Crystal malt is dark, but not black, and kilned with the express purpose of giving beers colour and sweetness. Many great ales use it in moderation. Unfortunately, as we discovered whilst brewing our own beers, too much of the stuff can overpower a beer and leave it tasting rather sickly, because crystal malt has some sugars that can’t be fermented.
And sickly is how I’ve found a few microbrewed beers recently, mostly, I think, because they’ve overdone the crystal. The giveaway flavour is a kind of burnt, treacley, toffee-like, musty taste. Beers that boast “massive malt flavours” on their somewhat amateurish labels seem to be the worst afflicted.
The over-use of crystal malt is just as likely to unbalance a beer as that other ingredient which brewers are currently adding in careless handfuls — American citrus hops — only it’s harder to spot.
Time for a bit of tasteful restraint with both, I reckon.