Sunday, May 10, 2015

6 Ways To Improve Extract Brewing Results

All-grain brewing, with properly controlled temperatures during mashing and sparging, can produce excellent results.  But all-grain brewing isn't right for every brewer, in every circumstance, for every recipe.  Extract brewing (especially when combined with specialty grains) can produce great beer in a fraction of the time with a smaller investment in equipment.  This makes it the right option for many home brewers.

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

It's also important to make sure that you add extracts at the right time during the boil.  If you're trying to brew a lighter-colored beer like a Kolsch or a Belgian Tripel, you'll want to add extracts late in the boil to ensure that they don't scorch, burn, or darken.  Since most dry or liquid malt extract is basically sterile at the time of creation, it shouldn't be necessary to boil it longer than about 15 minutes.  The older the extract or the more time it's been exposed to the air, the more you'll want the boil time to be around 15 minutes.

Use Specialty Grains Correctly

When using any malt extract, liquid or dry, keep in mind that it's important to use extract the right way.  You're better off using a pale LME and specialty grains than a darker LME.  The specialty grains may slightly increase the complexity of the recipe but will usually yield better results.

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

All this being said, don't cut corners.  Think of malt extract as a way to simplify the mashing and steeping process by eliminating the need to mash a large amount of grain.  Don't see it as a direct replacement for using the appropriate types of grain for the recipe you're making.

Work to Improve Your Equipment and Techniques

You also want to make sure that your boil times, gravities, and temperatures line up with the recipe whether you're using grain or extract.

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.


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