Comparing Extract and All-Grain
The traditional argument for all-grain brewing is control. Because you’re producing your own malt extracts (via your own mash with your own water in your own vessel), you can make decisions not available to the extract brewer. Extract brewers get whatever was made in the factory that day, and who knows whether Mr. or Ms. or Mrs. (or Dr.?) Maltmaker was having an “on” day that day? If you’re an all-grain brewer, though, you’re working with your own materials and deciding about mash steps and temperatures, water-to-grain ratios, runoff speed, and more, all of which give you control over the finished product. You’re also doing it for a fraction of the cost because malt extracts are rather more expensive than grain, especially if you buy your grain in bulk.
That’s accurate, but let’s not pretend that all-grain brewing doesn’t come with its own costs and risks. First, it takes longer. Prepping and doughing-in, mashing, mashing out, vorlaufing, lautering, maybe sparging—it all takes time. Plus, not to put too fine a point on it, what if you’re bad at it? And even if you’re good at it, what if you make bad choices? And even if you make good choices, what if your water betrays you because you don’t know that for six months out of the year you’re brewing with minerally cistern water instead of softer river water? Yes, you have control. But no, control is not universally a good thing.
Extract, though, is a consistent and reliable product that is ready for the boil and pre-loaded with the brewing salts and minerals needed to make good beer (or at least avoid the kinds of water profiles that make brewing excessively challenging). Many brewers would genuinely benefit from having a bit less control, and nearly all would benefit from having a significant chunk of time put back in their days. In more than a decade of brewing (both all-grain and extract beers), the only fault I’ve ever perceived from my malt extract is oxidation—and that risk can be minimized and is not exclusive to extract (I’ve purchased stale grain, too).
What we usually think of as “extract flavor” is really a failure to properly adjust recipes to account for the “controlled” aspects of extract. Extract beers are sometimes described as less complex than all-grain beers and are often described as heavier and/or sweeter than all-grain beers (since malt extract is usually less fermentable than the wort produced in your own mash). Both of these are recipe issues that can easily be addressed and are usually only about approximating the base malt portion of the recipe. From that point forward, we can usually add the same ingredients to both recipes. Let’s take a simple recipe for ESB as an example. Suppose your ESB recipe called for the following:
8 lb (3.6 kg) Maris Otter
8 oz (227 g) 45L Crystal
8 oz (227 g) 65L Crystal
Convert the base grains (2-row, 6-row, Pilsner, Munich, Vienna, Maris Otter) first. Most brewing software can do this for you, so all you need to do is select dry or liquid extract (and maybe color, though pale extract can be used almost universally) and add the appropriate amount to generate the same gravity you would produce from the base malt.
Another rule of thumb is that the appropriate weight of liquid extract can be calculated by multiplying the grain weight by 0.75, or dry extract weight by multiplying by 0.6 (so, 8 pounds/3.6 kg becomes 6 pounds/2.7 kg of liquid extract or 4.8 pounds/2.2 kg of dry extract).
Specialty grains that are described as caramel or crystal or chocolate/roasted can simply be purchased and milled and steeped in grain bags while heating your brewing water, so no adjustment is necessary.
Some grains, though, have not been kilned sufficiently to convert their starches into sugars, and steeping them can yield excessive starch/protein in the finished beer. In addition to the base grains noted above, these include wheat malt, rye malt, and most 10–20L character malts (Victory, biscuit, aromatic, honey malt, etc.). While these can be steeped, I would recommend doing so only in amounts under half a pound (227 g) each and not more than 10 percent of the total grist. The resulting proteins/starches can have adverse flavor and appearance effects.
Once we have our extracts and steeping grains selected, we have one final adjustment to make: body/sweetness. Reducing one usually means reducing the other, though the adjustment does not always work in reverse. For a lighter, drier beer, consider a simple sugar addition of about 5 percent of your gravity points (swapped in for some portion of the base-replacing extract). Table sugar (beet, cane, etc.) is fine, but you could also add some flavor (should you wish to) by using a darker Belgian candi syrup or honey. For a sweeter, heavier beer, do nothing—you’re welcome. For a drier, heavier beer, adjust with sugar as above and then add maltodextrin powder to “bulk up” your beer, without sweetness.
One final word on recipe conversion: flaked grains. It’s true that flaked oats, flaked barley, flaked wheat, etc., must be mashed to generate sugars, but in most recipes they’re used to promote body and head retention rather than used as a source of gravity points. Steeping them, then, extracts the very proteins that we want from them, even without starch conversion. I’ve steeped these my entire brewing career, with no ill effects, and any clarity loss was minimal (and/or addressed by fining agents such as Irish Moss or gelatin).
That’s the basic process—now, how do we get the most out of extract beers?
As with all brewing ingredients (unless you’re making a lambic), buy fresh, fresh, fresh. How will you know whether it’s fresh? You won’t, any more than you can be sure that a sack of grain you’re buying is fresh. But you can increase your odds of getting good, fresh ingredients by purchasing from a shop/vendor with robust sales and a quick pull-through, where things don’t sit around much on the shelves. Some extracts have “produced on” dates on them, but it’s not remotely universal (basically just Briess, in my experience).
Match your extract to your base grist. If you’re replacing Munich malt, use Munich extract; Pils malt, Pils extract; wheat malt, replace with wheat extract; and so on. If the extract is simply listed as “light” or “extra light” or “pale malt extract,” it’s most likely just a blend of 2-row barleys (and maybe some light crystal malts). Amber and dark extracts include crystal or chocolate malts and may be found in kits, but I recommend sticking with pale extract and steeping your crystal/chocolate malts for yourself.
Boil it all. Full-volume boils are, oddly, not usually recommended in kit instructions, generally because new brewers (whom the manufacturer assumes are the ones doing the brewing) lack the equipment and/or heating potential to boil 6+ gallons (22.7+ l) of wort. As soon as practical, go to full-volume boils—it simplifies the recipe conversion process (for a partial boil, hops/IBU calculations have to be adjusted to account for the fact that it’s a higher-gravity boiling wort, reducing utilization) and eliminates the potential for contamination when you add cool (un-boiled) water post-boil.
Adjuncts are your friend. Since you’re probably adjusting body/sweetness anyway, play around with molasses, syrups, honeys, and more to yield interesting flavors!
Grain is still your friend. Use steeped specialty malts liberally to generate complex flavors (though don’t use them wantonly—excessive use yields beer that tastes like coloring with all the crayons looks).
Avoid water adjustment. All-grain brewing often entails making adjustments to brewing water with salts/minerals, but extracts typically come out of the can ready to ferment, from a water chemistry perspective. If you have softish water, you can use your standard tap water. If you have approaching-hard or hard water, consider diluting (or even replacing entirely) with reverse-osmosis (RO) or distilled water. And until you’ve brewed a recipe and evaluated it, do not add brewing salts to the water. Adjust for that in future recipes only after tasting.
Last (but not least), choose a well-attenuating yeast from within the yeast family (ale, lager, Belgian, weizen, etc.) that matches the style you’re brewing. Despite your recipe-based efforts at promoting attenuation and dryness, you still want to stack the deck in your favor. Selecting a yeast with a relatively high level of average attenuation will provide one more safeguard for your beer’s flavor profile.
With the range of extracts available today (and the list now includes even rarities such as rye extract and rauch-malt extract), very few styles are off the table for extract brewers. Still, some are easier than others. Almost any lager or American ale will be a good candidate, as are the British pale and brown ales. Stouts and porters, likewise, are perfectly viable options, as are weizens (thanks to wheat-malt extracts).
More challenging might be the Belgian styles: it can be difficult to get them sufficiently dry to match our expectations and their style attributes. Still, judicious application of simple sugars and syrups can get you home, as can high-quality wheat extracts, where appropriate! Likewise, rauchbiers can be difficult to accomplish if you can’t find a fresh, high-quality rauch-malt extract: steeping smoked grains can be successful, but you should attempt it with a lighter amount of a more-intensely smoked grain (hickory-smoked malt, perhaps). Liquid smoke and peat-smoked malts are not recommended: the flavors are too intense/artificial/undesirable. Trust me.
The Real Extract Advantage
Can you guess what the real advantage of extract is? The greatest extract-beer advantage isn’t time—though you’re on the right track. Extract brewing is faster, which means you can brew more frequently, and that’s the real advantage. Brewing faster usually means brewing more, and brewing more usually means brewing better. If your choice is (as it so often is) between brewing an extract batch in two hours or not brewing at all, then you’re far better off brewing with extract (especially if you follow sound extract- brewing practices). Time is beer.
Besides, beers are really made in fermentation. From the top of the boil, there’s virtually no difference between your extract batch and the equivalent, time-intensive, “controlled” all-grain batch. The difference is that you’ll get to the top of the boil a lot faster (and a lot more often) than your all-grain buddies will. You’ll get a lot more experience on the cold side and probably produce better beer. So, the next time an all-grain brewer looks askance at how you brew, ask him/her how often (s)he brews—and then propose a brewing duel, right then and there. I know where I’d lay my bet. And when the showdown comes, maybe you’ll convince an all-grain brewer to “Go Extract!”
Specialty Grains Are Your Friend
As I mentioned, many kits come with specialty grains to steep before the boil. Those malts add color, flavor, and mouthfeel that are tough to get from extract alone. Follow the kits’ example and integrate fresh malt into your recipes. That seems obvious in malt-centric styles -- you’d be hard pressed to make a good extract stout without some roast malt and chocolate malt -- but it makes a difference in hop forward beers, too. A bit of crystal or biscuit malt in an IPA adds malt complexity to better support the hops.
Using specialty malts is easy. Look at kits or extract recipes for ideas on which malts will fit the beer you’re brewing. Crush or grind them and place them into a small nylon sack. As you’re heating your brew water, drop this malty teabag in and let it steep until the water is close to boiling.
Josh Weikert & Jester Goldman
The Right Way to Steep Specialty Grains
Avoid introducing off-flavors into your extract-based beer by following these steps for steeping grains.
If you’re an extract brewer, steeping specialty grains is a simple, yet effective, way to give your homebrew a flavor boost. But you need to be aware that you can introduce off-flavors into your beer by steeping grains incorrectly. Specifically, you can get an astringent flavor, which can vary from a slightly bitter flavor to a strong sour flavor akin to sucking on a tea bag. The astringency comes from tannins, which are a polyphenol extracted from grain husks.
Since all beers are made with grains, some tannins exist in every beer. In most cases, the tannins remain below the flavor threshold. However, you can get an excess of tannins by steeping specialty grains at too high a temperature or with too much water.
To avoid excess tannins, you need to maintain the temperature of your steeped grains below 168°F (76°C). Going higher will leach tannins into your wort. In addition, it’s a good idea to use a muslin or nylon mesh bag to contain the specialty grains as you steep them. This will keep the crushed husks contained and out of the boil. (If husks are boiled, they leach tannins.)
A similar effect occurs if you steep your grains at too high a pH value. Specifically if your water/grain mixture reaches a pH above 6.0, you will leach tannins into the wort.
Most water sources are slightly alkaline in pH. Both surface and ground water sources are alkaline, with a pH above 7.0. The specialty grains you use for steeping are slightly acidic, which means that they will lower the pH of the wort when you steep your grains. You run into pH problems when you use a large amount of water relative to the amount of grains when steeping.
For example, if we take the simple approach and steep just two pounds (1 kg) of specialty grains in 4 gallons (15 l) of water, it is likely that this small amount of grain will be insufficient to lower the pH below 6.0, and we’ll end up extracting tannins. Conversely, if we limit the water to 2 quarts (2 l) per pound (454 g) of grain, it is highly likely that the specialty grains will have sufficient acidity to reduce the mixture below a pH of 6.0, which will significantly cut down on tannin extraction.
So to summarize, you need to limit both the temperature of the water and the amount of water used when steeping grains. Specifically, I recommend steeping below 168°F (76°C) (and using a mesh or nylon bag to contain the grains) and using no more than 2 quarts (2 l) of water per pound (454 g) of grain. I also limit the time of the steep—usually no more than 30 minutes.
Recipe: Winterhausen ESB
ESB is distinctly English, with significant malt complexity (though usually of the lower-Lovibond variety), a fairly high IBU-to-gravity ratio, and English flavor/aroma hops and yeast strains. With the right ingredients, this recipe will re-create the kinds of flavors you’d find at pubs all over England on any given day—a showcase of English malt and hops, pouring a beautiful brilliant jewel-toned orange.
Batch size: 5 gallons (19 liters)
Brewhouse efficiency: 75%
6.6 lb (3 kg) light dry malt extract (DME)
5 oz (142 g) British Crystal 45L
5 oz (142 g) British Crystal 65L
1 oz (28 g) East Kent Goldings [5.4% AA] at 60 minutes
0.75 oz (21 g) East Kent Goldings [5.4% AA] at 30 minutes
0.75 oz (21 g) East Kent Goldings [5.4% AA] at 10 minutes
0.5 oz (14 g) East Kent Goldings at flame-out
Wyeast 1968 London ESB
Steep the grains at 160°F (71°C) for 30 minutes, then remove the bag and allow to drain into the wort. Add the DME while stirring, and stir until completely dissolved. Top up as necessary to obtain 6 gallons (23 liters) of wort. Boil for 60 minutes, adding hops according to the schedule. After the boil, chill the wort to slightly below fermentation temperature, about 66°F (19°C). Aerate the wort with pure oxygen or filtered air and pitch the yeast. Ferment at 68°F (20°C) for 5 days, then allow the temperature to rise to 70°F (21°C) through the end of primary fermentation. Crash the beer to 35°F (2°C), then bottle or keg the beer and carbonate to just under 2 volumes of CO2.
Recipe: Czech Plz!
Besides a hearty embrace of spicy Saaz hops, this partial-mash recipe for a Czech-style pilsner includes a method for pressurized fermentation in a corny keg.
Batch size: 4.75 gallons (18 liters)
9 lb (4.1 kg) pilsner liquid malt extract (LME)
1 lb (454 g) Carapils
HOPS & ADDITIONS SCHEDULE
2 oz (57 g) Saaz at 60 minutes [19 IBUs]
2 oz (57 g) Saaz at 30 minutes [14 IBUs]
½ tsp (2.5 ml) Irish moss or ½ Whirlfloc tablet at 15 minutes
2 oz (57 g) Saaz at 10 minutes [7 IBUs]
1 oz (28 g) Saaz at flameout
Fermentis SafLager W-34/70, White Labs WLP833 German Bock Lager, or other lager strain of choice
Mix your usual brewing water 50/50 with distilled water to make 5 gallons (19 liters) and heat it to 154°F (68°C). Mill the Carapils and steep at 154°F (68°C) for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the LME, and stir thoroughly. Boil for 70 minutes, adding hops and Irish moss or Whirlfloc according to the schedule. Chill to about 65°F (18°C) and transfer to a clean, sanitized corny keg. Fill to about 4.75 gallons (18 liters), aerate well, and pitch the yeast. Seal the keg, connect a spunding valve, and set it to 6 PSI. On Day 5 of fermentation, set the valve to 12 PSI. Transfer the finished beer to bottles or a clean keg and lager (i.e., chill) for at least 2 weeks before consuming.
Filling the keg not quite full (i.e., about 4.75 gallons/18 liters) allows some head space for the fermentation and spunding to work under pressure.
Bring On the Oats: Tips on Extract-Brewing Hazy IPA
For homebrewers who rely on malt extract, hazy IPA is tricky thanks to a typical ingredient: oats. Here are solutions.
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen someone puff up his chest and slag extract brewing, I’d be able to afford a whole carload of hazy IPA 4-packs. If you close your eyes, I guarantee you can hear the crabby old brewer complaining that “extract brewing is cheating,” “extract brewing isn’t real brewing,” etc. Please pass me a few more nickels.
Here’s the thing: The majority of homebrewers—even in this day and age of brew-in-a-bag, astonishing and endless varieties of grain, and easy mashing techniques—use extract. Why? Because not everyone has the time, the energy, or the inclination to spend hours on a brew day mashing grain, but they still want to make beer. So who are we to turn up our noses at their happy passion for creating?
The reason most of our experiences with extract beers have been “dodgy” is that many of those brewers are on their first attempts. Just think how many things you got wrong in your first batches. In truth, I’ve known veteran brewers who continue after decades to use extract because it fits their lifestyle better. You know I’m not telling you about them if their beer isn’t great.
The truth of brewing still comes largely down to our ability to be clever, accurate, and on point during fermentation. There’s very little you can’t do with extract... including make a hazy IPA.
However, extract brewing has its limitations—namely, without mashing, you’re somewhat hamstrung in terms of additional ingredients you can use. Anything that requires mashing is a no-go for extract brewers. This is a problem in the world of hazy IPA brewing because a common ingredient in many of these beers is the wonderful oat.
The breakfast-champion grain has a long history in brewing, but the common forms—flaked and cut oats—aren’t useful to a non-mashing brewer. The problem is a lack of enzymes to convert the oaty starch into oaty sugar. For all-grain brewers, this isn’t a problem—they have more than enough enzymatic power in a regular mash to chop the oat starch into component sugars.
Extract brewers don’t have the enzymes available because the concentration step has killed all the goods. So we’ve got to get you, the extract fiend, a way to convert oat starch into fermentable oat sugar and allow you to take advantage of the protein and body-building properties of Avena sativa.
The easiest, hackiest solution is to use oat milk, a dairy alternative made from soaked oats and enzymes. Remember, liquid starch is highly undesirable in a shelf-stable foodstuff. Manufacturers will soak oats with amylase to convert starch into sugar and then blend and strain the gruel into a milk-like product. Several breweries and homebrewers have added oat milk straight to the kettle post boil. The result is an outstanding murk with plenty of sugar for fermentation.
But for my money, the best way isn’t any harder, except finding the needed grain. We think of malt as being barley, but malt is the name we apply to any cereal that’s been sprouted and dried. We use wheat malt all the time. If you search hard enough, you can find malts of a number of grains, including oat malt.
Largely used in the past in the United Kingdom for stouts, oat malt has been barely hanging on until now. For years only Thomas Fawcett & Sons made oat malt, but now others are in on the game, including Canada Malting Company and Simpsons Malt. The nifty bit about oat malt is that it comes packed with enough enzymatic power to convert itself.
In other words, if you’re steeping grains (and as much as I believe in the power of extract, you really should be steeping fresh-cracked grains), you can steep your cracked oat malt and get adequate conversion. Just watch your crush. Oat malt is remarkably skinny and can slip through a lot of mill gaps unharmed. For that reason, I like to mix in pale malt to aid in crushing and add some more heft to the steeping liquid. If you’re feeling cheeky, throw in some Golden Naked Oats for sweet oat character as well.
Just keep in mind that you want your gruel to land in the 150–165°F (66–74°C) range for 20 minutes.
Surprisingly, that’s the toughest nut for an extract brewer to crack in the arena of hazy brewing. Beyond this point, it’s just being sensible. When shopping for extract, choose the freshest palest liquid extract you can find. Look for extracts that call out a Pilsner character.
Choose a strong haze-helping yeast—Wyeast 1318 London Ale III is a solid go-to. Look also for Imperial A38 Juice and White Labs WLP066 London Fog, among others. Get a starter going to make some healthy sugar eaters.
On brew day, steep your grains and watch the odd swirling character of the oat malt come out. After you strain and rinse the grains and bring your grain tea to a boil, take your pot off the heat and stir in 1/4 to 1/3 of the extract. This small addition helps adjust the pH of the wort, which will make the hops chemistry work more efficiently.
Once the wort is back to the boil, I like a small addition of bittering hops such as Warrior, but I’m a bitter West Coaster.
Since we’re not extracting bitterness, a short boil suffices. I go for 20 minutes, remove the kettle from the heat, and add the rest of the extract. I bring it back to the boil for 10 minutes, then cool the wort to 170°F (77°C).
And now, this is where the true fun of the style comes in—it’s time for your hops to take a bath. Stir the kettle vigorously and add your hops for 20 minutes. Your hops steep, unleashing goodness.
Chill your wort down with dilution water (if doing a concentrated boil) or any process that works for you. Pitch your healthy yeast and wait three days. After three days, hit the fermentor with more hops and let the final bit of magic happen. Interactions between the yeast, the hops oils, and the proteins in the wort will cause a stable haze to form. If you’re lucky, you’ve got a beautiful golden orangey glow to look forward to.
After seven days on the hops (ten days total fermentation), you should be ready to bottle. At this point, your IPA is on a ticking time clock toward oxidized hops characters that will make you blue. So work carefully and quickly—bottle or keg with the minimum amount of oxygen exposure possible. Let your beer carb and enjoy. These beers are best within a month, so get to it! You need to make room to make more!
Let’s stop and back up for a second—what changes if I’m brewing all-grain? Not much. I’m replacing the liquid malt extract with 12 lb (5.4 kg) of pale malt and mashing that at 152°F (67°C) for 60 minutes with my other grains and then sparging. All told I’m adding more time (while saving money on the grain), but all the boil, fermentation, and packaging steps? Exactly the same.
And best of all, there’s nothing stopping any of us time-strapped brewers from throwing one of these together right now. Step out of your extract-hating haze and make the beer. You’ll be high on hops in no time!
Recipe: Extracting the Hazy IPA
This quick and tasty hazy IPA uses malted oats for a luscious body to support a ton of hop oils.
Batch size: 5.5 gallons (20.8 liters)
9 lb (4.1 kg) Pilsner liquid malt extract
1.5 lb (680 g) oat malt
1 lb (454 g) pale malt
8 oz (227 g) Golden Naked Oats
0.50 oz (14 g) Warrior [16% AA] at 30 minutes
2 oz (57 g) each Citra [11% AA] and Mosaic [12.5% AA] at whirlpool at 170°F for 20 minutes
2 oz each Citra [11% AA] and Mosaic [12.5% AA] on day 3 of fermentation for 7 days
Wyeast 1318 London III, Imperial A38 Juice, White Labs WLP066 London Fog
Steep the grains at 150–165°F (66–74°C) for 20 minutes in 5 quarts (4.7 l) of water. Rinse the grains with an additional 5 quarts (4.7 l) of 170°F (77°C) water. Add 4 quarts (3.8 l) of water to the kettle and bring to a boil. If you’re doing a full boil, add 12 quarts (11.4 l) of water.
Remove the kettle from the heat and dissolve 1/3 of the malt extract (3 lb/1.4 kg) in the wort. Bring the kettle back to a boil and add the Warrior hops. After 20 minutes, remove the kettle from the heat and add the remaining extract. Return to the boil for a final 10 minutes. Cool the wort to 170°F (77°C) and stir to form a whirlpool. Add the Citra and Mosaic hops. Steep the hops for 20 minutes before chilling the wort to 66°F (19°C).
Aerate the wort, pitch your yeast, and ferment at 66°F (19°C) for 3 days. Add the dry hops and continue to ferment for 7 more days. Package, carbonate, and serve the beer. Consume within a month.
Article courtesy of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine