Making the Best of Extract

January 8, 2000 at 11:10am

Author(s): Chris Testerman

Over the years extract brewing has earned the reputation of being inferior to all grain brewing. Extract brews may not be the true formula of beer making, but with a few steps they can be as good as their puritan counter parts.

Extract brews take less time to make, and require less equipment to produce. There are also are fewer opportunities for mistakes, which for some of us is a high priority.

Modern malt extract comes in two styles, dry and liquid. Liquid malt extract is made with the same process as all grain wort, only on a larger scale. It is just that a majority of the moisture has been removed. Liquid extract comes in light, amber and dark. Liquid extract is easily dissolved, and often less expensive than dry. Liquid also has a shorter shelf life, and is more likely to go bad over time. Dry malt extract or (DME) is the same product, with all of the moisture removed. Because all of the moisture is removed it tends to retain more of the flavors of the original grain. Some recipes (light beers, wheat beers and beers that rely on malt for flavor) will be better when made with dry.

One of the key factors in good brewing is using a good, tried and true recipe. There are many books available that contain gold medal winning extract recipes. Stay away from “Joe’s experimental kitchen pot ale”, or “Billy Bob’s spinach stout”. Beer styles can tolerate different amounts of extract. Generally darker beers (which get a majority of their flavor from specialty grains) can tolerate large amounts of extract. High alcohol beers, highly hopped beers, flavored beers and beers which use yeast as it’s primary flavoring work well as extract brews.

Another key step is to use fresh ingredients. Fresh extract, specialty grains, hops and yeast. Look at the date on the yeast, taste the grain and smell the hops. Some home brew shops have 50 gallon drums of extract that are pressurized with CO2, and are regularly replaced with a new batch. Which is good if it is a fairly busy shop. If using a canned or bagged extract there is usually a best buy date, and if there is not, look at the packaging for dust or deterioration. If the shop owner tells you that the hops with the bluish hue is a new variety of Saaz, question it.

The next key to making quality extract home brew is to use adjunct grain. Using a grain bag with specialty grains during the initial brewing will definitely improve the end product. Look for recipes that contain adjunct grains, and adding a small amount of wheat malt, or crystal malt to every batch can be very beneficial. Use very little of Smoked or Peated malt, Special B and Black Patent, and if a recipe calls for all three, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Using high quality water is very important in brewing. Filtering out chlorine and other unwanted sediment with a small in line filter for your brewing water source is a wise investment. Or many brewers boil there brew water the night before or even use bottled water to make beer. Next, boil your brew with as much water as you can. It helps utilize adjunct grains and hops to their full potential, and incorporates flavors throughout the wort. Invest in a large brew pot, and fill it to batch size if possible. Rain or bath water is not recommended.

Build or buy a wort chiller. Rapid cooling of the wort reduces the risk of contamination, speeds up brew time and helps floating particles settle before fermentation. Which helps prevent off flavors and helps in clarification. Building a chiller is fairly simple, there are numerous web sites and some brew shops have “how-to” instructions.

Use fresh liquid yeast, yeast nutrient and if possible make a yeast starter. A few days before you brew, boil some malt extract and water and cool it to room temperature. Then clean and sanitize a beer bottle or glass gallon container and add the liquid wort, yeast nutrient and yeast. Then put an air lock on top until pitching time. When the starter is pitched, the starter should be fermenting actively and there should be froth on top. A larger amount of yeast will decrease the risk of potential contamination, and speed up primary fermentation. An abundant yeast count will also contribute to overall taste in the finished beer. A larger army of yeast will consume the complex extract sugars more easily and help defeat bacteria.

Use a secondary fermentor. Usually within a week of pitching the yeast, the beer should be transferred. Racking the beer will help eliminate off flavors of dormant yeast, and help clarify the final product. Also freeing up a 6 1/2 gallon carboy for more brewing.

Below are some recipes, that may help in the search for better beer.

What’s Hoppening IPA

4 lb. Light liquid malt extract
4 lb. Amber liquid malt extract
1 lb. Wheat liquid malt extract
1 lb. Crystal malt (grain 60 L)
1 1/2 oz. Cascade hops(1 hour, full boil)
2 oz. Cascade hops(5 minutes from end)
1 tsp. gypsum
1 tsp. Irish moss
American or London Yeast
Dry hop with 1 oz. Cascade leaf hops
3/4 cup corn sugar to prime

Alt of this World

6 2/3 lb. Amber liquid malt extract
1 lb. Crystal (60 L)
1/2 lb. Chocolate malt
1 oz. Galena hops (1 hour)
1 oz. Pearl hops (30 minutes)
German Ale or Kolsch Yeast
3/4 cup corn sugar to prime

Roof Ale

6 2/3 lb. Amber liquid
3 1/3 lb. Light liquid
1/2 lb. Crystal (40 L)
1/4 lb. Roasted barley
1/2 lb. Peated malt
2 oz. Cascade hops (1 hour)
1/2 oz. Northern Brewers hops (20 min)
Scottish Ale Yeast
1/2 cup molasses and 1/2 cup honey to prime