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Crystal malt is said to positively influence head retention / foam stability in the final beer. Why is that?

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  • if I had to guess, I'd think it has to do with protein content, maybe? Dec 6 '10 at 21:30
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Crystal malts add both head retention and body to the beer, they do this by adding dextrines and complex proteins. The crystal or caramel malts are produced by kilning the grains with up to 50% moisture content in the barley creating a crystalline sugar structure inside the grain's hull. They are undermodified malt and have very little diastatic power due to the amount of moisture present in the kilning process. They add complex sugars to the wort that are not fermentable thus producing residual sweetness.

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  • But to what total extent of all things that contribute to head retention is crystal malt responsible. There are likely other foam positive things to focus on; because many styles have little to no crystal in the grist, yet they have excellent head retention. So the contribution by crystal malts on head retention is small in the big picture. Doesn't change that NB Chris provided a great answer to the question asked though.
    – brewchez
    Dec 7 '10 at 20:17
  • The primary contributors to head retention are high molecular weight proteins and isohumulones which are alpha acids from hops. Dec 7 '10 at 20:54
  • Great answer. Thanks. But what is the connection between the kilning and those proteins you mentioned?
    – Tobi
    Dec 19 '10 at 11:17
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I decided to make some very pale bitter ("golden ale") for a change, with no addition of my normal 250g of standard crystal malt.

So the only ingredient were

  • my usual Maris Otter pale malt 2.5Kg/5 gallons,
  • 100g pale rye malt
  • 100g torrefied wheat.

That makes an everyday brew of about 3.5% alcohol.

The rye and wheat were added for flavour (rye) and improved head (Torrefied wheat) which I have been using for a long time.

The main effect of the crystal malt in my experience is that it darkened the brew a little, giving it a traditional bitter colour. I've never noticed any effect of the crystal malt on sweetness but it may add a little extra body. My unexpected finding is that leaving out the crystal malt has improved the head greatly. The head starts half an inch high and seems to linger right down to the bottom of the pint now.

I've made 3 pale malt brews now, without any crystal malt, and the result has been the same. For the record, for some years I've been adding 10g of powdered heading compound (from Bigger Jugs) which says it contains "maltodextrin and yeast elements" to the syphoned beer after fermentation and before bottling, which has helped a lot. But the effect of leaving out the crystal malt seems to have been a major advance.

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  • Have you experimented with omitting the heading compound? Are you saying this is what's responsible for the head retention of your beers? I'm sitting here sipping a delicious winter warmer that looks like flat coke and wondering what I've done wrong, usually my beer has better head. I'm putting it down to the star anise. Dec 29 '18 at 18:59
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IF all your other brewing practices are good, adding more dextrins can help. But if you have yeast/fermentation issues, adding proteins won't help foam formation and retention.

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  • Better added as a comment, as this is not an answer to the question which is how does crystal contribute to head retention. Now I sound like an ass.
    – brewchez
    Dec 7 '10 at 20:19
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    down-voted. no answer to the question. sorry.
    – Tobi
    Dec 19 '10 at 11:15

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