Mar 7, 2012

Extract Tips

If you are just starting out brewing, most likely you are going to be brewing an extract beer.  Extract is a great way to get started.  It helps you focus on some pretty important things - like cleanliness and sanitation - before you go whole-hog into all-grain.  Plus, it is nice to step up gradually, gathering equipment over time instead of purchasing thousands of dollars worth of stuff at once.

Extract is a great, simple way to make pretty decent beer.  But sometimes, you can just tell it is an extract beer.  More sophisticated palates can taste an "extract" flavor.  At first, I had no clue what these guys were talking about.  After a few batches, however, I began to pick up on what they were saying.  But have no fear, reader!  There is still a way to make good extract beer with minimal to no "extract flavor."  Here are some tips I use when brewing extract batches.

1.  Steeping Grains
Steeping grains is a simple and easy way to add some complexity and extra sugar/flavor to your beer.  The grains are steeped around 150 F for 15 to 45 minutes.  After that, pull the grains and start the boil.

Steeping does add flavor.  It gives your finished beer more depth and body than just a can of extract.  Not all grains can be steeped, but many of the roasted and specialty malts can be.  Some recipes call for steeping grains already, but there are also many beers where you just pour in the liquid malt extract (LME) into boiling water and you are done.  Where is the fun in that?

2.  Boil Volume
When first starting out, most people have a small pot and boil on a stove.  No problem there.  We all start somewhere.  But when you can, move to boiling full volume - 6+ gallons in a 8+ gallon pot.  The main benefit of this is for hop utilization.  Basically, the more water you have boiling, the more hop flavor and bitterness the hops give.

3.  Add Less Extract (at the beginning)
Extract is pre-made wort that has been reduced to a dry powder or a liquid syrup; it has already been cooked.  So, when you boil it for another hour, you are really only cooking it more.  It is kind of like how microwaved left-overs don't taste as good as the first time around.  By boiling the extract for an hour, you are just over cooking the wort giving you - you guessed it - extract flavor.  There is a simple solution, though.

Add less extract at the beginning.  We usually add only half of the extract at the beginning and then boil as normal.  Then with about 15 minutes to go, we add the rest of the extract to the boil.  Since the extract is already cooked/caramelized, all we really need to do is pasteurize what we are adding.   This minimizes the cook time, the extract flavor, and produces a really nice beer.

4.  Warm Up Your LME
Pouring a thick, heavy syrup from a can is quite difficult... unless you warm up the syrup inside.  I have seen different ways of going about this - from placing the can next to the burner during the boil to getting a bowl of warm water and letting the can sit for a while.  I have done both and personally find the bowl of warm water to be the way to go.  It just works better for me.  The LME pours out quite nicely.

There is always some LME left in the can, so go ahead and submerge it in the boiling wort (my lawyers tell me to add the word "carefully" to that sentence...) in order to free up any leftover LME.  You are going to kill any bugs from the can with the boil, so you might as well get your money's worth.

5.  Stir
Not all the time; the boil takes care of most of the churning and mixing.  But stir when adding the extract, especially the LME, which sinks, scorches, and burns on the bottom of the pot.  Dry malt extract (DME) tends to float so there is less of a burn problem.  It is nice to have two people when pouring LME - one to stir while the other pours.  It is possible to do both yourself, but easier with two people.  Plus, you get a drinking buddy.

So, I hope you found these tips helpful.  They have helped me make OK/pretty good beer into good/pretty great beer.  Do you have any tips for brewing with extract?  If so, let me know.

Until next time,