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What are the effects of changing the darkness of Crystal Malt?

I'm an extract brewer, and many of the recipes I've tried call for steeping some crystal malt, but I'm not always able to find the °L called for. Usually I can get something close, but I'm curious what the effects would be of larger changes on the recipe. i.e. if I replace 25° crystal with 85° crystal (or vice versa), what will change in the final beer?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

Not only the color but the flavor changes. Think of the increasing Lovibond of crystal malt like the darkening of sugar during caramel making. At first the color is very light like 15L crystal malt. The flavor is mostly one dynamic, sweetish. As the color darkens to say 40L it takes on some mild toffee like notes. 60L is more caramel, 85L is a lot of caramel and some raisin like flavors, 120L is dark dried fruits with an even more intense dark (almost burnt) caramel flavor to it.

Its for these reasons of the complete change in flavor that you can't use a third of 60L and get a 20L type of effect in the beer. Many people want to apply math like that but it doesn't work. 1lb of 60L doesn't taste like 0.5lb of 120L. It just tastes more caramel like without the dark fruit like character of the 120L.

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What about doing something like 0.5lb of 40L and 0.5 of 120L to approximate 1lb of 80L ? –  baka Jan 28 '11 at 14:58
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I don't think it works that way either. The differences between 80 and 120 is fairly distinct. Getting some of that 120L in there would be noticable as 120L. But then again, its all up to actual experimentation. You might not be able to get 80L taste out of that combo, but I bet you'd prefer the complexity of a mix of 40 and 120 vs. 80 alone. –  brewchez Jan 28 '11 at 15:33
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