Here’s what it is and what it’s good for.
Carapils might be the most misunderstood malt at the homebrew store. Many homebrew recipes include it; it’s an ingredient in most malt extracts; and you’ve no doubt seen sacks of it stacked on the floor of your favorite commercial brewery. But despite its ubiquity, Carapils (the name of which enjoys a confusion all its own) often gets thrown into recipes like so many coins into Rome’s Trevi Fountain: It may not do any good, but it certainly can’t do any harm, can it?
Ninety percent of the confusion comes down to nomenclature: There are two products called Carapils (actually there are three, but more on that later). One is made by Wisconsin’s Briess Malt & Ingredients Company and the other by Germany’s Weyermann Specialty Malting Company. All companies like to trademark the names of their products, but it used to be the case that international concerns had to register individually in every country to which they exported. It just so happens that Briess beat Weyermann to it with the Carapils trademark. Here’s what Weyermann has to say on the matter:
“In North America, unfortunately, Weyermann®’s application for trademark protection of its Carapils® arrived too late: The name had already been registered by another malting company. In North America, therefore, unlike in Germany and the rest of the world, Carapils® is marketed under the name of Carafoam®. . . .”
Thus, in the United States and Canada, Carapils refers to Briess’s product, while the very same term signifies the Weyermann product elsewhere. If you’re looking for the Weyermann product in North America, you have to seek out Carafoam. You’ll also hear these products generically called dextrin malts, although that’s more true for Briess Carapils than it is for Weyermann Carapils/Carafoam. Here’s why.
The Carapils that Briess malts is a true caramel malt. Briess notes on its Carapils spec sheet that “Carapils® Malt is devoid of enzymes and can be steeped in hot water or mashed.” Added to an extract or all-grain grist, Briess’s Carapils delivers unfermentable sugars (dextrins) that increase body and improve head retention. It’s really just the lightest malt in a whole spectrum of caramel malts that starts with Carapils and goes all the way up to Caramel 120 and higher. The name Carapils just lets you know that it’s as light in color as a typical Pilsner malt, about 1.5° Lovibond. Briess recommends that brewers use Carapils sparingly, up to about 5 percent of the grist by weight.
Weyermann’s Carapils/Carafoam, on the other hand, is a bit different. First, it’s a touch darker, in the 1.5–3.0° Lovibond range. And while Briess admits that its Carapils has no enzymatic potential, Weyermann’s product actually has a fair amount of diastatic power, to the tune of as much as 100 to 150 on the Windisch–Kolbach index, which is in the neighborhood of 35–45° Lintner. That’s right at the practical limit at which a malt can fully convert itself, which means that the Weyermann product can be used in relatively large proportions, more like a base malt than a caramel malt. Indeed, Weyermann notes that its Carapils /Carafoam can represent as much as 40 percent of a grist by weight, a percentage that would be far too high for a normal caramel malt. Like the Briess product, Weyermann Carapils/Carafoam contributes long-chain sugars that enhance head and improve body, but it can make up a much larger proportion of the malt bill.
So, here’s the bottom line. Briess Carapils is a caramel malt that can be steeped or mashed, while Weyermann’s Carapils/Carafoam is more of an undermodified Pilsner that should probably be mashed to avoid haze issues. In practice, if you stick to percentages under 5 percent, you can get away with steeping the Weyermann product just as you would Briess’s.
And that takes us back to the idea of throwing in some Carapils just because it seems like a good idea. As with any ingredient, it’s best to know why you’re using it before doing so willy nilly. Let’s say you want to brew a light lager such as a Pilsner, Dortmunder, or Helles. Because the malt bill for such light-colored brews doesn’t normally include any darker caramel malts, go ahead and work in some Carapils of either variety. It’ll help ensure a fluffy white head and what the Germans call Vollmundigkeit, or full body.
On the other hand, if you’re brewing a classic American Pale Ale, which typically includes a good measure of something like Caramel 40 or 60, then you must realize that this caramel malt already provides those long-chain dextrins. There’s no need to augment it with additional dextrins from Carapils, and doing so could cause issues with attenuation. In fact, when beginning brewers run into problems with what seems like a stuck fermentation, the root cause can often be traced to large amounts of caramel malt in the grist.
Finally, it’s not just Briess’s and Weyermann’s products that are available. Belgian malting company Dingemans sells a product called Cara 8, which was until a few years ago marketed under the name Caramel Pilsner, or Belgian Carapils. But it’s a relatively dark 8° Lovibond and more similar to traditional Crystal 10 than to either Briess’s or Weyermann’s malts.
Thank goodness they changed the name.