Recently a mate asked me what the difference was between crystal and caramel malt.
My understanding is, to some extent there isn’t much difference at all. You can use these malts pretty much interchangeably in my experience.
However, different brands of malt use different terms to describe the same end product, or the same term to describe a slightly different products.
As general rule of thumb, true crystal malt should be roasted, where as caramel malt can also be kilned. Pretty similar processes I know, but seemingly it does make a difference in the end product. Crystal malt (roasted) has more of a glossy finish to it, in comparison to caramel. That said, there are so many variations available, I say just experiment and see what you like.
Both crystal and caramel are great specialty malts for adding to the body and “mouth feel” of a beer (essentially just think thickness). They also add a nice sweetness, as not all the sugars are fermentable. This is a good trick for those sweet American Amber ales (amongst other specialty malts).
With either crystal or caramel malts, you should be able to taste the difference at around 5% of your total grain bill (ie: if you have total 5kg of grain, 250g would be noticeable in the finished brew). Go crazy and you’ll get a strong toffee like taste, some people love this. Hold back and you just add a slight complexity to a brew, without being overly obvious (this is my preference).
PS: Couldn’t find any photos of either crystal or caramal malt, so added a photo of the biggest mash paddle we have. It’s basically the same thing right…?