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Crisp carries a 630L Chocolate malt, Munton's carries one that's 385L.

Both are UK maltsters, but (not having actually tasted them) I assume that they taste quite different, even though they are both from the UK and both named "Chocolate Malt". Is that a safe assumption? Is the only way to know to get some of each and taste and brew with it?

If a recipe only states "Chocolate Malt", how can I know which to buy (especially if I have to mail-order my grain, and won't have a chance to taste it before purchase)?

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I think you've identified a shortcoming of a vague recipe, not the malts. I think you'd simply have to do some online research to see if anyone has done a side-by-side comparison. However, I will say that 630L seems extremely high to me for chocolate, and I wish Crisp would give it a name like 'Dark Chocolate' or something. –  Graham Jul 6 '12 at 20:30
    
Graham, your comment is a good one, you could make it an answer. –  mdma Jul 7 '12 at 16:12
    
So is the implication that they will taste pretty much the same, then? I'm skeptical of that. –  baka Jul 7 '12 at 17:25
    
Graham mentions it, but I have seen it on occasion listed as dark chocolate. I had the same problem with an old brown recipe of mine. I used 350L chocolate many years a go and all the chocolate I could find was 450+. Frustration, but I think each maltster has a slightly different idea of what chocolate malt is. –  brewchez Jul 8 '12 at 11:01
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2 Answers

They will not taste the same. Its like comparing pale chocolate (200L) to black patent (500+L).

There are indeed a range of chocolate malts out there, especially of the English variety.

You can use brewing software or a color calculator online to help match it up. If the recipe you want to brew also has SRM along with its supposed OG, FG etc etc, fill in the recipe into a calculator. Then swap the different colored chocolate malts. The one with the closest predicted SRM is the one the recipe was likely made with.

Lastly, in general chocolate malt is generically 350-400L if you have nothing else to go on.

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In general, darker malts have more concentrated flavor, since the darker compounds created in Maillard reactions and/or caramelization (pyrolysis) and carbonization at high temperatures have a stronger taste.

However, although color is a significant indicator, it's only a one dimensional indicator, and doesn't capture all the details of flavor. For example, compare a crystal malt and roasted malt of the same color. With the crystal, conversion of the sugars produces more caramelization, leading to the series of sugar-derived flavors (caramel, toffee, raisin) that we see with crystal malts, while roasted regular malts produce bread, biscuit, coffee, and increasing levels of roastedness. Another example of flavor differences with same color is Carafa malts, which come in regular and dehusked, both producing the same amount of color, but different flavor.

One way to know for sure how a given malt will taste is to brew a small tea from the steeped crushed malts and sample. While it's possible to get a general idea of a recipe by looking at the ingredients, to take it to the next level requires a pilot brew in order to fine tune the recipe to the specific ingredients, the equipment and process used.

Naturally, the more detailed the recipe, the easier it is to pair ingredients from the recipe with what is available, or that substitutions can be made. In the case of a recipe that simply asks for Chocolate malt, then one hopes that the quantity is just a few ounces so the flavor impact is low, allowing any chocolate malt to be used. In larger quantities, you could try to refine the recipe from knowledge of how the final beer tastes, taking into account the ingredients you have available. If this isn't possible, then you may simply have to brew, and accept that this may not be exactly on target, requiring a few tweaks and a second attempt. It's not uncommon for brewers to tweak and brew a recipe 5 or more times in order to specifically hit the target they are looking for.

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