There are no shortcuts to great beer. You might think that using malt extracts for homebrewing makes you look like a rookie (even if you are just starting out), but you’d be mistaken. Malt extracts might be straightforward, but they are excellent for producing top notch beer, even if you are cutting out some of the steps needed for partially mashing or all-grain brewing.
In this extract brewing guide for beginners, we happily share our experience with malt extract homebrewing, so you can do it with more panache and efficiency.
What is Extract Brewing?
A malt extract, which is used in extract brewing, comes from the fermentable sugars found in premade wort concentrate. Using extracts means you don’t have to worry about making a mash or lautering and sparging your wort. Those steps have been done already.
Because you can skip the difficult steps, most beginner homebrewers start with extracts before trying the all-grain method. But you don’t have to be a beginner to appreciate how convenient malt extracts can be.
Types of Malt Extract
At the root of every beer is a grain. You can think of malt extracts as crushed and mashed grains. When mashed, grains release a sugar known as starch, and that is when yeast feeds upon in the fermenter to make alcohol.
The extract derived from mashed grains can either be liquid or dry.
Liquid Malt Extract (LME)
You can think of liquid extracts as more of a syrup. Containing up to 20 percent water, an unopened LME can be stored for up to 2 years in a cool place.
There are plenty of specialty grain LMEs available. You can even find some that are pre-hopped, so you can whip up a batch of beer whenever the opportunity strikes. These are a good option for people who want consistent results from their home brewing.
Dry Malt Extract (DME)
A dry extract is an LME that has undergone a dehydration process to remove any moisture. The powdered extract is easier to measure than liquid, since you do not have to use the entire container in one go. Plus, you can easily store whatever amount of DME remains.
DME is favored for a couple of reasons. First, DME has less of an influence on the flavor of the wort than LME, meaning you can incorporate specialty grains. The downside to that is needing specialty grains every time you use DME. Otherwise, your beer will be flavorless.
One thing many beginners mistake is the interchangeability of DME and LME. One cannot be used in place of another for a recipe. DME does not produce the same body, color, and flavor in beer as LME. So, you should stick with whatever your recipe tells you to use. In the event you run out of LME or vice versa, you will have to remember the malt-to-water ratio. 0.45kg (1 lbs) of dry malt extract has the same amount of sugars as 0.54kg (1.2 lbs) as liquid malt extract.
Using Specialty Grains
Now that you know about the two types of malt extracts, you are probably wondering where specialty grains come into play. The answer is: if you want more flavor and depth, you should use specialty grains.
We won’t deny that using only a dry or liquid malt extract and hops can make for boring beers, especially if you don’t experiment. Extracts are composed solely of base malts—sometimes called base grains—and have just enough sugar for fermentation. What they don’t have is flavor.
By adding specialty grains, you can tinker with the outcome of your beer. If you get creative and add ingredients like fruits, chocolate, coffee, and herbs, you can adjust the bitterness, color, acidity, and taste of the brew. Consider specialty grains as a license to experiment with otherwise simple recipes.
Hops and Yeast
The next things you need to think about are hops and yeast. Hops lend aroma, bitterness, and flavor to beer. There are hundreds out there, and you can purchase them online or in-person. By selecting hops and yeast, you can jazz up the recipe. Since malt extracts are consistent, hops and yeast are going to have the biggest influence on how the beer turns out.
Before You Brew Equipment Must-Haves
Ready to try out extract brewing? Don’t make the mistake of just diving right in, unprepared. That will lead to a mess (trust us on this). The first thing you need to do is gather the appropriate equipment. If you haven’t bought your homebrew equipment essentials yet, check out our list.
For extract brewing specifically, you will need:
- 1 Brew pot (8 gallons or 30 liters)
- 1 Heat source, such as a gas or propane burner
- Primary fermenter with an auto siphon and tubing
- Mash paddle
- Floating thermometer
- Stirring spoon
- Plastic funnel
- Hop bags and grain bags
- Wort chiller (or some way to cool your wort quickly)
- Items for bottling: bottles, caps, capper, bottle filler
Remember to devote time to cleaning and sanitizing your equipment. If you do not think you have sterilized your kettle or pot or fermenter well enough, do it again so you can be sure. Last thing you want is for leftover grime or bacteria to mess up your hard work.
How to Brew Beer with Malt Extracts
Materials all ready to go? Cracked that brewing kit open and want to get started now? All right, take some notes.
Step 1: Specialty Grains
First, are you using specialty grains? No? Go to the next step.
If you do have a pile of specialty grains, put them in a mesh bag and seal the bag tight. Next, grab your brew kettle or pot and head the water to around 71°C (160°F). Once you reach that temperature, cut the heat and add the grain bag. You are essentially making a grain tea. Steep for 30 minutes.
Afterwards, you can remove the grain bag and toss it.
Be extremely cautious with the steeping of the grains. Make sure the water is not boiling. This will cause the grains to release tannins, or polyphenols that make beer astringent, hazy, and bitter. Beer naturally contains tannins, but you want to limit how much.
Step 2: Malt Extract
Top off the water in the brew kettle and start reheating it. You want the temperature around 68°C (155°F). Shut off the heat. It’s time for your malt extract.
Now, this can go one of two ways: liquid malt extract or dry malt extract. Depending on which you use, the way you add it to the water will be different.
LME is syrupy and thick. It’s a little like molasses coming out of the container, and you may struggle with dumping the contents completely. Add some hot water to the container, swirling it around, to get the remnants. As you add LME to your water, give it a stir to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the kettle and burning.
DME has its own challenges. Since it’s in powder form, the instant the steam from the water hits it, DME clumps up. So, you need to keep it away from excess moisture, especially if you plan on pouring it directly from the bag. The best way to add DME to water is to first pour the dry malt extract into a clean bowl. Then, dump the DME into the brew kettle. Stir the powder into the water gently to keep it from clumping.
In some cases, a recipe will call for both DME and LME. It’s best to pour in LME first, since it’s less problematic.
Step 3: Boiling Your Wort and Adding Hops
After your malt extract is dissolved into the water, you now have wort. Now comes the fun part. Bring the wort to a boil and set your phone’s timer to the time designated by your recipe. Most will have you boil wort and hops for about 60 minutes, but that can change, so read your recipe carefully!
Step 4: Cooling Wort
Fill the kitchen sink or bathtub with some ice and submerge the brew kettle. Optionally, you can use an immersion chiller. This will cool the wort down.
Do not remove the lid from the kettle. You want to keep contaminants out of the wort for as long as possible. Let the wort cool to about room temperature—21°C (70°F).
Step 5: Add to the Fermenter and Bring on the Yeast
After the wort has chilled, you need to transfer it to a properly cleaned and sanitized fermentor. It is best to use a siphon. Keep the siphon away from the bottom of your brew kettle, or else it will suck up all the sludge.
Next, shake the fermentation bucket to aerate the wort. This is important and shouldn’t be skipped. The yeast in the bucket needs air to transform your wort into potable beer. Don’t worry. This isn’t the same as oxygen leaking in after fermentation starts. When that happens, it’s not aeration but oxidation—when oxygen molecules bind to the beer—giving your beer an odd flavor.
Sanitize the yeast packet before opening it. Sanitize your scissors, too. Then, dump the yeast into the wort and give the bucket a couple more shakes. The yeast will love you for all the aerating.
Step 6: Fermentation
Make sure the airlock is sanitized before placing it atop the fermenter. Afterwards, store the fermentation bucket somewhere dark and cool.
Your recipe may require secondary fermentation, so be sure to follow the recipe. Typically, beer ferments for about a week or so. Secondary fermentation adds a second week to your wait.
Step 7: Bottling Up
In about 1-2 weeks of fermentation, your beer willalmostbe ready for consumption. You have to condition it first. Before that, you will want to clean the bottles and make sure you have priming sugar or tablets ready.
When adding the sugar or tablets, leave about an inch of space for carbonation in the bottle. Then use a bottle capper to seal the bottle. Once again, those beers go somewhere dark, dry, and cool for about two weeks of conditioning.
You may have a few exploding bottles the first time around. It happens. To make clean up less daunting, put a baking sheet under the bottles.
Soon, you will have carbonated beer that’s ready for drinking. Be sure to taste test one bottle before passing your homebrewed beer around to your friends.
Extract Brewing Tips and Tricks
Getting high quality beer without spending a lot on ingredients and supplies is easy when you use malt extracts. If you use these tips, you will get so good that no one will be able to tell your extract brewed beer apart from all-grain brews.
- Though you can use either liquid malt extracts (LME) or dry malt extracts (DME), DME has a longer shelf life and is far more consistent in quality.
- Avoid using darker malt extracts. They tend to be sweeter that light malt extracts and use too much crystal malt. Light malt extracts give you a chance to influence color and flavor more easily.
- When you are just starting out, keep the recipes basic. Once you have a grasp of how to homebrew beer, you can then proceed to more challenging recipes.
- If you want a lighter beer, add half of the malt extract in the beginning of the boil then the other half 5 minutes before your finish the boiling. Doing so will limit how much caramelization you get.
- Remove your kettle from the heat before you add any extract to prevent burning. If you notice that the bottom of your kettle is burned, it is because you are adding malt too close to the heat source. Malt extracts sink immediately and will burn. That could make your beer taste burned, too.
- Never put hot water directly into a glass carboy. It will shatter. Instead, use a plastic bucket as a fermenter.
Who said that brewing beer needs to be complicated? You maybbe new to homebrewing or a veteran and still get tons of enjoyment and delicious beer out of extract brewing. You will get more consistent beer from the process, and that means more beer to drink! Not only that, but you can play with all kinds of specialty grains and hops, coming up with creative blends.
What are you waiting for? Give extract brewing a try.