Extract brewing is the middle ground for home brewers, providing more control than the kit and kilo method over the final outcome. It has the advantage of cutting time off of the brew day through the use of concentrated malts, while still allowing for you to determine your malt profile through the use of specialty grains. It allows for the brewer to choose the type, amount, and time to add the hops. All of this gives the brewer the ability to piece together a final product that is almost entirely of their own creation, with flavors they have put together.
Extract brewing is ideal for the brewer who is just starting out but has some knowledge of the process, or a brewer who feels like it is time to move beyond kit and kilo brewing. It does require a bit more of a monetary investment, but it is a logical choice that will pay off in the long run even if you only make one or two batches per year. It’s also a great step towards all-grain brewing, as all equipment will be carried over, as well as a number of skills.
Before the Brew
- Brew Pot (30 liter/8 gallon)
- Propane burner, gas or electric stove (burner or gas is better)
- Metal Stirring Spoon
- Mash Paddle
- Floating Thermometer
- Hydrometer and test tube
- Plastic Funnel
- Hop Bags (optional)
- Grain Bags
- Wort Chiller or a big tub of ice
- Primary fermenter (secondary fermenter optional)
For your first extract batch, an extract kit would be recommended. These kits provide the extract (as a dry powder or as a thick syrup), as well as specialty grains and hops that complement the malt. As it is your first batch, following the recipe exactly will be to your benefit. Like with every other form of brewing, it is best to start simple and get the process down before trying to whip up your own recipe. The good news is that, once you’ve got the process down, it’s easy to create your own recipes.
Malt Extract – The base of your beer, malt extract is essentially dehydrated or condensed wort. This helps to shorten your brew day, as well as make it a bit less labor intensive, at the cost of complete control over your beer’s profile.
Specialty grains – These grains add extra color and flavor to the beer. If making your own recipe, these can be used to augment the malt extract. The specialty grains need to be cracked before use in a mill, and most homebrew shops will do this for you, for free.
Hops – These will add bitterness, flavors, and aromas to the brew, and are often the most noticed part of the beer. They will add notes such as floral, citrus, spice, and pine. The most convenient form for an extract brewer is pellet, although whole hops can also be used.
Water – The most important ingredient, it needs to be as neutral as possible. If your tap water has chemicals added, they will throw off the taste. Poor quality water is often the cause of a bad brew, but not always recognized.
Flavorings – Powders, extracts, or whole ingredients can be used to infuse flavors beyond hops and malts. While these are best used in advanced brews, if you are curious about adding flavor to a first-time brew, extracts are the easiest way to go, as 50-100 milliliters/2-4 ounces can flavor an entire batch. Fair warning, they can be incredibly sweet, and should be used sparingly. In advanced brewing, purees and whole foods can be added, but that’s for another time.
Yeast starter or incubator pack – If you are using yeast, make sure to have a starter going before you start the boil. If you are using an incubator pack, smack it to release the nutrients and set it aside. Dry yeast can also be re-hydrated for use, but with many companies offering liquid yeasts ready for pitching, this is the smartest way to go about it.
Please see our previous entry on proper cleaning and sterilization of your brewing gear. If you’re not sure if you have thoroughly sterilized your gear, do it again. Even if you’re brewing a bacteria-dependent style such as a lambic or Flanders red ale, you still want only the right bacteria to be part of the brew.
1. Fill your brew kettle with 9.5 liters/2.5 gallons of water.
2. Add your specialty grains, in a grain bag, to the water as it heats. Let them steep for twenty minutes, as the water gets up to 76.5 Celsius/170 Fahrenheit. Do not let the water get above that temperature – boiling grains at a higher temperature will result in bitter flavors.
3. Remove the grains.
4. Add the malt extract and stir so that it is evenly mixed with the water.
5. Bring your malt to a boil, and boil for 5-20 minutes, stirring as needed, until you see particles on the surface clumping together and sinking back down. This is called the hot break. It is dependent on the amount of protein in the extract.
Note: It is acceptable to put the lid on the pot to bring it to a boil faster, but once at boil, remove the lid. Leaving the lid on will result in sulfurs released by the wort staying in the pot, resulting in a flavor of cooked cabbage.
6. Start to time your boil when you add your first hops. Your boil will be 60 minutes long, and the first hop addition will provide the bittering. While it will be tempting to take a break during the hour, do not walk away from the pot, as boil-overs happen quickly and often.
7. Continue the boil, stirring as needed, and add the remaining hops per your hop schedule. If you are making your own recipe, you’ll add the flavoring and aroma hops with roughly 10-15 minutes left, and then the finishing hops with 5 minutes left.
8. After 60 minutes, turn the flame off and remove the pot from the burner.
You’ll need to get the wort down to 23-24 degrees Celsius/70-75 degrees Fahrenheit before pitching the yeast, and there are a number of ways to do it. A wort chiller is a coil that goes in the beer and circulates cold water through the middle of the hot wort, and it is a reliable but slightly expensive option. It also requires introducing an element into the wort that, if not properly sanitized, can contaminate the beer. A cold water bath with lots of ice is cheaper, but will require stirring to evenly and quickly cool the wort. If you’re lucky enough to live in a cold part of the country and it is winter, just seal the brew pot and stick it outside for a bit.
Straining and transferring
- Pour 7.5 liters/2 gallons of cool water into the fermenter.
- Pour in the cooled wort. This can be done through siphoning, or pouring the wort through a strainer. However you choose to do it, insure that any sludge or particles remain in the brew kettle.
- Add enough cool water to bring the total volume of your fermenter to 18.9 liters/5 gallons.
- Seal the fermenter tightly and then rock it around to aerate and fully mix the wort and water.
- Measure the brew’s specific gravity with a hydrometer, and record for later reference.
Pitching the yeast and fermentation
Pitching the yeast is merely the addition of yeast to the wort. If you use scissors to open the yeast packet, make sure they are sterilized – they can add bacteria that can be picked up by the yeast. After adding the yeast, the lid of the fermenter will need to be sealed, and then you will need to shake the fermenter in order to aerate the wort. Add some of your sanitizer solution to the airlock and move the brew to a storage area. The best storage area will be out of the light, rarely trafficked, easy to clean, and able to be kept at a steady temperature in the range of 18.5-23.5 degrees Celsius/65-75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once it has started fermenting, the beer will need to be checked a number of times daily to ensure the airlock stays clear. A clogged airlock will lead to a messy explosion, which leads to a mess to clean up and possibly an angry spouse. After roughly two weeks in the primary fermenter, you will notice that bubbles slow down or stop appearing in the airlock, at which point there are two options. The first is to proceed with bottling. The second is to transfer to a secondary vessel for more conditioning, as well for extra opportunity to clear the beer of particulates.
Extract brewing is a great opportunity to try to produce beers that you can have some control over, but are simple, easy, and clean. Extract batches can help to provide a homebrewer with the knowledge and tools needed to step up to all-grain brewing, and can be used to develop recipes, especially when it comes to finding the right hops schedule.