I think this is a case of someone taking one truth and blowing it way out of proportion. For any malt, each individual kernel is going to vary in color. Malting isn't an exact science. So while a sack of C-40 is listed at a color of 40L, the kernels inside the bag will be within a certain range, but the average color is going to be 40L.
Each individual maltster is going to have different tolerances as far as how far the color range may be for a particular product. So a sack of C-40 could hypothetically have individual kernels that measure 20L or 60L, but the bulk of the grain will be much closer to 40L. It's not like they're mixing 20L and 60L Crystal malt and calling it C-40.
I've heard interviews with some smaller maltsters that claim they are producing malt with a tighter range of color than some of the larger maltsters, and that this leads to a better consistency of flavor. Maybe that's where Breiss comes to play in this story.
All of this^^^ ...here's an excerpt from our book...probably more than you want to know....
CRYSTAL AND CARAMEL MALTS
Crystal and caramel malts are used to increase the body of the beer and provide flavors not available
from base malts. These flavors can range from a nearly imperceptible sweetness from very light
crystal malts (such as carapils at 1.5°L) all the way to the raisiny flavors you get from Special B
(135°L), with a range of toffeelike flavors in between. Crystal malts are typically produced at colors
of 20°L, 30°L, 40°L, 60°L, 80°L, 90°L, and 120°L. The exact colors available will vary depending on
the maltster. When you look at crystal malt, you’ll notice that it’s a mix of lighter and darker grains.
The color is specified by an average of the grain colors.
While crystal and caramel malts are essentially the same thing, some maltsters make a subtle
distinction between the two based on the process used to produce them. For more information, we
turn to Dave Kuske, director of malting operations at Briess Malt & Ingredients Co:
The difference between caramel and crystal malts involves both terminology and chemistry
and production differences.
As for terminology, the European maltsters landed on crystal malt as the descriptor of
malts that go through a conversion step where starches are rapidly (typically within forty-five
minutes) converted to sugars, and the sugars are then crystallized at high temperatures in a
roaster. Somewhere in our distant past, it was decided that our crystal-style malts produced in
the same manner were given the name caramel malt.
The term caramel really refers to the process of pyrolisis of sugars. When I give presentations
on the process, I encourage the audience to envision a candy thermometer. There are different
temperature breaks where different types of caramel are produced, and each has unique
physical and flavor properties. Crystal-style malt is in reality the end process of achieving high
enough temperatures to produce a hard crack–type caramel inside of each malt kernel, which
results in a hard, glassy endosperm. This crystallization lends unique properties to the flavor
and functionality of the malt. In order to achieve crystallization, the actual kernel temperature
must exceed 300°F, which requires much higher applied temperatures only achievable using
a roaster, which has the burner capacity to reach in excess of 700°F if needed.
There are caramel malts on the market that are produced using a kiln. The green malt is
heated at minimal airflow and is held at high moisture content for an extended period of time
(more like hours than minutes) on the upper kiln to stew the malt to allow the enzymes to break
the starches into sugars. It is a tricky step on the kiln because it is difficult to get the wet malt
heated up to the enzyme-optimum temperatures (60°C–70°C or 140°F–158°F) without drying
the malt in the process, which slows the enzymatic breakdown. I liken it to trying to heat up
a wet bath towel. After stewing, the malt is heated at the highest temperature possible on the
kiln, which is not hot enough to actually crystallize the sugars due to maximum temperature
limitations on the kiln. In most cases, 220°F–240°F burner temperature is as high as one
can achieve on a kiln, which falls far short of crystallization temperature of the predominant
sugars. There is some caramelization that occurs at the lower temperatures, but the majority
of the color and flavor development is due to the Maillard reaction (sugar + amino acid), which
provides a different flavor profile and a mealy or powdery endosperm.
Many maltsters have come up with their own trademarked names for their versions of crystal/cara
malts. We’ll look at a few of those, along with other crystal/cara variations, below.
• Golden Naked Oats (4.3°L–8.1°L), from Simpsons Malt, are a huskless crystal oat malt. This
malt gives the beer a flavor sometimes referred to as nutty. It also increases the body. Although
it’s technically a crystal, homebrewers have been known to use larger amounts of it in a batch
140 Chapter 7 conventional brewing ingredients 141
than normally would be used for crystal malts. Amounts around 30 percent aren’t unusual to see
in some recipes.
• Caramunich I (31°L–38°L), Caramunich II (42°L–49°L), Caramunich III (53°L–60.5°L),
Caraaroma (115°L–150°L), Carabelge (118°L–13.7°L), Carabohemian (64°L–83°L), Carawheat
(42°L–53°L), Carapils (1.5°L–2.9°L), Carahell (8.1°L–11.8°L), Carared (16°L–23°L), Caraamber
(23°L–31°L), and Cararye (57°L–76°L) are names trademarked by Weyermann for their line of
• Carastan is the name Baird’s gives to its crystal/cara malts.
• Caravienne (21°L) is a light crystal malt originally produced by the Belgian maltsters Dewolf-
Cosyns. After they closed around 2001, it has been produced by a number of other maltsters. If
you can’t find it, we’ve found that 20°L crystal is a really close substitute.