Unlike some (Melissa Cole, p6; Mark Dredge), we don’t object to the use of the terms ‘malty’ and ‘hoppy’ as over-arching descriptors, but one thing does bug us: ‘malty’ shouldn’t just mean ‘not hoppy’.
Malt flavour is a positive addition to the flavour of a beer, giving it another dimension. The best hoppy beers — that is, those with a pronounced flowery hop aroma and/or bitterness — also have malt flavour, usually sneaking up as a bonus in the finish.
These are the kind of things we think of (no doubt via Michael Jackson and others) when we spot that taste:
- toasted nuts and seeds
- fresh bread
It’s dry as in crisp, savoury but not salty, and just downright wholesome.
The best of the lagers we mentioned yesterday all have veritable maltiness, as do many of the pale-n-hoppy c.4% cask ales at which North of England breweries seem to excel. Our local equivalent, Potion 9 at the Star Inn, is defined by bright citrusy hops, but it’s that bread-crust and cream cracker snap that ultimately makes it so satisfying — the bun without which a burger wouldn’t be half as enjoyable.
A beer with fairly restrained hop character might allow the malt to take centre stage, and that can be good too.
But some beers aren’t hoppy or malty — they’re just sugary, gritty, vegetal or (worst of all) watery.
Don’t blame malt for that.