The primary difference between the varieties of malt extract is color. Differences in color can be achieved through various means, including altering the kilning time and temperature, the mashing method, and the variety of barley used. However, manufacturers rarely disclose the exact ingredients or methods used to produce extract. Despite this, there are some generalizations that we can make regarding the use of each variety of malt extract:
- "Extra Light" generally is used for pilsners or other straw-colored beers
- "Light", "Gold, or "Pale" are three names for very similar products. They are great as a fermentable base for most pale ales and some lagers, or used in conjunction with the amber or dark extracts and/or with specialty grains.
- "Amber" is darker and with more residual sweetness than the "Extra Light" or "Light."
- "Dark" can be used for Porters and Stouts but needs to be infused with portions of chocolate and/or roasted barley to achieve varying degrees of those flavors, which are desirable for the style. This is because dark malt extract does not contain appreciable levels of these types of grain.