Toasted rye tastes wonderful in beer. It is a typical ingredient in sahti farmhouse ale and an outstanding flavor booster for various dark beers. This kind medium-dark rye malt is rarely sold but with this guide you can easily toast your own at home.
I started toasting experiments with rye to mimic commercial Finnish dark rye malt Tuoppi Kaljamallas produced by Finnish malthouse Laihian mallas. Most contemporary Finnish sahtis get their rye flavor and reddish-brown color from this malt. As a Finn I can easily buy this malt but most of my readers cannot. Therefore, I started to test substitutes for this malt.
I found that home-toasted rye malt is not only a great substitute for Kaljamallas but also an outstanding addition to various kinds of beers. Over the years I have toasted barley, oats, and rye for my homebrews but rye is by far my favorite grain for toasting. This guide shows step by step how to make and use this kind of dark rye malt.
I’m certainly not the first suggesting toasting malt at home. I learned to toast malt by reading book Old British Beers and How to Make Them. John Palmer’s first edition of How to Brew contains good chapter on home-toasted malt. Brewer and beer writer Mike Karnowski has written excellent instructions for home-toasting, see his article How to Toast Specialty Malts and book Homebrew Beyond the Basics. I stumbled upon Karnowski’s work while writing this article and found many similarities in our thinking. Thank’s Mike for clarifying my thoughts!
If you want to learn more about sahti and rye, check my book Viking Age Brew: The Craft of Brewing Sahti Farmhouse Ale.
Why Bother Toasting Malt at Home?
Today we are spoiled with a wide range of excellent commercial malts. Yet, some medium-dark specialty malts can be difficult to buy. Toasted rye malt is one of them. Commercial amber and brown barley malts are available but when mimicking historical British beers you may want to toast the malts yourself.
Even if you could buy the needed toasted malt, I can think of several good reasons for toasting your own. When the malt is used soon after toasting, the toasty flavor is incredibly fresh. I like to have full control over the toast level and color too. Home-toasted malt adds a very personal touch to your beer.
Gradually home-toasted rye malt has become a signature flavor for some of my homebrews. Nevertheless, I’m still a big fan of commercial caramel and chocolate rye malts.
How to Toast Malt at Home
Malt can be toasted in various ways but I have had excellent results with the very simple procedure described below. The simplicity gives control and repeatability. I’ll comment on the variations later.
The idea is to toast pale malt into darker malt at 175°C (350°F). You can control the toast level with time. The kitchen oven makes enough toasted rye for a few tens of liters of beer. If you are brewing hundreds or thousands of liters, you need a bigger oven.
This toasting method work for all grains but the toasting times may differ. The toasting times below are for rye malt. In my experience, barley requires slightly more time than rye.
Depending on the toast time I divide malt into light, medium and dark toast levels:
Light toast: 15 minutes gives a slightly toasty, nutty, and biscuity flavor. The interior grain color should be light buff.
Medium toast: After 30–45 minutes the flavor is firmly toasty, nutty, and raisiny. North Americans describe this flavor as grape nuts. The color inside the grain should be from brown paper to chestnut brown. My no-fan kitchen oven produces the best medium toast rye malt at 45 minutes.
Dark toast: At 60 minutes you start to get coffee and cocoa-like flavors. The roasty flavors are still delicate compared to chocolate or black malts. The result is somewhat similar to commercial pale chocolate malt with pronounced milk chocolate flavor.
These toasting times are rough estimates based on my experiments with a no-fan oven. With an oven fan, you may get the same results in a shorter time. Ovens are different and oven thermostats are terribly inaccurate. You need to monitor the toasting process, as advised below.
The Malt Toasting Procedure
Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. This way you avoid getting grease into your grain and removing the grain is easier. Spread the malt onto the sheet. For optimal results, keep the malt layer thin, not more than a depth of 15 mm (around 2/3 inch). If you need more toasted malts, use either two baking sheets or toast several times.
Put the baking sheet into the oven. If your oven has a fan, use it. Start monitoring the progress five minutes or so before the target time. The outer grain remains paler than the kernel. The grains will be unevenly toasted and you need the estimate the toasting level on average. Hence you need to take out a few grains for monitoring: slice the kernels in half, check the inside color and taste the grains.
For the lightest toast grade, the kernel should be light beige in color. The taste should be biscuity and bready. For the medium grade, the taste should be nutty and toasty but not very coffee-like. The color inside the grain should vary from brown paper bag to chestnut brown. Grains should not be charred at all. In the darkest grade, some kernels will be very dark brown and coffee flavor becomes apparent.
Once you have reached desired toasting grade, take the grains out from the oven and let them cool.
Toasting Rye for Sahti
Here are some extra tips for sahti brewers.
Today majority of Finnish sahtis contain a 5–10 % share of Finnish dark rye malt known as Tuoppi Kaljamallas. This commercial malt provides nutty, bready, and raisiny flavors of rye along with reddish-brown color, smooth mouthfeel.
I don’t know how Kaljamallas is produced but tasting and looking at the malt reveals a lot. The bran of Kaljamallas has been removed and it looks fairly uniformly dark brown, almost like a chocolate malt. Yet, the malt doesn’t add chocolate or coffee flavors. Neither the malt has caramel crystals or flavors. Therefore, I have classified Kaljamallas as toasted malt. The color unit of Kaljamallas is 180 EBC (around 60–70 Lovibond).
Home-toasted rye malt mimics Finnish Kaljamallas well. In my brewing tests, the beer color has been very similar. The flavor difference is recognizable but home-toasted rye doesn’t throw the flavor off from what Finns think as good and traditional sahti. Home-toasted rye tastes slightly more biscuity and toasty. I like the extra kick that home-toasting brings.
I think that removing the bran gives Kaljamallas a soft toasted flavor yet with a surprisingly dark malt color. If I toast rye to the dark brown hue of Kaljamallas, I get chocolate and coffee flavors that most sahti drinkers would find inappropriate in a traditional sahti. Therefore, medium toast rye is the best approximation for Kaljamallas.
NOTE: before these toasting experiments I recommended substituting Kaljamallas with caramel rye malt. It is not a bad substitute but medium-toast rye makes by far better and more authentic sahti.
How to Brew With Home-Toasted Malt
Many sources recommend letting the toasted malt rest for at least two weeks before use. This rest is said to mellow the harsher aromatics. Commercial maltsters let the malt rest but I don’t see a need to wait. On the contrary, I like very fresh toasted flavors. Usually, I toast malts a day or two before brewing.
The malt made with the above procedure has a strong taste and best used in small quantities. I recommend using up to 10 % of the total malt amount, but that of course depends on the toasting level and your preferences. For sahti, I would use 5-8 %, and for porters and stouts around 8 %. 1-5 % adds a delicate touch, suitable for all kinds of malt-forward beers. With the toasting procedure above the malt loses its enzymes.
Toasting Procedure Variations
The procedure above works with various grains, both malted and unmalted. You can also toast flakes or cracked grains. I usually toast rye malt because I like the result and the appetite for rye is in my genes. If you have a favorite local grain I recommend toasting that.
Toasting at 175°C works extremely well but varying the toasting temperature can be an interesting tool. For example, if you want to make diastatic toasted malt similar to historical amber or brown malts you need lower temperatures. Making chocolate or black malt would require higher temperatures but a kitchen oven is not optimal for making roasted malts: dry grain at high temperatures catches fire easily. Commercial maltsters avoid this problem using revolving roasting drums.
You can also make caramel malt by heating wet grains. Normally caramel malts are made by heating whole wet sprouted grains but in my opinion, there’s a more interesting method for homebrewers: bake your mash in the oven similar to Lithuanian farmhouse ale Keptinis. This is an easy way to get highly complex and outstanding caramel flavors. I’m writing a Brewing Nordic story about this kind of mash baking and I’ll add a link here once published.
Recipes with Toasted Rye
If you want to brew sahti, look no further than my Sahti Recipe and Farmhouse Brewing Tips. It is probably the most popular sahti recipe on the internet and toasted rye malt is one of the key ingredients.
I’m currently writing a guide about brewing with rye. The guide will contain recipes for rye porter and rye sahti, both featuring home-toasted rye.