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If you’re taking up homebrewing and are confused about the differences between all-grain brewing vs extract brewing, we’ve got you covered. Though both types of brewing can achieve delicious-tasting brews in the end, each one requires different processes and equipment. Interested in learning more about these differences? Join us as we explore more about all grain brewing vs extract brewing.
Table of Contents
- What Is All Grain Brewing?
- What Is Extract Brewing?
- How Is All Grain vs Extract Brewing Different?
- Benefits of All-Grain Brewing
- Benefits of Extract Brewing
- All-Grain Brewing vs. Extract Brewing– They Both Have Perks!
What Is All Grain Brewing?
Before we begin describing the differences between extract vs all grain brewing, it can help to know the specifics regarding each.
Making an all grain brew involves taking the entire grain (usually barley, though this can vary) and crushing it to make malt. You can purchase crushed grains or you can do the process yourself using various tools.
Once you’ve got the grains crushed for your all grain brew, you combine the grains with hot water which activates the fermentable sugars in the grain. As the water slips through the husks and reaches the crushed kernel, you’ll begin to convert starches into sugar which is a very important step in the brewing process.
As you might imagine, all grain brewing requires time, skill, and effort. However, it also lends itself to creativity. Because you’ve purchased grains whole, you can experiment with flavors and colors. Your all grain batch may include specialty grains in the grain bill or it may not. You can come up with your own recipes or follow recipes that will yield unique flavors. Customization is therefore a key advantage when it comes to dishing up an all grain brew.
Still, you’ll need several pieces of equipment when brewing beer with all grain malts. Aside from the usual 8-gallon boil kettle for a five gallon batch, all grain brewing requires a lot of equipment. This includes a fine mesh grain bag (though not always necessary), a way to crush your grain, a mash tun, liquor tank (possibly), yeast starter, propane burner, immersion wort chiller– the list goes on.
Though not all of this equipment is necessary when making beer, it can certainly make your life easier when brewing all grain. Batch size is a big deal, and when using all grain, you have a lot of control over that. Thus, whole grain brewing definitely has its benefits, but it may not be for everyone in the homebrewing community.
What Is Extract Brewing?
Extract brewing, as its name suggests, is malt extract. It does not require crushing. Instead, it comes in two forms, dry and liquid. It is combined with strike water. It then usually goes through a boiling process for 60 minutes.
Liquid malt extract, or LME, is made by dehydrating mashed wort until it is reduced to 20% water remaining. The final result is a liquid syrup similar to the consistency and color of molasses.
Dry malt extract, or DME, is like liquid malt extract, only it has been dehydrated even further. The dehydration process leads to a fine powder that is only 2% water.
There are proponents for both dry and liquid brewing, with some claiming liquid malt extracts to be best because it is less processed. Others see it differently, stating that dry malt extract is easier to work with and much less messy.
Which type of extract you choose, of course, is ultimately up to you and your preferences.
How Is All Grain vs Extract Brewing Different?
When it comes to extract vs all grain brewing, you’ll notice key differences. So, what is the difference between extract and all grain brewing? Let’s break them down into categories to find out.
One of the main differences noted when it comes to brewing an extract batch or an all grain batch is taste. While some can’t taste the difference at all, others note that extract beers tend to be sweeter. In many cases, people find this flavor more enjoyable. Still, others prefer the lighter, cleaner, maltier flavor of an all grain brew. Thus, the preferences related to taste when it comes to these two are completely up to the consumer.
Another huge difference between extract beer and all grain beer is the cost difference between them. At first blush, it may seem that the two aren’t much different, especially when purchased for small batch brewing. But for those looking to dish up a hefty amount of beer, batches mamde with malt extract are going to cost you a lot more than all grain batches.
The moral of the story? If you’re looking to brew a lot of beer, do your wallet a favor and go for all grain. If, however, you are brewing on a smaller scale, then liquid or dry extract should work just fine.
When it comes to purchasing equipment, all grain and extract brewing methods really differ. Know that brewing using malted grain or whole grain is going to require a lot of equipment. We’ve listed a few of the items you’ll need in the aforementioned sections, but brewing all-grain isn’t an easy feat without having at least a few of these items on hand.
When home brewing using extract recipes, however, all you need is a home brewing kit. These can be purchased online and are usually simple enough to use.
Thus, when it comes to equipment, all-grain batches will cost much more upfront when compared to extract batches. Still, once the upfront cost has been taken care of, it tends to be much cheaper to brew big batches with all-grain rather than extract.
When it comes to customization, all grain brew wins over extract brew. That’s because extract brews give you less control by limiting the tastes already present in the malt extract.
Sure you can add other flavorings, but you’ll only be adding these flavors on top of the natural taste of the extract.
With all grain brewing, you get the chance to customize the beer in accordance with your taste, aroma, and color preferences. This is because there is a wide variety of malt types you can choose from, rather than the limited selection you typically get from malt extract alone.
The experienced brewer will likely appreciate this quality when it comes to all grain brewing. Novice brewers, on the other hand, may not care as much.
Note that this difference between all grain brewing and malt extract is a matter of preference and not a matter of quality. What we mean is that although all grain brewing yields itself to more experimentation, it isn’t to say that there is no value in using malt extract.
In fact, malt extracts are crafted by professional brewers and can be used in professional breweries to enhance tastes to provide even better beer. Remember that professional grain companies that manufacture extracts have it down to a science. This means the extract you’ve received will likely be a high-quality well-made malt that will provide stellar results, even for a brewing novice.
The amount of time you spend making your beer is going to fluctuate depending on if you choose all grain when home brewing or extract. As you might imagine, all-grain brewing is going to take much longer to brew than extract.
With sparging and mashing included, you can expect the all-grain brewing process to take upwards of 5-8 hours versus the 3-8 hours it would take to complete an extract brew. With all-grain brewing, you’ll also need to keep in mind that because of the hefty amount of equipment you have to use, you’ll need to spend time cleaning and storing all of the parts needed to make the brew. Because of these factors, extract brewing may be a bit more attractive in terms of saving time.
After all, who isn’t busy in this day and age?
Another key difference between all-grain brewing vs extract brewing is ease. All-grain brewing, as previously described, may take several hours with several moving parts that you’ll need to keep track of to keep everything afloat. Each step in the brewing process is vital to prevent your beer from developing an “off” taste.
For example, you won’t have to monitor the gravity, temperature, and pH, nor will you have to mash the grain to create wort. Because of this, brewing all-grain style, though cheaper and more creatively stimulating, isn’t exactly a walk in the park.
Malt extract, on the other hand, skips several steps to get to the finished product. And although both dry malt extract and liquid malt extracts will require different brewing strategies, the final beer yield is produced much quicker, and much easier, than if you would have brewed whole crushed malt grains.
When it comes to using malt in liquid or powdered form, extract brewing saves you from making fatal mistakes when it comes to whipping up the perfect beer. As previously mentioned, using the all-grain method requires a lot of tinkering and supervision in order to get things just right.
When using malt extract this isn’t the case, as many of the processes are skipped, and much of the hard work has already been done by the manufacturer–just for you! Sweet!
Benefits of All-Grain Brewing
The following s a synopsis of the benefits that all-grain brewing provides homebrewers:
- Cheaper when purchased in bulk
- Is easily customized
- Can be used to make very large batches
Despite our breakdown of the differences between all-grain brewing vs. extract brewing, you still may have specific questions. Don’t worry, that’s what we’re here for. Check out the following questions related to all-grain brewing to see if they provide you with the answers you need!
Does All-Grain Taste Better Than Extract?
All grain beer doesn’t necessarily taste better than extract, although to some it may. Like most things dealing with food and beverage, how something “tastes” is subjective. As such, whether or not all-grain or extract beer tastes better is up for debate.
Having said that, most agree that all-grain beer yields a clean and lighter taste than extract. Extract beers are often described as sweet, but also sometimes sharply bitter. Either way, all-grain beers have a leg up in terms of customizing flavors. So, even if you typically love the taste of a beer made with malt extract, you may find an all-grain beer that you enjoy even more simply because of the way the flavors were customized.
Again, it really depends on the person.
Note: Some professional brewers will use a mixture of both all-grain and malt extracts. This can sometimes help achieve a sweeter flavor than what an all-grain beer would have provided on its own.
Is All Grain Brewing Better?
Depending on who you are, it can be. For example, if you are a person who likes to tinker with tastes, aromas, and colors when making beer then all grain brewing is definitely the way to go.
If, however, you are a novice and new to the home brewing scene, you’ll likely want to start off with malt extract and a brewing kit to get your feet wet before you try the traditional method.
Is All-Grain Cheaper Than Extract?
Eh…yes and no.
Yes, in the sense that all-grain is much cheaper to buy in bulk, especially when you are making large batches of beer. If you are accustomed to making one batch only on occasion then malt extract will likely serve you well and may cost similar.
However, all grain brewing is more expensive than extract on the front end because you have to buy a lot of equipment for brew day. You’ll need to be steeping grains, checking the mash temp, and taking on many other steps, meaning you’ll need equipment for it all. From grain mills to brew kettles, you’ll need it all to make the kind of beer you’re going for. Thus, all grain malt is often more expensive on the front end and cheaper on the back end.
Benefits of Extract Brewing
The following are benefits to all extract brewing overall grain brewing:
- Requires only a home kit instead of expensive equipment
- Several steps of the brewing process using the traditional method can be skipped
- A shorter amount of brewing time from start to finish
- Very beginner-friendly
Is All Extract Brewing Better?
Remember that all extract brewing entails minimal equipment, minimal time, and minimal effort. In all of this, malt extract still produces an awesome finished beer. Thus, all extract brewing can be amazing for people that are beginners at brewing.
Having said that, all extract brewing is limited in terms of flavor. So, you won’t get a chance to customize these much which is often much to the chagrin of the experienced brewer.
What Types of Malt Extracts Are Available?
Though you aren’t going to experience the same amount of variety when brewing with a malt extract as you would when brewing all grain, you do have options. Check out the following types of malt extract that are often available.
- Pilsner (also known as extra light): This is the palest of the extracts.
- Pale (also known as gold): Can be used on its own or as a base. It usually serves as an “all-purpose” extract for American-style beers.
- Amber: Has a very malty flavor with added crystal malt. This is common in “Amber ales” hence the name.
- Dark: Adds additional malt flavor and deeper hues when added to other extracts. otherwise, it provides a robust flavor on its own and is usually ideal for stouts or porters.
All-Grain Brewing vs. Extract Brewing– They Both Have Perks!
All in all, when it comes to malt extract vs all grain, which is best is going to depend on your needs. If you decide on a brew whose entire process takes only a few hours, then extract brewing is going to be the top pick. Extract brewing not only takes less time, but it also requires much less equipment and is less messy to boot. Add hops to the mix to jazz things up a bit, and you’ve got one or two beers (or more!) that your friends will love.
Having said that, if you are looking to serve up beers to the masses or want to make beer bulk-style, you’ll want to go with all grain brewing. Not only is it ideal for your pocketbook when buying in bulk, but it also lends itself to plenty of customization. Mix and match base malts with specialty grains to create something all your own.
We hope this helps. Happy brew day!
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