The difference between getting a mediocre batch of extract-based home brew and a great one is as easy (or as hard) as getting a few key things right. If you get the following things right, you'll brew a much better extract-based beer:
- Where possible, use DME rather than LME
- Add extract at the right time during the boil
- Use specialty grains to improve flavor, but don't overdo it
- Consider partial-mash options
- Don't cut corners
- Work to improve your equipment and techniques
We'll talk a little more about these now.
Using DME Instead of LME
Liquid malt extract (LME) can go stale much more quickly that dry malt extract (DME). Once opened, LME will usually go bad more quickly than DME, but both will begin getting stale. This can produce off flavors in the beer. In fact, given its poor shelf life, you'll want to avoid LME in your recipes whenever possible.
Add Extracts to the Boil at the Right Time
Use Specialty Grains Correctly
Speaking of specialty malts, be careful about over-using them. If a recipe doesn't call for a particular kind of specialty malt, leave it out unless you're experimenting with a recipe of your own. Some specialty grains don't work well for steeping anyway, because their starches haven't been converted to sugars by enzyme activity.
Consider Partial Mashing
Learn about partial mashing as well. This can be a way to add many of the flavor components associated with all-grain brewing to what is essentially an extract beer. Partial mashes are only a little more complicated than steeping specialty grains. They require a little bit more temperature control and time management, but for the most part work the same way.
Don't Cut Corners
Work to Improve Your Equipment and Techniques
If you're worried that your extract beers aren't turning out well, before jumping into the all-grain process, invest your time and money in improving your existing equipment and techniques. Work on temperature control during mashing, sparging, and fermenting. Get a kettle large enough to do a full boil. (This will also help with hop utilization.) All of these tools will help improve the quality of your extract beers, and place you in a better position to do a good job with your first all-grain brews later on.