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Beer Malts - Which is best for grain Whiskeys ?

edited February 2020 in Recipes

I am buying my malted barley and wheat from the local brew supply store as its convenient and they give me a pretty good discount, the odd sample bottle helps.

Anyway as I can't get distillers malt I am just buying brewers malt i.e. base malt or Pilsen, as its the cheapest. To be honest I haven't experimented that much with the different malted grains, like pale ale or others.

But I have to ask the question which is the best malted grain that you can get from brewery supply stores for making malt whisky?

I suspect the answer is experiment and find the one your like but if people have experimented I am curious as to what the results were?


  • Distillers malt will have lower product yield than traditional pale malt.

    Only use distillers if you have a high percentage of unmalted grain and need the higher diastatic potential to achieve full conversion.

    If you are using enzymes don’t bother with distillers malt.

  • Which malts are best is kinda determined by which malt whiskey you want to make. Because I love (and we make) heavy malty potstilled single malts, I use a grain bill based on a simplification of my favorite strong Scotch ale grain bill, a pale ale base malt liberally enriched with caramel and honey malt. The still-ready wash is a deep chestnut brown, and the pre-aging white whisky is rich with malt flavors. We don't sell much white, but our tastings are really a really a step-through of the whisky-making process, and people love to compare the white dog to the same product aged and proofed. It's fun to see the light of understanding in their eyes. On the other hand, if you want a light column-stilled malt whisky, prolly any base malt will work.

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • I just remembered that for hobbyists making their first malt whiskies, I used to recommend dry ot wet malt extract for a first step.

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • Yeah I always wondered why newbies didn’t always start with DME vs going all grain, especially if they didn’t start as brewers.

  • Same reason some people don't start with sugar washes i guess.

    StillDragon Australia & New Zealand - Your StillDragon® Distributor for Australia & New Zealand

  • @grim @punkin where's the fun in that???

    I did my first batch with help from a brewer and never considered D/LMEs as once you get the hang it’s pretty easy...

  • @zymurgybob I subscribe to your style of whiskey making, although I haven't tasted any I am a huge fan of potstilled malt whiskeys. I have two plated columns that are gathering dust in my shed. My copper pot still helmet never gathers dust, unless I am away. Thanks for the suggestion on the pale ale and the caramel malt. In my next couple of runs I will try that combination. I once did some whiskeys using liquid malt extract. The problem that I had is did the same run with an all grain fermentation at the same time. The grain whiskey wins every time, just more flavor. That being said if I had to make some whiskey for blending as a filler I would lean towards LME just for ease of manufacture.
    Anyway thanks guys.

  • edited February 2020

    We are really liking the dark malts lately. Caramel 120l, Briess Chocolate Malt.

    Even used crystal and black malt in a stout base whiskey we just did.

    You really need to like dark complex bitter flavors with high % of these.

  • @grim said: We are really liking the dark malts lately. Caramel 120l, Briess Chocolate Malt.

    Even used crystal and black malt in a stout base whiskey we just did.

    You really need to like dark complex bitter flavors with high % of these.

    I agree completely, although when simplifying the Scotch ale recipe, I left out the bitter malts, the chocolate and roasted barley (technically not a malt). The original recipe used Crystal 120 from Great Western Malting, but our new maltster, Skagit Valley Malting (a really great operation) has a skimpy range of crystals, but some super caramels (I'm not good enough to tell the difference).

    The upshot is that the whisky has a lot of caramelly malt flavor. The peated whiskies are our best sellers.

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • @zymurgybob and @grim. You have inspired me to go a bit more heavy on the peat. And thanks for the caramelly malt flavor. Time for some more experimenting. You guys are fantastic.

  • This was my stout-mash whiskey barrel they put a beer with the same mash bill back into:


  • Not sure if its an option for you but we use a high percentage of green malt and are very happy with the profile it produces. Kinda pain in ass but we think its worth it.


  • Guys. Well I am just through my latest two rounds of ferments, and I did a 5 grain multigrain, with Kiwichi as well. And I am just mashing in a heavy smoke all with Pale Ale as a base. The 5 grain white dog was very nice and I just mashed in the heavy smoke. Anyway thanks again for the recommendation on the pale ale. There is a lot more malty flavors in the pale ale than you get with a Pilsen base malt. That being said if I was doing a light whiskey with Quinoa for example I would go the Pilsen. The 5 grain went into the Slovenian oak barrels and its out in my gallery so in about 4 months I will have results.

  • Keep us posted with the results!

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • Well I have to say Kiwichi, which is a Peruvian grain ended up giving the whiskey a really cream/buttery/softnut type of flavor and mouth feel. Definitely something unique. To eat it tastes like cuscus. But after fermenting and a couple of runs it puts a very nice finish on a whisky. Definitely not bitter as Quinoa. If anyone can get it in the US its worth a try. I added 1 kg in 40 in my mash and that was all it needed. You cook it like quinoa, boil for 30 mins then let sit for 30 mins while the grains bust open then throw in the fermenter. My 5 grains were barley wheat oats kiwichi and smoked barley, well maybe that's 4. But whos counting. Hey @zymurgy I am doing a heavy smoke after your suggestion. 30% smoked. The next one I do I will through in a kilo or so of Quinoa for a nice tobacco/earthy touch.

  • I'm always interested in what you're doing. Just let us know.

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • edited March 2020

    Did a Wheat Whiskey with Weyermann Chocolate Wheat that's divine.

    Nothing crazy (maybe a little crazy), 40% Chocolate Wheat, 20% Wheat Malt, 40% Corn. Lacto co-pitch in the ferment. Two years on oak.

    Bottling it, smelled like chocolate brownies. Big long creamy coffee and cocoa finish. Ended up bottling at 105, so smooth.

  • Thanks @grim. I saw some toasted wheat for sale at a brew supply store and was cery curious. The next corn whiskey run I am going to do I am going to add Smoked barley, some wheat and some quinoa. I did a quinoa bourbon about 2 years ago and it was great. I cant remember readying about anyone trying to make a bourbon with a heavy smoke flavor in it.
    Thanks for the suggest on the Chocolate wheat. In a couple of weeks I will get the smoke bourbon ferments going.

  • Chocolate wheat is on the border of being roasted burnt black.

  • edited March 2020

    Midnight wheat is a beauty in beers. My favourite dark grain, no husk, so no bitterness.

    StillDragon Australia & New Zealand - Your StillDragon® Distributor for Australia & New Zealand

  • Has anyone tried to make whiskey with Melanoidin ?? Would it be worth a try ?

  • My vote is for ale malt. Everyone says pilsner malt but I prefer the flavour profile of ale malt. R

  • I just put in the barrel a heavy smoke per the comments of @zymurgybob which was with pale ale malt and heavy on the smoke. It is glorious and I cant wait to see how it comes out in 5 months. My latest Irish style with some oats came out fantastically with pale ale malt.

  • Just as an update, the pale ale malt is definitely a lot better. The heavy smoke has turned out very very well, as well I did an Irish with some extra oats using the pale ale and its very good. Thanks for the hints on pale ale malt.

  • Constantly surprised at how much smoke you lose during aging. At two years it’s like, where’s the smoke? Drop the proof to bottle, what smoke?

    I can’t imagine how rough the distillate is on some of the heavy peated scotches to be able to survive all that aging time and still be so dominant.

    Not to mention, boy do you need to go deep into the tails to really get that smoke.

  • @grim. I agree but I have only done half a dozen scotches. With the heavy smoke I went down to 15% and it was nasty, but its evened out. I read a book on bootlegging in Scotland in the 1700 and I sometimes wonder what that whiskey would taste like. Those distillers would gouge out a small room near a stream, and build a little cave and put their still and fermenting barrels. And make whiskey. Must have been rough or maybe not.

  • edited March 2021

    Hey guys been awhile since I've done a whisky mash, been focusing on beer lately so forgotten a few things.

    Does anyone step mash to get the most fermentable sugars or is mashing low temp the best way to go?

    Example mash in at 63c (obviously protein rest and cereal mashing if required before this) hold for an hour and then ramp up to 66c for an hour then 68-69c for 45mins. Also from memory no need to ramp up temp for mash out to 75c as wanting the enzymes to stay active ( some reason to not boil) and then just chill to pitch yeast

    I've got a herms setup so can change temps etc

    Thinking the below recipe (25L) as pilot and upscale to 50L depending on the flavour profile I get.

    Will probably water down and aim for 8-10% depends on what efficiency I get

    Thinking I'll do it acouple of times with different still config

    • Plate still 4plates one pass
    • Plate still 4 plates strip and sprit run
    • Plate still in pot mode and then 4plates
    • Plate still pot mode strip and spirit

    Will probably do the spirit run using new wash to dilute what I stripped on the last batch

    Open to feedback and thoughts :) also thinking I'll get some flaked maize and look at making so bourbon again

    I've got a heap of raw wheat so may also look at doing something with that later


    410 x 800 - 38K
  • Recipe looks tasty. I reckon that all you need is the hour at 63c. I don't see that you'll get any benefit from the 2 ramps you suggest (66 & 68) as the malts you are using are generally well modified so you'll get full conversion in that time - do an iodine test to prove it.

    As well as different still configs, you can also try the same mash bill but do it at 66 & another at 68. That way you'll be able to experience the difference causes by using each temps eg you'll bet more booze at 63, but maybe more flavour at 68.

    Raw wheat will need cereal cooking. good luck

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