticing in both British and American pale ales that really nice flavor of "grain," and I assume it comes from the base malt, maybe helped along by smaller quantites of some types of specialty grains like Munich, aromatic, and others that as an extract brewer I haven't had any experience with. Something like that I would call malty, but these beers are definitely not sweet.

So am I off base or can a beer be malty but not sweet? Should I be calling this flavor roasty, toasty, biscuity, or other descriptor?

For my first AG, I'm thinking of trying a recipe for a special bitter that has aromatic, C120, and a bit of special roast to support the MO backbone. I think this will get me that "malty" flavor I'm looking for, but I want to understand better what it is I'm after.

Thanks for any input.

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Old 06-12-2009, 12:19 AM   #2
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Malty and Sweet should not be used interchangably.

In general, all beer is somewhat malty, as it's made from malt. Not all beer is sweet. Malty is very broad term in my opinion. I think different beers reflect degrees of maltiness, or various levels of malt balance.

For example, a Munich Helles is malty but not sweet. The malt flavour is rich and generally well developed, and the balance is toward malt, not hops.

C120 could work, but it will add some sweetness, as there is a high degree of unfermentable sugar in there. Special roast however, is very good for that purpose, I've heard. I don't have access to it myself. I use Melonoidin malt, which really brings out maltiness. Using a british pale malt and accenting it with lower lovibond malts, or few crystals will add to the maltiness. Increasing the crystals will increase sweetness, but maltiness too.

I've found that focusing on a medium to medium full body via higher mash temps will accent maltiness. If i'm doing this and I don't want sweetness I use a well attenuating yeast. The dextrines left by the higher mash won't convert as readily, but they add body and generally not a lot of sweetness. This increases the percetion of maltiness. Couple that with a low to moderate amount of hopping and you should have a malty, but relatively dry beer.

Munich Helles, Blonde, Dunkels, Marzens, and many English pales (Bitter, ESB) are great malty beers that aren't sweet.

Doppelbock however is both malty and sweet - though not cloyingly so.

Hope that helps a bit. Others may have different takes on it though

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Old 06-12-2009, 12:37 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by 2bluewagons View Post
Once upon a time I had a moderately well-developed palate for wine and could get some of the more subtle notes (leather, tobacco, pasture, etc.) but there were much more general descriptors of sweet and dry. The definition of sweet is obvious and dry is a gentler way to say sour, so sweet and dry are opposites of each other.
You're not saying that you think dry = sour, are you?
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Old 06-12-2009, 01:06 AM   #4
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You're not saying that you think dry = sour, are you?
I was thinking the same thing. I've never equated a dry wine or beer as being sour. Sour is just that: sour. It's actually one of the 5 taste sensations (then you also get more subtle flavors from smell). With wines, I equate dry as having a crisp flavor that's neither sweet nor heavy in body. With beer, the best examples I can think of for dry are Irish stouts: ones that have a crisp balance of malts, hops, and roastiness that gives you a crisp feeling....even if it can have more substance then a light ale.

I'd also say a more direct contrast with a "sweet" beer would be "bitter"...but I think in wines, "sweet" is thought of as fresh, while "sour" can be thought of as spoiled or astringent.
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Old 06-12-2009, 02:06 AM   #5
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You're not saying that you think dry = sour, are you?
Not really, only that for both beer and wine, dry is used as the opposite of sweet.

If you were to taste pure tartaric or malic acid (the main acids found in wine)you would say "golly that is sour!" It's a simpler balance with wine, where the sweetness (residual sugar, usually zero except in dessert wines) is balanced with the tart and sour (some bordering on astringent, bitter) flavors from the various acids in the fruit itself. So in that sense sour is very broad term that can describe these complex acids as well as straight vinegar. For example, most cheap French and Italian reds that we get over here are described as extremely dry, but what they're really getting at is acidic and in turn, sour from the perspective of your tongue. But no one in the wine world wants to hear that word.

With beer, it's a more complicated balance but in general the sweetness is balanced with bitterness so to say dry does not mean sour when it comes to the tongue, only a lack of sweet. And there is so much more going on with most beers, both subtle and in-your-face that I'm finding it a lot harder to put into words.

But I'm getting OT about things I probably have no businsess talking about...
Thanks for the advice on the Bitter, there's not that much C120 in there, mostly MO. I'll consider melanoidin malt as I move forward.
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Old 06-12-2009, 04:03 AM   #6
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As I understand (and use) it......you can get:

...a malty brew by making a thick mash (1 lb grain to 1 qt water).
...a dry brew from a thin mash (1 lb to 2 qts water..more sugar to ferment).
...a sweet brew from underhopping (or over malting, whichever way you want to look at it).
...a bitter brew from over hopping in the boil.
...a hoppy (but not bitter) brew from using a lot of flavor/aroma hops at the right time.

IMO, a brew can be malty, sweet, dry, hoppy, or bitter in addition to any of those descriptors.

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Old 06-12-2009, 04:07 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by 2bluewagons View Post
But I'm getting OT about things I probably have no businsess talking about...
You're bringing up some interesting points about taste perception though....nothing wrong with that!

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Not really, only that for both beer and wine, dry is used as the opposite of sweet.
At least with my perceptions of wine and beer, I find they're complex enough that it's more then just two of the basic 5 taste sensations. You can have an overall profile that is sweet, dry, or sour (and I'd probably go for more like bitter, dark, or grassy...etc). Maybe some wine sommelies don't like to use the word "sour" to distinguish the highly acidic/tart wines because they think that seems negative. Beer culture is probably more diverse and accepting; where one particular region might frown upon a certain taste characteristic, another region of the world could fully embrace it. Since beer has more ingredients then wine, I think you also get a lot more subtleties. Sour is also an accepted word for a flavor profile. So a beer that I would say is sour is one that's obviously so: lambics are a good example...I've tried a couple that tasted exactly like vinegar. And a term like "maltiness" is even more complicated in that of just a basic malt leaning on the sweet side. Since there are so many specialty malts that impart a roasty, chocolate, coffee, or smokey flavor, you could have a beer that's light in hops but still not sweet. Barleywine recipes can just call for nothing but pale malt, but some can lean more on the "malty" side while others can be heavily hopped. Compare a malty barleywine to a sweet fruitbeer, and I think you'll taste a distinct difference
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Old 06-12-2009, 03:45 PM   #8
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Beers can be malty without being sweet, because most people do not perceive maltose and multi-maltose sugars as sweet.

Consider taking the BJCP classes, if you are interested in re-training your palate. Beers can be far more complex than wines and they have a much larger range of flavors.

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Old 06-12-2009, 03:55 PM   #9
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I am having a problem myself trying to get more malty without getting sweet. My last few brews of ordinary and special at a higher mash temp than 152 did not get me the maltiness I wanted. I ended up with sweet rather than a good malt flavour. I will be sticking to 152F for future brews.

For a special bitter, I think the key is a modest speciality grain and particular attention to the bittering hops with a sugar addition (Probably demerara) to get that slight dryness rather than sour.

Or maybe I'm just drunk.

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Old 06-12-2009, 05:31 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Laughing_Gnome_Invisible View Post
Or maybe I'm just drunk.
Already? Oh yeah, it's Friday.

When I think dry, I think lack of sweetness, not necessarily sour. When I think malty, I tend to think sweet, but I know that isn't right.

LGI, try some Munich malt to get a strong malt presence.
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