Lots of Munich/Vienna vs a little Aromatic/Melanoidin/Dark Munich

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Mar 9, 2024
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I've noticed that recipes for "off-pale" to light amber (generally pilsner-malt based) beers often boost malty flavors in one of two ways:
1) a reasonable portion of Vienna, Munich, or even Pale Ale malt, in the 10-20% range (like using some Munich in a helles, or
2) a very small proportion of a malt in the dark-munich family (like using some aromatic in a triple or a dash of Melanoidin to replicate decoction flavors in a pils).

I know you can get similar color with these approaches and the flavors often seem in the same ballpark, so I'm curious if anyone has any thoughts on their relative merits or why one approach is favored over the other for a particular style. Is it just tradition?

I'm ignoring caramel malts for this discussion because those are obviously their own thing with a different class of flavors.
Great first question!! Welcome to the forum!

Funny, I was just thinking about this topic yesterday when I brewed my Dortmunder (which is sort of like a combination between a helles and a pilsner). I have selected base malts both ways for various batches over the years, and what it comes down to for me in making this decision is:

How much pilsner malt character do you want in the finished beer? Pilsner malt is unique, and there is good reason this style is so hugely popular around the world for the past 150 years or whatever and STILL IS TODAY. Personally, I love the sweetness you can only get from lightly kilned pilsner malt. You won't get the same effect from Vienna or Munich as a base malt, so if you decide to swap some out for these other base malts, you're losing some of that pilsner malt character.

Suffice it to say, yesterday when brewing my Dortmunder, I decided to use 91% pilsner malt, and 1% Victory (a type of aromatic/biscuit malt), along with 6% wheat malt (another lovely pale base malt) and 2% acid malt (pilsner malt with acid to adjust the pH). I had considered adding Vienna but decided against it because I wanted to maximize the pilsner character in the finished beer. We'll find out in a few weeks whether this decision made a difference (at least in my mind) or not.

Conversely, in MANY other beer styles such as Oktoberfest, Vienna, dunkles, schwarzbier, etc., the amount of pilsner malt character doesn't matter so much. In those styles, I would have no qualms at all about using 100% Vienna, or 75% pilsner with 25% Munich, or any combination in between. While it *does* matter which combination you choose, the malt flavors in those beers are more variable so you can pick pretty much whatever you feel like and it will come out great.

So... it depends.
Thanks for the reply!

Maximizing pilsner character makes sense to me, it does give a very nice honey sweet character in some of the beers lagers I've had.

Would not have thought to use biscuit malt in a German lager but I definitely understand the rational, let me know how it comes out! Love dortmunders and I've considered brewing one myself to be my pale kegged beer of choice this upcoming summer, but I'm thinking about going with something a little more lawnmower-y for my non craft beer friends. A kolsch would be fun, or maybe a helles.

Off topic but I also have a 100% vienna malt from a local maltster Vienna lager fermenting right now, very excited for that. Maybe I'll do something with 100% their pils malt next and then decide what to add to it from there.

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