Malt extracts have a dubious reputation. Many people think that this is the same “powder” that brewing giants use to make low-grade beer. Those who are familiar with their production technology and have long ago debunked this ridiculous myth, however, often believe that pure-grain brewing automatically creates better beer.
Sure, you have more control over the processes and access to additional ingredients when mashing your own malt, but that doesn’t mean that delicious, world-class award-winning beer can’t be brewed from malt extract (we assure you, it can). In this article, we will debunk all the myths about malt extracts, tell you how they are produced, what varieties exist, and lift the veil on extract brewing in all its diversity.
How are malt extracts made?
The process of production of malt extracts is not much different from the initial stage of pure-grain brewing and is essentially carried out by mashing the grain malt and then dehydrating the resulting wort. First, a large mash vat is filled with water and heated to an appropriate temperature. Less water is used in the production of extracts than in traditional brewing since considerable energy is needed for the subsequent removal of the water from the wort. Crushed malt is added to the heated water, after which it undergoes the standard mashing process, usually one-step, where malt enzymes convert the grain starch into fermentable sugars.
When the mashing is finished, the charred malt wort is pumped through pipes to a filter, where the spent grain is completely separated. If a hop extract is being prepared, the wort is boiled with a step-by-step addition of hops. From the filter tanks, the wort is sent to evaporators where it undergoes a gentle dehydration process under vacuum at +113 to +140 °F (+45…+60 °C). This is where the process begins to differ from traditional brewing. In the evaporators, the wort loses 80% of its water, taking on the consistency of a very thick syrup. The dry extract requires another stage: the extract is centrifuged, where the remaining moisture is removed and a powdered substance is produced.
Malt Extract Benefits
- Extracts are speed. Using malt extracts allows you to skip the most time-consuming and difficult stage of beer production, the mashing of malt. Standard brewing, if you take into account sanitation and preparation time, can take an entire working day. With extract brewing, you can get it down to 2-3 hours, making it a good choice for people who want to brew beer after work or spend the weekend with the family instead of a brewpot.
- Extracts are compact. Because the mashing process of malt in extract brewing can be skipped, the amount of equipment needed to brew beer is greatly reduced. In fact, concentrated beer can be brewed in ordinary kitchen utensils.
- Extracts are about efficiency. One of the most challenging aspects of pure-grain brewing is the initial wort density, which determines how much alcohol will be in the future beer and its overall profile. While mashing malt is a complex and partly unpredictable process, extracts always provide a predictable amount of fermentable sugars and their amount is independent of mashing efficiency.
- Extracts are about repeatability. Since we have eliminated the problem of mashing efficiency, there are far fewer variables in home brewing. Now, all you need to take care of is consistency in water heating, fermentation, and beer aging to repeat a previously tried and tested recipe with high accuracy.
- Extracts are friendly. All of the benefits described above make extract brewing one of the best ways to introduce people to home brewing. Extracts are one of the cheapest and friendliest ways to encourage friends to take up this incredibly interesting hobby.
Types of malt extracts
Based on the technology of production, malt extracts can be of two types: liquid and dry. Each of them has its own advantages and disadvantages, as well as the sphere of application.
Liquid malt extract (LME)
This is what liquid malt extract for brewing looks like.
The liquid extract is a thick, molasses-like viscosity of dehydrated beer wort containing up to 20% water. Compared to dry extract, it is much more versatile and is used to make almost any style of beer. It is usually packed in 1.5, 1.6, 1.8, or 3kg tins. One such can produce 3-6 gallons (12-25 liters) of the finished drink. The liquid extract may be hoped or unhopped. In a sealed jar, if the storage conditions are maintained (cool, dark, dry place), LME can be stored for up to 2 years, after which it begins to deteriorate rapidly.
1 kg LME in 10 liters of water ≈ SG 1.031 (7.8 °Bx) ≈ 4.0% alcohol
- Generally better flavor than dry extract.
- Huge assortment.
- Convenient packaging in tins.
- Suitable as a base malt.
- Very difficult to measure the right amount.
- Almost impossible to store for a long time after opening a can.
- Less economical than dry extract.
Examples of liquid extracts: Muntons, Mangrove Jack’s, Brewferm, and Coopers.
Dry malt extract (DME)
This is what dry malt extract looks like – in the photo extract brewing
Dry extract is a powdered beer wort obtained after dehydration of the liquid extract to about 2% moisture. It is better stored but has a less pronounced flavor of the original raw material, so when brewing beer based on it requires the addition of special malts. It is most often used in recipes as a substitute for sugar or as a means to increase the density of the wort before fermentation if the brewer understands that the density after mashing will not be enough to obtain a beverage with the required characteristics. Dry malt extract is not hopped. It is also used to make a yeast starter.
1 kg DME in 10 liters of water ≈ SG 1.038 (9.5 °Bx) ≈ 4.9% alcohol
- Compared to LME it stores better and does not darken.
- You can use a little DME from the pack and save the rest.
- Easy to measure with high accuracy.
- More economical than LME.
- Does not respond well to humidity.
- May have difficulty dissolving in water.
- Modest range.
- Examples of dry extracts: dry hopped Muntons.
Liquid Malt Extract vs Dry Malt Extract
When it comes to using LME and DME in beer brewing, some brewers prefer one over the other based on personal preference or recipe requirements. LME is generally easier to work with and can be added directly to the boil, while DME requires more mixing and dissolving in hot water. However, DME can be more shelf-stable and has a longer shelf life compared to LME.
Brewing with malt extracts
There are three methods of brewing with malt extracts:
Beer is made exclusively from malt extract. The hopped liquid extract is dissolved in the right amount of water, sugar (usually 1 kg per standard can of extract), or dextrose is added to the reconstituted wort and the yeast is added. To simplify the task of dissolving the extract, it is previously stirred in 2-3 liters of boiling water, and then bring the total volume of wort to the required level with cold water. This is followed by procedures that are not much different from pure-grain brewing processes: after fermentation of the wort, the beer is bottled with sugar, dextrose, or dry extract for carbonation and sent for maturation.
To improve the taste and aroma of beer and increase its density and overall quality it is recommended to use liquid or dry unhopped extract instead of sugar or dextrose: 1.5 kg of liquid unhopped extract or 1 kg of dry. You can also mix 0.5 kg of dry unhopped juice with 0.5 kg of dextrose. Exclusive homebrew kits usually contain a larger amount of extract (about 3 kg), so there is no need to add sugar. Thanks to the huge range of malt extracts you can make a great beer in any style without the need to add sugar as a fermentable additive.
The method of soaking the grain
To add depth of flavor, color, and characteristics to an extract beer, you can add some special malt, for example, caramel or chocolate malt. This method requires only one additional step to the standard extract brewing process and a minimum of additional equipment, namely a nylon mashing bag. The malt is soaked until the extract is dissolved. Water is heated to +149 to +158 °F (+65 … +70 °C), after which the bag with special malt is immersed in it, like a tea bag. In this form, the grain is soaked for 30 minutes and removed, after which the extract is added to the brew kettle and the other stages of extract brewing follow. Soaking the grain is only suitable for neutral light extracts – if malt is added over a semi-dark or dark extract, the beer may be too sugary.
Partial mashing method
Just like soaking grains, the partial mashing method allows the beginner to touch the mystery of clean-grain brewing, and the experienced brewer to rethink the traditional recipe. There is another strong argument in favor of this technology: not all special malts are suitable for steeping using the previous method. For example, to enrich the beer with the flavor components of Munich or wheat malts, barley flakes, and other protein-rich flake ingredients, they have to be mashed. The method of partial mashing consists in preparing beer wort according to the classic clean-grain technology, followed by the addition of extract.
The composition of the mash for partial mashing, as well as its quantity, is determined by the brewer, based on his experience and available equipment. For example, one-third of the required amount of malt can be taken and the rest can be made up with extract. The mashing is usually made from a combination of several specialty malts and the basic malt in the amount necessary for their saccharification. Mashing is recommended in a bag. The malt is milled at +68 °C for about 30-60 minutes, after which the bag of the mash is removed and the malt extract is added. The rest of the extract brewing steps then follow.
As with many aspects of home brewing, deciding which method of extract brewing to choose comes down to personal preference and beer style. It is not uncommon for experienced craft brewers, right up to the level of established craft breweries, to use extracts, especially when another brew has gone down an unforeseen scenario and an urgent need to increase the wort density to give the beer the right characteristics. And there is only one conclusion to be drawn here: no one particular brewing method, pure-grain, extract, or combination, can be better than another in all aspects. Rather, one particular method may be better for a particular style of beer, experience and/or budget, or even the desired result of a particular brew.
How Much Malt Extract For 5 Gallons Of Beer?
The quantity of malt extract required to brew 5 gallons of beer will vary depending on the type of beer being brewed, the level of strength desired, and the grain bill. According to a general rule of thumb, a batch of five gallons of beer requires 1.25 to 2 pounds of malt extract.
Tips to make beer from extracts better
- Forget the sugar. Making beer from most extracts requires the addition of sugar in order to increase the initial density of the wort and provide the beer with the necessary level of alcohol. But sugar usually has a negative effect on the taste of the beverage, giving it a brothy flavor. It’s almost always better to use pure dextrose or unhopped extract, which will also add depth of flavor and richer color to your beer.
- Add hops. Most liquid extracts are already hopped, but the bitterness level and hop flavors are not always pronounced enough to distinguish a brewed beer from a low-hopped mass-market lager. After the extract has dissolved, brew the wort with the addition of the appropriate hops for the style. The difference is evident!
- Replace the yeast. Usually, a can of malt extract comes complete with standard ale yeast. This, of course, ferments everything and the beer tastes good, but it will always taste about the same, because yeast, like hops and malt, is also involved in shaping the taste and aroma of the drink. Try to find the right yeast strain for your extract for that particular style and you won’t have long to wait for the result.
- Be creative. Be bold with your creativity and don’t be afraid to deviate from the instructions that come with the extract. Add new ingredients to the mash during the next brew: juniper berries, coffee, citrus zest, dried fruits, various herbs, spices, fruits, and much, much more. Not all additives will meet your expectations, but you’re more likely to get a real masterpiece that no one has ever tasted before!
Extract brewing is a great way for homebrewers to get started with brewing high-quality beer without the need for more complicated equipment or processes. With extract brewing, the brewer can still create a range of beer styles using liquid or dried malt extracts, with a lower level of complexity and a shorter brewing time. The process involves boiling the malt extract, hops, and other ingredients to create the wort, which is then fermented with yeast to create beer.
To get started with extract brewing, homebrewers will need some basic equipment, including a brewing kettle, fermenter, bottles or keg, and a few brewing tools. Following the steps of the extract brewing process and paying attention to the recipe details and instructions will lead to a delicious and satisfying result.
Overall, extract brewing is an accessible and enjoyable way for anyone interested in beer brewing to get started with the hobby. With a little bit of practice and experimentation, homebrewers can achieve great results and create their own signature brews.