Dark beer on stump

The Heart of the Darkness

Nearly all malt flavor derives from a few chemical reaction systems: Maillard browning (aka non-enzymatic browning), and a similar, but distinct process known simply as “caramelization.” Maillard involves many forms of carbohydrates plus nitrogen-containing amino acids found in malt. Caramelization mainly involves sugar, typically in a dense and liquid state, like when you put sugar in a pan and heat it until it browns and changes flavor. At the highest temperatures a process called “pyrolysis” takes over, which is just a fancy technical way of saying “burning,” specifically of sugar molecules.