Extract brewing is one of the three types of homebrewing (all grain, partial mash, and extract) and is usually the easiest for the the beginner. It involves using malt extract as the base. If you are going to be employing a partial mash, click here for more information. For more information on all grain brewing, click here.
Malt extract was brewed from grains, just like an all grain beer, but the water has been removed to make it more stable for storage and shipping.
When you use malt extract as the base, you omit the mash (which has already been done for you by the manufacturer). You would think that this makes the process of extract brewing pretty simple and obvious, but there are many more things to consider before you begin your brew day.
One of the main differences between brewing an extract beer kit and utilizing the all grain method is the partial boil. Most beginning homebrewers will be utilizing basic equipment which includes smaller pots to boil the wort in. Most kit instructions will have you boil the extract in a small volume of water and then add the full fermentation volume later on in the process. Believe it or not, this creates a lot of problems that are not obvious to the beginning homebrewer.
The two problems a partial boil creates are 1.) boiling a thick wort will almost always darken the beer, (not good if you want to brew a pilsner or blonde ale) and 2.) Hop utilization is very poor in a thick mash.
The solution to this problem is pretty simple. Get a cheap turkey fryer or pot and boil as large a volume of wort as you can.
Be sure to take good gravity readings and add the appropriate amount of soft or distilled water to your wort if you miss the original gravity mark.
Cooling the Wort
Cooling the hot wort as quickly as possible is important. Most beginning extract brewers will not have any of the fancier equipment yet, such as an immersion chiller, so they must utilize the most obvious method, cooling the wort in the sink with ice water.
Be sure to change the ice water frequently (or simply add more ice) and keep stirring it to get as much cold water circulating around the hot wort as possible. Take temperature readings and only begin your fermentation when the wort is at the right temperature.
These are just a few of the considerations you must take into account when extract brewing. For a good review of extract brewing tips, click here.
Use Fresh Extract Ingredients or Kits
Support your local homebrew shop if he can get you fresh ingredients. If not, the online stores are probably your best bet due to their high turnover. They are bound to have fresh ingredients in their most popular extract brewing ingredient kits. I highly recommend MoreBeer.com
Choose an ale kit first. Ales can be fermented at room temperature or by placing the fermentation bucket in a bathtub of cold water. Wrap a towel around it to wick the water. You can get the fermentation temperature down to 66-68 degrees (maybe lower if you use a fan) with this method.
For your first extract brewing batch, use the dry yeast that comes with the kit. Follow the directions for hydrating the yeast in a little warm water 20 minutes prior to pitching it in the cooled wort. If you plan on using liquid yeast, then you'll need to make a starter.
The lower the fermentation temperature, the cleaner your beer will be. This is basic temperature control but until you start brewing more and can get all the extract brewing equipment needed to brew the more advanced beers, it will work just fine for ales.
Make a Yeast Starter
A yeast starter is just a little batch of beer (a quart usually, but up to a gallon or more for big beers and some lagers) made with dried malt extract (DME). You are essentially re-pitching, or brewing with the yeast cake from a previous batch of beer, but on a very small scale. You don't care how this little batch of beer tastes, you are only concerned in the health of the yeast and the cell counts you get when the starter is finished fermenting.
Making a healthy yeast starter is one of the most important parts of brewing award winning beer. With a little pre-planning, you can have your starter ready to go when you are finished brewing and are ready to pitch. Check out the yeast starter link above for more details on making starters.
One major cause of making a bad tasting beer is failure to sanitize everything that will come in contact with your beer. Make 5 gallons of sanitizer by placing 5 gallons of cool tap water in your fermenter and adding 1 oz of StarSan. Read the warnings since it is an acid based sanitizer.
It takes 3 minutes of contact time to sanitize your equipment. As long as it stays clear and not cloudy, it's in good shape for extract brewing. Just place everything in the bucket for at least three minutes and it's safe to use. This includes the spoon, hoses, brushes, bottle caps, fermenter lid... everything that will touch the beer needs to be cleaned and sanitized.
Get in the habit of doing this twice, once before you use the equipment, and again after you're finished. If you do this you should never have a problem with contamination.
Your Brewing Water
If your water has a lot of chlorine you can boil it to remove the chlorine. Higher levels of chlorine will cause chlorophenols to be produced in your beer resulting in a strong band-aid flavor.
Adding 1 campden tablet (available at all winemaking suppliers) to your brewing water will remove the chlorine and chloramines and will treat up to 20 gallons of brewing water.
Adding bottled spring water is a good but expensive option. Use distilled water for dilution to correct the mineral composition of your water. You can use various types of water in extract brewing since it won't affect the mash pH or extraction of tannins during the sparge.
Always be aware that the manufacturer of the extract used water that was full of minerals and salts. These were concentrated during the drying process (for DME), and in the process of removing water in LME. These minerals are still in the malt extract.
If you have water that is high in carbonates, bicarbonates, or any other minerals, you may be at extreme levels after using your own tap water. It's best to get a report so you will know exactly what your water has in it, and use distilled, RO, or deionized water when your water is out of specs.
You can do a lot with extract brewing. Try adding steeping grains to increase body, mouthfeel and flavors that you can't get from the available malt extracts. These are included with many kits, or you can experiment by adding small amounts to appropriate styles. If you are ready to use your own ingredients and brew from a recipe, I recommend all the 80 award winning extract recipes from the book Brewing Classic Styles written by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer. I built a spreadsheet so you can locate the recipes in the book that use the same ingredients you have on hand. Click Here to download my recipe index from the book. Be sure to take good notes while extract brewing. It is critical to repeating a beer that you really enjoyed.
Don't be disappointed if your beer doesn't taste
exactly like the commercial example. They aren't using extract and
table sugar to make their wort, and aren't subject the the environment
of your home. There are extract brewing ingredient kits available that
do come close though.
These will usually have two cans of malt extract and you won't be asked to add any additional sugars to extend the gravity. Brew a few of these extract brewing ingredient kits to find out just how good a beer you can make with extract brewing. Before long you will be designing your own winning homebrew beer recipes.
Click Here if you would like to purchase a quality series of extract brewing ingredients kits from MoreBeer.com.
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