Malt Sensory Training


This training session can be used for self study or in a group setting. It is aimed at highlighting the flavors and aromas of the malt so a participant may experience what can contribute to a beer. Those attempting this for self study may want to use such techniques as The Hot Steep Method developed for malt sensory evaluation at the Briess Malt & Ingredients Co and was presented at the 2017 National Homebrewers Conference. For larger group setting exercises organizers will probably want to consider a mini-mash approach to insure that there is enough for each participant. 

Training Objectives

This offering was developed to assist with three objectives:

  1. Allow participants to experience the aromas and flavors that different malts can offer to beer.
  2. Help new and existing judges to develop their descriptive vocabulary. 
  3. Help new and existing judges to describe the levels of intensity of aromas and flavors.  

It should be noted that discussing mouthfeel as a part of this exercise will provide limited value. The purpose of the exercise is to highlight the malt’s flavor and aroma attributes. Using the ratios listed below should result in little variation between samples when it comes to sweetness levels or viscosity. Astringency could become a part of the discussion however that would be dependent on how the wort is prepared. 

Aids for Conducting the Training

An video containing an overview of the training can be found on the BJCP YouTube Channel. A copy of the slide deck that is presented in the video can be found here

What’s Needed

  • Wort sample(s), approximately 3 to 4 ounces (90 to 120 ml) per participant. 
  • Printed double sided copies of the BJCP Malt Sensory Training Wheel or similar, using descriptors familiar to your region. One side of printed wheel will be needed per a malt for each participant. 
  • Something to write with.

Malts Ratios

The malt ratios listed below (52 g to 400 ml) are taken from the The Hot Steep Method and should be maintained when up scaling for larger group efforts. They are done in order to provide the participant with a real world example. Note that specialty / roasted / dark malts are mixed with a certain amount of a base type malt for each sample, just as it would in a batch of beer. For those samples it’s suggested that a mild Base malt is used. 

The malts listed are also a suggestion aimed at giving the participant a range of experience with different types. Participants should not feel obligated to sample all of these suggestions nor be limited to just these suggestions. If different malts are used, use the ‘Other’ ratios that are listed depending on if the malt is a base, specialty, or dark / roasted. 

It should be noted that this exercise is intended for use with whole kernel malts. It is not designed for use with liquid or dry malt extracts. 

Malts 400 ml water
Base  Specialty / Roasted / Dark
Two Row, Brewers, Pale Malt 52 g 0 g
Pils 52 g 0 g
Maris Otter 52 g 0 g
Vienna 52 g 0 g
Munich 10 ºL or less 52 g 0 g
Golden Promise 52 g 0 g
Other Base Malts: 52 g 0 g
Wheat 26 g 26 g
Caramel/Crystal (20, 40, 60, 80) 26 g 26 g
Caramunich I, II, III 26 g 26 g
Rauch 26 g 26 g
Smoked Wheat 26 g 26 g
Rye 26 g 26 g
Other Specialty Malts(< 100 ºL): 26 g 26 g
Caramel/Crystal 120 39 g 13 g
Dark Crystal 39 g 13 g
Special B 39 g 13 g
Other Specialty Malts (>= 100 ºL, <350 ºL): 39 g 13 g
Chocolate 44 g 8 g
Roasted Barley 44 g 8 g
Black 44 g 8 g
Carafa III 44 g 8 g
Other Dark / Roasted Specialty Malts (>=350 ºL): 44 g 8 g

Wort Prep

If one or two individuals are conducting this exercise then consider using the Hot Steep Method or the American Homebrewers Association’s Grain Tea method. As stated earlier, for larger group setting organizers will probably want to consider a mini-mash approach to insure that there is enough for each participant. We should note that in test trials with larger groups that some participants were picking up some sour notes in the wort that had been produced the night before. If preparing for a larger group exercise a day or two in advance it is suggested that the wort be stored below 38 ºF (3.3 ºC) and then be brought to room temperature prior to serving. 

Regardless of which prep method is used the target gravity for the wort sample should be based on the 52 g to 400 ml ratio in order to highlight the malt’s flavor and aroma attributes. For those preparing a mini-mash use the 52 g to 400 ml ratio to up scale the mash to the amount of wort needed for group participants.

It should be noted that regardless of which prep method is chosen, those preparing are not advised to squeeze the filter or grain bag for risk of introducing astringency or excess tannins to the wort sample. It is also suggested that distilled water be used for the wort prep but regular tap water is fine. Finally we are just trying to get to the character of the malt so as long as the finished wort is stored below 38 ºF (3.3 ºC) pH should not be a concern.  

Using the Malt Sensory Training Wheel with this Exercise

The BJCP Malt Sensory Training Wheel was constructed using terms taken from the literature produced by multiple malt producers and brewing industry organizations. Some terms may not be applicable for each part of the globe or type of malt being used. Given the objectives of this course the Education Directorate fully encourages members to replace descriptors or even develop their own wheel. 

Each participant will need a copy of the training wheel for each malt that’s being sampled. If multiple malts are being sampled, it’s recommended that the copies are printed double-sided. 

With the malt sample in hand have each participant place the letter ‘A’ on each spoke of the sensory item that they’re experiencing in the Aroma. Higher intensity experiences should have the ‘A’ placed where the spoke meets the 5 ring, trace intensity experiences should have the ‘A’ placed where the spoke meets the 1 ring, and anything in between should have the ‘A’ placed on the 2, 3, or 4 ring as appropriate. 

After the Aromas are indicated the same should be repeated with the letter ‘F’ for each flavor that is experienced. Again, the higher intensity experiences should have the ‘F’ placed where the spoke meets the 5 ring, trace intensity experiences should have the ‘F’ placed where the spoke meets the 1 ring, and anything in between should have the ‘F’ placed on the 2, 3, or 4 ring as appropriate.

If a sensory description listed on the training wheel is not experienced in the Aroma or Flavor, no indication is needed.

If someone is experiencing an aroma or flavor sensation that’s not on the wheel, one should feel comfortable crossing off a description that’s not being used and replace it with a term that appropriately describes the experience. 

It’s recommended that the time allowed to record the Aromas and Flavors be limited to a total of 5 minutes. This should be done to condition the participant to be timely with their observations and prevent them from over analyzing the sample. The 5 minute time limit also fits in nicely with the expectation to complete filling out a score sheet within 10 to 15 minutes. 

Once all participants have completed capturing their observations some discussion is encouraged. This will help participants learn from one another. Be sure to point out that just because one participants observations are different from others that it doesn’t make one person right, others wrong, and vice versa. Emphasize that people have different palates, that they experience things differently, that perceptions change over time, and that participants need to continuously practice. 

Also take the opportunity to point out how one could suspect an observation in one sense and then use another to confirm it. For example, one might sense some toasted character in the aroma but they may better perceive it in the flavor and confirm the presence. The same could also happen with taste first and then confirmation with aroma.

After doing a few samples and completing a few wheels point out to participants how items flagged on the wheel translate to the ability to fill in the Aroma and Flavor sections on a BJCP score sheet. For example, a wheel with Aroma observations that has Bread 5, Toast 3, and Caramel 1 could equate to ‘ High bready aromas, medium toasted character, and hints of caramel’. Another example, a wheel with Flavor observations that has 4 Dark / Dried Fruit, 4, Chocolate, 3, 2 Toast, 1 Burnt could equate to ‘Rich and complex dark fruit and chocolate malt with medium low toast and some burnt notes.’