As I’ve previously discussed, I will be beginning with extract brewing. I’ll be making one gallon and five gallon batches and maybe even two-and-a-half or three gallon batches of extract beer. (Learn More About Picking Batch Sizes) As I begin to further invest in equipment I’ll be incorporating all grain brewing recipes to the website. This is a natural progression that may homebrewers follow for multiple reasons. First off, extract brewing is an easier process and will lead to early successes. Secondly, it can be accomplished with less specialty equipment. All grain brewing utilizes more steps and techniques but can be practiced while extract brewing. Finally, extract beers can be brewed in half the time versus all-grain.
The Brewing Process
In the all-grain brewing process, brewers first heat their strike water* to a desired temp. I would typically heat mine to ten degrees more than my desired mash temperature to account for temperature loss when the grains are added to the mash. If I planned to mash my grains at 148 degrees for sixty minutes, then I would heat my strike water to 158 degrees. After mashing*, brewers then sparge* their grains to wash off any residual sugars. At this point, diligent brewers measure the starting gravity of their wort*. Gravity readings tell us how much dissolved sugars are in the wort. This will allow us to calculate the potential alcohol. The wort is transferred to a boil kettle to begin the boiling portion of the brewing process.
Extract brewers can cut out all of these steps by using liquid or dry malt extract. An extract is essentially a reduction of the wort to either a sticky syrup or a dry powder. Using these cuts back on the time needed to brew by eliminating heating the strike water and waiting for the mash. Many recipes call for a sixty minute mash while others can last even longer depending on recipe and style of beer. By adding extract to water you will create a basic wort without the time consuming steps of all-grain brewing. Using only an extract can result in good beer but many recipes also include steeping grains that add flavor and color to the wort. These grains usually steep in the brew water for around twenty minutes and at 150-170 degrees. Steeping at above 170 can cause tannins to leach out of the grains which is undesirable.
Now that we have our wort the extract and all-grain brewing processes follow the same progression. The wort is boiled while hop additions are made to give the beer its desired levels of bitterness and hop flavor/aroma. The wort is chilled down to an appropriate yeast pitching* temperature. After the yeast is pitched we have officially created a beer. The beer is fermented in a storage vessel for anywhere between a week and a year, depending on style/recipe/desire. We then package our beer for consumption in either bottles or kegs. Home bottled beer will need to have priming sugar* added to create carbonation in the bottle. Kegged beer will have CO2 added and doesn’t need primed. After bottled beer has conditioned for a week (preferably two), the beer should be carbonated and ready for chilling and consumption. I put my home brew in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours before I drink. This cold crash* will cause yeast and proteins to drop out of suspension resulting in a beer with greater clarity.
Equipment is a cost that I want to spread out over time. I’m afraid to encourage people to jump in head first, have them make a substantial investment, and having them quit the hobby. Extract brews require less equipment and therefore less upfront cost to beginning brewers. I’ll be using a small stock pot that I already owned to create our one gallon extract recipes. The only money I’ll be spending to accomplish the one gallon extract recipes will be on ingredients, necessary consumables (bottle caps, sanitizer, ect.), and some very basic equipment. My goal with equipment will be to purchase equipment that will eventually help me move to all-grain brewing.
For basic equipment we’ll need to purchase a fermenter with airlock, auto-siphon with tubing, and a bottle capper. There are other desirable pieces of equipment can be picked up over time. Having a thermometer and hydrometer* isn’t immediately necessary but should be early purchases. (Learn More About Equipment for Extract Brews) I like my digital thermometer for quick and accurate readings. As we move to five gallon extract batches, a larger brew kettle will be necessary. I have cheap turkey fryer that I use. It can make five gallon batches and will be useful when I make the transfer to all-grain brewing. One thing that I have learned it that a brewer should wait until they can afford to purchase quality equipment versus rushing to purchase cheap equipment. In the homebrewing hobby you often get what you pay for in terms of equipment.
I find the time spent brewing to be a peaceful and stress releasing time. An all-grain brew day can take five to six hours or even more. That length of time limits how often I’ll be able to brew using all-grain techniques. As previously covered, extract brewing takes less time. Given proper preparation, I’ve accomplished extract brews in as little as two hours. This is accomplished because using extract removes the mashing and sparging process and moves straight to the boil. Liquid Malt Extract (LME) and Dry Malt Extract (DME) are concentrated forms of wort. Brewers can simply add them to boiling water and create the wort that all-grain brewers spend hours creating.
Many of the techniques used in the extract brewing process can be built on and utilized in the all-grain brewing process. Cleaning and sanitation remain critical in all forms of brewing. In extract brewing, we can steep grains to add flavor and color to our resulting wort. This is much like the lautering process in all-grain brewing. Though we aren’t concerned with converting the starches, extract brewers do need to maintain a stable temperature much like all-grain brewers. Brewers will practice holding a boil, hop additions, and avoiding scorching which will all be used in all-grain brewing. Fermentation and packaging will also be necessary no matter how you brew. Over time though you can expect your abilities and techniques to grow. I am still bottling but currently researching and saving up to make the investment into kegging. Extract brewing creates a great foundation for the principles all-grain brewing.
We all are interested in the quality of the final product. I would have been devastated if my first batch tasted like swill. I took multiple steps to make sure this didn’t occur. First, I studied as much as possible before making the plunge. I decided to start with the extract process to further ensure my early success. Finally, I actually started with an all-in-one kit from a reputable online supplier that was created for beginners. Many new brewers follow the same steps and I believe doings so will lead you to a successful first brew. This fueled me into purchasing more kits and eventually beginning to develop my own recipes. I developed an extract Oktoberfast, an ale yeast Oktoberfest style beer, that I really enjoyed last fall. Not rushing and enjoying the learning process is something I believe is critical to long terms success in home brewing. Don’t rush to become a master all-grain brewer. Instead, relax and enjoy the journey. You’ll get there eventually if you stick with brewing.
Drawbacks of Extract Brewing
There are a two major cons that come with extract brewing. First is the cost of concentrated extracts. You’re essentially paying for a convenience product. With brewing being a hobby, I’m less concerned about the price of ingredients as I am the quality of the final product. I believe that paying more for extract is worth the ease of brewing and higher success rate for new brewers. Secondly, you’re creativity is somewhat limited in terms of flavor and style. Extract only come in a select number of styles. We use steeping grains to regain some flexibility in flavor and style. Picking specific styles that don’t highlight malt complexity is another trick that extract brewers use. Some will also tell you that extract beers have a certain twang taste that makes them distinguishable from all-grain brews but this is widely debated amongst home brewers.
NewToBrew will be following the most common progression for home brewers. We’ll be creating one gallon and five gallon extract brews before moving on to five gallon all-grain brewing. There may also be some two-and-a-half or three gallon batches for variety. We’ll also do our best to create a variety of different styles of beer and use both kits and developed recipes. Let’s begin our journey to great beer!
- Strike Water – This is the heated water that will be added to your grains in the mash. The water releases enzymes that break starches down into sugars for the yeast to eat. Temperature control is critical for your strike water. Different mash temperature create different enzymes and sugars in the wort.
- Mashing – The term is a process of adding hot water to grains. This process uses enzymes in the grain to convert starches to fermentable sugars. The years are able digest these sugars but not the starches they originated from before mashing.
- Sparge – Sparging is the process of rinsing remaining sugars off of the grains at the end of the mash. Two common forms of sparging are batch sparging and fly sparging.
- Wort – A young or unfermented beer. Wort, pronounced “wert”, is the result of the mashing process.
- Yeast Pitching – A physical act of adding the yeast to the wort. The resulting outcome will be a fermented beer.
- Priming Sugar – Many types of sugar can be used as a priming sugar. This is a sugar that is added to beer before bottling. Priming sugar is food for the yeast to eat while in the bottle which will result in a carbonated beer. A commonly used priming sugar in homebrewing is corn sugar.
- Hydrometer – A hydrometer is a device used to measure the amount of dissolved sugar in our beer. By taking a reading before fermentation and during fermentation we can tell critical information about our beer. Is the yeast is done working? Secondly we can use the before and after numbers to calculate the alcohol in our brew instead of guessing.