Great Grain makes great beer

Russ is the best beer chef around.

Choose your grain wisely.

There are literally thousands upon thousands of beer recipes out there. They all have different types of grains, different ratios of grain, different special ingredients, they are cooked differently, ingredients are added at different points in the brewing process, they are fermented under different conditions, the list is endless. Yet they all have one thing in common.

The better your grain, the better your beer.

The mix of grain determines the flavor profile, the style and the quality of beer you are brewing. Every chef knows that the better the ingredients you start with, the better your finished product will be. Russ only stocks the highest quality grains available to ensure that every creative new recipe you try has the best chance of becoming amazing beer.

Swing by the store and check out his selection of top grains and other beer ingredients.


Coming up with your own unique beers is the second most rewarding thing for innovative brewers, right behind drinking it. However, it can be tricky to come up with a recipe that works. Russ has brewed thousands of batches in hundreds of styles. He has helped hundreds of people create their own signature beer recipes. Some are even commercially available.

The next time you have an idea for a new beer, stop by the shop and pick his brain. The results are almost always intoxicating. 

Visit Steins & Vines

Grain Basics

Here's what you need to know about common beer ingredients and how to use them. Barley is by far the most commonly used ingredient in beer, but there are many others such as wheat, corn and rye. There are two types of barley used in brewing, and each gets their name from the way in which the barley grows on the stalk. 2-row barley has 2 rows of seeds on each of the stalk heads and 6-row barley has six rows of seeds on the head of the stalk. But what are the real differences?

2-Row Barley
2-row seeds are traditionally plumper as they are less crowded when growing. Because of this, they also have thinner husks which means that they have fewer proteins. They also tend to have a smoother and cleaner flavor profile as compared to 6-row base malts.

6-Row Barley
6-row barley has developed a reputation for not being as tasty as 2-row. It is true that 6-row is a bit grainier than its predecessor, but this is not very noticeable in most beers, especially when mixed with specialty grains and/or hops. So why use 6-row base malt? It has a much higher amount of enzymes or diastatic power.

This makes 6-row especially useful when making a recipe that utilizes a lot of adjuncts or specialty grains with little to no diastatic power. Diastatic power refers to a malted grain’s enzymatic content and its ability to convert starches into fermentable sugars during mashing. This is less important when your recipe has a large amount of malted grain, but is very important if you are using mostly adjunct grains or other starchy ingredients.


What is the difference between grain and malt?
Malt is germinated cereal grain that has been dried in a process known as "malting". The grain is made to germinate by soaking in water and is then halted from germinating further by drying with hot air. Various cereals are malted, though barley is the most common.

The process of malting generates enzymes that convert starch stored in the grain into sugar. That sugar is consumed by yeast to create alcohol through the process of fermentation. Grain becomes malt, which becomes beer. 

There are a wide variety of malts,  but they all of which fall into two broad categories: malts which can be steeped (good for extract brewing), and malts which need to be mashed (all-grain brewing required).

Base Malts

Base malts make up the majority of the grist in all-grain beer. Base malts are often named based on the formation of corns on the barley stalk (2-row vs. 6-row), the variety (e.g., Maris Otter, Golden Promise, etc), or the region in which it was grown or malted.

  • Barley malts: pale malt, Pilsner malt, Vienna malt, Munich malt, mild ale malt, and more
  • Non-barley base malts like wheat malt and rye malt
  • High-kilned malts are heated to a higher temperature at the end of the malting process. These darker colored malts are responsible for the dark, malty lagers of Europe and have also found a home in some ales because of their unique character. Munich and Vienna malts are the prime examples.
  • American base malt is generally mild and fairly neutral;
  • British malts tend to be maltier, bready, and biscuit-like.
  • Continental barley  grown in Europe gives your beer a clean, "elegant" character.
  • Pilsner malt has a soft, delicate maltiness that practically defines pale lagers.

Caramel / Crystal Malts

Crystal malts are steep-able and generally used to add sweetness and color to both extract and all-grain brews.

Crystal malts do not go through the drying process and are instead moved to a roaster after they are germinated. In the roaster, the starches within the grain are converted to sugars. After the starches are converted, the temperature is increased to create the color and flavor. Some of the sugars in crystal malts caramelize during kilning and become unfermentable and will increase the final sweetness of a beer.

As a general rule, the lighter-colored crystal malts are more "sweet," while darker crystal malts add roastiness or nuttiness in addition to sweetness. On the extreme light end sit dextrin(e) malts. They also add dextrins, which bring body and a thicker mouthfeel. But broadly speaking, anything labeled crystal, caramel, or cara-something are crystal malts.

Adjuncts or Unmalted Grains

Adjuncts are unmalted, starchy things. They are normally understood to be a cereal grain, but creative homebrewers have been known to use things like pumpkin and potatoes, too. Adjuncts are often used for such purposes as increasing or lightening the body and color of a beer, increasing head retention and adding additional flavors.

Adjuncts don't have sugars available like crystal malts, so they can't be steeped for extract brewing. They also don't have enzymes like malted grains, so they need to be mashed with base malt to extract their sugars. This will cause the raw grains to begin to gelatinize. Flaked grains have already been gelatinized and are then rolled out, so no processing is necessary.

Examples of Adjuncts:
  • Flaked barley and flaked oats
  • Corn
  • Torrified wheat
  • Pumpkin/squash
  • Potatoes
  • Rice... 
  • and more - any starchy vegetable/grain can be an adjunct

Kilned & Toasted Malts

Toasted malts are completely dried and then kilned at high temperatures in order to increase their color and cause less caramelization. This gives the grains a nuttiness or toast flavor. Toasted malts are usually used in low quantities to contribute unique flavor (half a pound or less for a 5 gallon batch). Biscuit malt contributes a light, "saltine cracker" flavor, while aromatic malt is deeper and maltier.

Brown and amber malt are similarly toasted, but brown is darker and more toasty/bready and amber has less of a pretzel-like flavor.Victory malt is another light option that sits between biscuit and amber, with characteristics of both. Special roast is fairly unique and will impart a slightly darker, reddish color and has a fairly strong tangy berry flavor.

Roasted Malts

Roasted malts are any malts or grains that are roasted to a very high degree. Dark, deep, bready, delicious. Can be steeped for extract brewing or mashed for all-grain, and add a lot of complexity and color in very low quantities. The three most common varieties are: Black malt , chocolate malt, and roasted barley.

Weyermann® range of Carafa® malts
Kiln-coffee malt
Distaff cousins like de-bittered black malt and pale chocolate. Roasted malts can be steeped for extract brewing or mashed for all-grain, and add a lot of complexity and color in very low quantities.

Some brewers get gun shy about roasted malts, but fear not. Roasted malts are delicious, provided you don't go completely overboard: 10% (or roughly one pound in an average-gravity 5 gallon batch) is about the most you would usually use. Stay below this amount and it's hard to go wrong.  

Other Malts

Some malts do not come from barley: oats, rye, wheat, etc. These malts are essentially processed like, and can be treated as, their barley cousins. The difference is in how they're crushed.

Wheat malt can be crushed at the same setting as barley malt, but you will want to test before running a whole batch's worth of rye malt or oat malt through a mill.