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Along with water, hops, and yeast, grain is one of the basic ingredients of beer, as well as braggot (a specialty mead). The most common type of grain used in brewing is barley, but other grains may be used. Ordinarily most or all of the grain used in brewing is malted in order to create the enzymes needed to convert the grain's starches to sugars. However, some types of unmalted grain may also be used in brewing.

Brewing grains can be divided into categories in two main ways: by the specific of grain used and by the way the grain is prepared for use in brewing. The most common grain used in brewing beer is barley, and the most common way of preparing barley for brewing is malting.

Malting and processing grain

The most important distinction between the grains used in brewing is whether or not the grain has been malted to develop the grain's natural enzymes. These enzymes convert the starch naturally present in the grain into sugars that can be digested by yeast.

Both malted and unmalted grain then generally undergo a one or more additional processing steps, such as drying, kilning, or roasting, in order to develop certain flavor, color, or chemical characteristics that will then be imparted to the finished beer.

Understanding the processes by which individual types of grain are created will help the brewer use those grains intelligently. However, for extract home brewers, the most important distinction between the different types of grain is whether or not the resulting

Malted Grain

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Most grain used in brewing is malted, which is a process of allowing grain to germinate, then heating it to stop the germination and create a shelf-stable product. After the basic malting process, grain may be subjected to one or more specialized processes to change its character or chemical composition, including:

These malted grains make up the bulk of all brewing grains.

Unmalted Grain

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Not all grains used in brewing are malted. Some grains, including those commonly used as fermentable adjuncts such as maize and rice, are added to the mash unmalted, with their starches being converted by excess enzymes from barley. These grains are usually prepared for brewing by processes such as flaking, torrification, micronization, or the preparation of grits or grain syrup.

Traditional brewing grains such as barley and wheat can also be roasted to create a flavor similar to a roasted malt. The most common example is the unmalted roasted barley that lends a distinctive bitter, roasted flavor to stout.

Malt extract and grain syrup

For brewers who are unwilling or unable to extract the sugars from these grains themselves, pre-prepared, concentrated versions of many brewing grains are available with the sugar already extracted and ready for fermentation. These are known as malt extract when they consist primarily of malted grains that have been mashed into wort and then concentrated into a thick liquid or powder, and grain syrup when the sugar is extracted directly from an unmalted grain such as maize.

Base malts and specialty grains

While all types of brewing grains can be included in an all-grain homebrewer's mash, the options for extract brewers are more limited. Grains used in home brewing can be divided into two general categories:

Mash tun grains

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Most grains and malts used in home brewing contain a significant amount of starch that must be converted to sugar by enzymatic action in the mash before they can be taken up by the yeast. If these grains are steeped rather than mashed, they will contribute mostly unfermentable starches, which will remain, unfermented, in the finished beer, resulting in a low-alcohol, hazy beer with a heavy mouthfeel. Therefore, these grains are not available to extract brewers, who must replace them, if possible, with malt extract.

In order to avoid a starch beer, even all-grain brewers must make sure that their mash contains enough enzymes to convert all of the mash's starch. For this reason, the bulk of any mash usually consists of malted grains with enough diastatic power to convert themselves completely. This category includes not only basic pale ale malt, six-row malt, and other mildly flavored malts, but also high-kilned malts such as Vienna malt and Munich malt which are capable of self-conversion. These are often referred to as base malts, while grains that cannot convert their own protein without help from a base malt's excess enzymes are called specialty grains.

Steeping grains

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Some types of grain may simply be steeped in water to extract their sugars without contributing excess starches to the finished beer. These include crystal and caramel malt, which are fully converted in the malting process, as well as some roasted grains, which are converted by heat during processing.

Grains requiring preprocessing

A few forms of non-barley grain, such as grits, need to undergo additional pre-processing in the brewery before they can be added to the mash or to the kettle. These are rarely used by homebrewers, since substitutes are readily available, but commercial brewers sometimes use them for their cost or stability.

Individual grains used in brewing

While barley is the most common brewing grain, other grains such as wheat, rye, and maize are traditional in many beer styles, and many other grains have been used by adventurous home and craft brewers.


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Barley is the most common grain used in brewing beer, and malted barley is the most prominent grain, and often the only grain, in most beer styles around the world. Unmalted barley is also used in some beers, usually in its roasted form.

Wheat, Rye, and Oats

While barley is the most common base grain used in beer, many traditional beer styles also rely on malted or unmalted wheat. Less common but still traditional is the use of rye, which lends beer a strong spicy flavor, or oats, which give a rich, somewhat oily mouthfeel.

Rice and Maize (Corn)

The most common fermentable adjuncts used to lighten a beer's body, especially in the case of American and Asian pale lager, are maize (called "corn" in the United States) and rice. Maize in particular is a traditional ingredient in many American beer styles, where it was historically used to cut the protein-heavy six-row barley varieties used in early American brewing; rice gives a cleaner, more neutral character, while maize has a distinctive flavor of its own that is often detectable in the finished beer. Maize and rice are usually used flaked or in the form of grits or grain syrup rather than as a malted grain.

Rice hulls are sometimes used separately in the mash, where they help prevent a stuck mash without contributing anything to the wort.

Other Grains

Homebrewers will try just about anything, and beers can and may be made with other kinds of grain, such as amaranth, qinoa, millet, or spelt. However, the use of these less common grains in brewing is limited, since they are usually not available to homebrewers in malted forms.

Specific Grains and Malts

See the list below for more specific information on particular grains and types of grains.

See the malts chart to compare the characteristics of the various grains.