I've read multiple times now that "malty", as a taste, does not mean "sweet"; it is therefor possible to have a dry, malty brew, or a sweet, non malty brew. Is "malty" the same as "body", or is "body" one component of "sweet"?

What is it that makes a homebrew "sweet"? Is it simply a high final gravity? A high final gravity relative to original gravity? A low BU to OG (or FG) ratio? What about a high mash temperature that results in unfermentable sugars -- does this lend only to an increase in body, or also an increase in sweetness?

What is it that makes a homebrew "malty"? Is it simply the choice of malts? If so, which malts contribute a "malty" flavor, and which contribute a "non-malty" flavor? (Incidentally, what is the word for non-malty?) Is it possible to have a low body but malty brew?

2 Answers 2


Re: malty

For me, malty is one of those kind of 'irreducible' qualities, i.e. it's hard to describe exactly what else it tastes like besides malt, in the same way that it's hard to say exactly what 'grape-y' tastes like, aside from 'like grapes'.

A very large part of maltiness as a distinct flavor is melanoidins, the product of Maillard reactions between sugars and amino acids during malting. Because this reaction is driven by heat there's a good correlation between the color of the malt and the intensity of the malty flavor (at least until you move into the dark crystal/chocolate/roasted malt range). Well-modified malts offer higher levels of sugars and amino acids before kilning, and therefore tend to be maltier. Vienna, Munich, and medium crystal malts are good examples of higher melanoidin malts, although all lighter malts also get their malty flavor almost entirely from melanoidins.

Caramelization is another factor, though it is virtually non-existent in many malts. Sugars except fructose caramelize only above 320°F (fructose, above 230°F). As an example, dark Munich malt doesn't usually get above 220°F during kilning so it and any lighter malt should contain no measurable caramelized sugars. It becomes a factor in darker malts like Brown malt, darker crystal malts and chocolate and roasted malts, where kilning temperatures reach well beyond the point of caramelization. Maillard reactions can continue at this temperature too (though it's often too dry), so the balance of the two dictates the characteristic of the particular malt.

Because the formation of trademark malty flavors will always depend on the spectrum of sugars and amino acids (as well as many other non-melanoidin-forming compounds) in the germinating grain when it's kilned, it's not necessarily a flavor that has many true analogues in every-day life. The most common synonyms I've heard are bready, toasty and bisciuty. These examples no doubt share many of the same flavor compounds.

To address a few of your questions directly:

Is "malty" the same as "body"?

Not really. Body's much more about mouth-feel, the perceived thickness or substance of a beer, whereas malty is a distinct flavor.

Is it possible to have a low body but malty brew?

Yes, definitely. Think of styles like English milds and bitters, some darker Belgians, American red ales, etc. Malty flavors, but no cloying fullness.

which malts ... contribute a "non-malty" flavor?

Strictly speaking, none do, since all malt intrinsically has the flavor of itself. Apples always taste like apples, even if they don't taste like all other apples. However, lighter malts will have less intense malt flavor than darker ones.

what is the word for non-malty?

"Non-malty" :)

Re: sweetness/body

Sweetness is tricky because there are so many uses of the term which do not imply sugary sweetness (literally the taste of fructose/sucrose). In this sense, sweetness, as we most often use the word, is very closely related to body, as both have much to do with the perception of the thickness and mouth-feel of a beer. In my experience, the best prediction of sweetness (as you suspected) is the final gravity.

Of course there can be actual, sugary sweetness in beers. Some fermentable sugars may survive fermentation, for various reasons. Some unfermentable sugars can have perceivable, if only very subtle, sweetness. Dextrins are virtually flavorless, and I've read multiple authors suggest they are not a high enough molecular weight to account for the body of a beer alone, though they will contribute somewhat. Some dextrins, as Pepi suggests, may be further reduced to simple sugars by salivary amylase, though this is probably limited in scope since the enzymes in saliva (α-amylase, virtually identical to that in malt) are incapable of hydrolyzing the branch-points of dextrins, meaning only dextrins larger than those derived from a typical mash would yield much sweetness. They could be a factor in very low diastatic-power mashes, which may leave such larger dextrins unconverted in the wort which pass undermented into beer. A well-planned (short and hot) mash schedule could easily promote this kind of sweetness.

Bitterness, as you suggest, is also a big factor in the perception of sweetness, in that it tends to offset it. Thinking of bitterness and gravity as ratios rather than isolated numbers always made more sense to me. It makes it very easy to 'scale' a beer of a particular sweet/bitter balance to a higher or lower ABV%; in my experience maintaining the ratio maintains the balance, too.

Many other flavor compounds in beers can be perceived as sweet, either directly or in their contribution to a beer's body. Alcohols (both ethanol and fusel) contribute a characteristic mouth-coating fullness, especially at high levels. Esters may have a complementary effect. Too much diacetyl lends its own particularly slickness, and various proteins that survive into the beer contributes viscosity and body, much more so than dextrins. Unfermentable melanoidins and caramelization products will also boost body and sweetness perception.


Sweetness does overlap with maltiness, but sweetness definitely can come from things besides the final gravity.

Maltiness can come from high mash temps, and at least in my beers they seem to not be too sweet. When I mash high, but without a lot of specialty malts, I get an increase in body, and a nice thick head but the beer can still be kind of plain. (But, if you have a lot of amylase in your saliva, you might get more sweetness from this than I do).

The source of malty-sweetness seems to be caramelized sugars, from the kilning/roasting of specialty grains or a scorching hot boil. These, to me, can taste quite sweet. I think this is the real source of perceived maltiness, since these sugars seem to survive saccharification & fermentation.

OTOH, sweetness can come from higher alcohols, or relatively small amounts of non-fermentables, like lactose in a milk stout for example.

One of my favorites yeasts is a Saison that always ferments beyond 1.010, even when the OG if above 1.060. These beers are always sweet, whether the ABV is 5% or 8%. I'm not sure what sugars might be left behind, but I don't think it's alcohol sweetness.

Finally, I suppose that bitterness from hops will offset sweetness, but maybe somebody that brews bitter beers can comment on that.

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