Extract Brewing – Step by Step
Extract Brewing Defined
Extract brewing is one of the three types of homebrewing (all grain, partial mash, and extract) and is usually the easiest for the the beginner. It involves using malt extract as the base. If you are going to be employing a partial mash, click here for more information. For more information on all grain brewing, click here.
Malt extract was brewed from grains, just like an all grain beer, but the water has been removed to make it more stable for storage and shipping.
When you use malt extract as the base, you omit the mash (which has already been done for you by the manufacturer). You would think that this makes the process of extract brewing pretty simple and obvious, but there are many more things to consider before you begin your brew day.
Before You Begin Your Extract Brew Day
One of the main differences between brewing an extract beer kit and utilizing the all grain method is the partial boil. Most beginning homebrewers will be utilizing basic equipment which includes smaller pots to boil the wort in. Most kit instructions will have you boil the extract in a small volume of water and then add the full fermentation volume later on in the process. Believe it or not, this creates a lot of problems that are not obvious to the beginning homebrewer.
The two problems a partial boil creates are 1.) boiling a thick wort will almost always darken the beer, (not good if you want to brew a pilsner or blonde ale) and 2.) Hop utilization is very poor in a thick mash.
The solution to this problem is pretty simple. Get a cheap turkey fryer or pot and boil as large a volume of wort as you can.
Be sure to take good gravity readings and add the appropriate amount of soft or distilled water to your wort if you miss the original gravity mark.
Cooling the Wort
Cooling the hot wort as quickly as possible is important. Most beginning extract brewers will not have any of the fancier equipment yet, such as an immersion chiller, so they must utilize the most obvious method, cooling the wort in the sink with ice water.
Be sure to change the ice water frequently (or simply add more ice) and keep stirring it to get as much cold water circulating around the hot wort as possible. Take temperature readings and only begin your fermentation when the wort is at the right temperature.
These are just a few of the considerations you must take into account when extract brewing. For a good review of extract brewing tips, click here.
Use Fresh Extract Ingredients or Kits
Support your local homebrew shop if he can get you fresh ingredients. If not, the online stores are probably your best bet due to their high turnover. They are bound to have fresh ingredients in their most popular extract brewing ingredient kits. I highly recommend
Choose an ale kit first. Ales can be fermented at room temperature or by placing the fermentation bucket in a bathtub of cold water. Wrap a towel around it to wick the water. You can get the fermentation temperature down to 66-68 degrees (maybe lower if you use a fan) with this method.
For your first extract brewing batch, use the dry
yeast that comes with the kit. Follow the directions for hydrating the yeast in a little warm water 20 minutes prior to pitching it in the cooled wort. If you plan on using liquid yeast, then you’ll need to make a starter.
The lower the fermentation temperature, the cleaner your beer will be. This is basic temperature control but until you start brewing more and can get all the extract brewing equipment needed to brew the more advanced beers, it will work just fine for ales.
Make a Yeast Starter
A yeast starter is just a little batch of beer (a quart usually, but up to a gallon or more for big beers and some lagers) made with dried malt extract (DME). You are essentially re-pitching, or brewing with the yeast cake from a previous batch of beer, but on a very small scale. You don’t care how this little batch of beer tastes, you are only concerned in the health of the yeast and the cell counts you get when the starter is finished fermenting.
Making a healthy yeast starter is one of the most important parts of brewing award winning beer. With a little pre-planning, you can have your starter ready to go when you are finished brewing and are ready to pitch. Check out the yeast starter link above for more details on making starters.
One major cause of making a bad tasting beer is failure to sanitize everything that will come in contact with your beer. Make 5 gallons of sanitizer by placing 5 gallons of cool tap water in your fermenter and adding 1 oz of StarSan. Read the warnings since it is an acid based sanitizer.
It takes 3 minutes of contact time to sanitize your equipment. As long as it stays clear and not cloudy, it’s in good shape for extract brewing. Just place everything in the bucket for at least three minutes and it’s safe to use. This includes the spoon, hoses, brushes, bottle caps, fermenter lid… everything that will touch the beer needs to be cleaned and sanitized.
Get in the habit of doing this twice, once before you use the equipment, and again after you’re finished. If you do this you should never have a problem with contamination.
Your Brewing Water
If your water has a lot of chlorine you can boil it to remove the chlorine. Higher levels of chlorine will cause chlorophenols to be produced in your beer resulting in a strong band-aid flavor.
Adding 1 campden tablet (available at all winemaking suppliers) to your brewing water will remove the chlorine and chloramines and will treat up to 20 gallons of brewing water.
Adding bottled spring water is a good but expensive option. Use distilled water for dilution to correct the mineral composition of your water. You can use various types of water in extract brewing since it won’t affect the mash pH or extraction of tannins during the sparge.
Always be aware that the manufacturer of the extract used water that was full of minerals and salts. These were concentrated during the drying process (for DME), and in the process of removing water in LME. These minerals are still in the malt extract.
If you have water that is high in carbonates, bicarbonates, or any other minerals, you may be at extreme levels after using your own tap water. It’s best to get a report so you will know exactly what your water has in it, and use distilled, RO, or deionized water when your water is out of specs.
- Gather all your extract brewing ingredients. If you purchased an extract brewing kit from your homebrew supplier, it should consist of a can of hopped malt extract and a packet of dry yeast. This type of kit will be combined with other brewing sugars such as table sugar or plain malt extract to make 5 gallons of beer. These extract kits generally won’t need to be boiled. The other kind of extract kit uses unhopped malt extract and must be boiled with hops to obtain the required bitterness and hop flavor.
- Heat some water and place the can of extract in it to make it less viscous and easier to pour.
- Boil the appropriate amount of water in your brewpot. This is usually around 2 gallons. You’ll add the extract to this water to make the concentrated wort for your boil. If your extract kit includes crushed grains for steeping, heat to water to the desired temperature (no more than 170 degrees F or you will pull astringent flavors out of the husks) and steep these grains prior to adding the extract.
- You can rehydrate your yeast now while the water is being heated to a boil. Place one packet of dry yeast (10-11 grams) in one cup of warm preboiled water (95-105° F) in your sanitized jar and stir the yeast. You can cover the jar with foil or plastic wrap to keep other beasties from getting in. Wait about 20 minutes before pitching the yeast.
- When the water begins to boil, turn off the heat and add your extract. You must stir continuously and make sure it’s completely dissolved. If you are using dried malt extract (DME), use a whisk and stir until there are no clumps (be patient, this may take a little while). In either case, make sure there is no extract sticking to the bottom of your pan.
- If the extract brewing ingredient kit has hopped extract and you won’t be adding any more hops, you may not need to boil the wort. But, if you use unhopped extract and must add hops for bittering and/or flavor,you must boil the wort at least one hour.
- Add your bittering hops and start your timer for 60 minutes. Hopefully you have some room in your brew pot (thus the need at least a 20 quart pot) because at this stage, there is a good chance that the wort will boil over. You must watch it carefully while extract brewing and adjust the heat, stir, blow on the foam, whatever it takes to get the foam to subside some so the boil can continue. This is only a problem until the hot break (proteins coagulate in the pot) forms. Beware of boilover if you need to add another hop addition. Watch it and be ready to adjust heat, stir, blow on the foam again.
- After the boil cool the wort as quickly as possible to yeast pitching temperature. Place the pot into a water bath with ice and gently stir around the outside of the pot. Add more ice if necessary to get the temperature down to 65-75° F. Keep the lid on the pot while stirring the water to keep the water out of the wort.
- Pour the cooled wort into the fermenter as vigorously as you can. This aerates the wort giving the yeast the oxygen they need. Pour some wort back into the brew pot and continue pouring back and forth into the fermenter for aeration. This is the only time you will want to aerate the wort or beer. After this point you must stir gently and try not to expose the beer to air which will oxidize the beer and make it taste like cardboard. If you had added hops and want to remove them you can do so in this step. You just pour the wort through a sanitized strainer.
- Add enough clean cool water to the fermenter to obtain 5 gallons. Aerate the wort again by pouring it back and forth to the brew pot or just stir vigorously, agitating the wort and adding air. If you bought a hydrometer, now is the time to use it. Sanitize the hydrometer and cylinder and obtain a sample of wort. Measure the specific gravity and write this down in the testing portion of your brewing log (always keep a brewing log every time you brew). Dispose of the wort after taking the reading.
- Add your yeast to the wort. From this point on it is called beer.
- Find a cool dark location where the beer won’t be disturbed. It should be between 65-72 degrees F. If you can use temperature control during the fermentation, you will make a better beer.
- Now just ignore it for 2 weeks. It’s hard to do I know. Resist the temptation to open the lid and look in. The airlock (filled with sanitizer) will begin to bubble and will continue bubbling until the yeast has consumed most of the available sugar in your beer as fermentation continues. Although the bubbling may slow down or stop, the beer is not through fermenting yet. Try to be patient and wait the full 2 weeks to improve the beer’s clarity
- Clean up all the brewing equipment and store it until your next batch (if your wife allows you to use the kitchen again). Clean everything with either an unscented detergent or one of the available cleaners such as 1 Step or PBW (Powdered Brewers Wash). Rinse well. Then, sanitize everything once more and your brew day is done.
- After the two weeks of fermentation, your beer will be ready to bottle. If you are using old bottles, you must make sure the bottles are clean and sanitary. Give them a scrub inside with a bottle brush and then sanitize. Drop your bottle caps in a bowl of sanitizer too.
- Add the priming sugar so the yeast will have just enough to eat to produce the carbonation you want. Use two cups of good water, add 3/4 cup of corn sugar (4 ounces) or 2/3 cup table sugar (3.8 ounces), bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover the priming sugar, and allow it to cool before adding it to the bottling bucket.
- Get out your sanitized bottling bucket. Pour the cooled priming sugar in the bottom. Siphon the beer from the fermenter into your bottling bucket, being careful not to aerate the beer (remember, no more oxygen). Place the siphon hose near the bottom of the bottling bucket and keep it below the beer as the bucket is filling. The priming sugar will be mixed with your beer as it fills. No need to stir and take a chance of aerating the beer.
- Place the bottling bucket on a shelf or table. Fill the bottles with the siphon hose and attached bottle filler. If you don’t have a bottle filler, use the plastic clamp to stop the flow of beer. Place a sanitized bottle cap on the bottle and crimp each cap with the capper.
- Store the bottles in the same environment as your fermenter, 65-75° F. It will take at least 2 weeks for the yeast to consume the sugar and carbonate the beer. The yeast will flocculate (combine in little clumps and fall to the bottom) and you will have a thin layer of sediment on the bottom of each bottle.
- After the two weeks have passed (time goes slow when you are watching yeast eat sugar), it’s time to try your first bottle. You will probably want to chill some or all of your beer. It will last for around 6-8 months before it begins to taste stale. If you can’t wait and want to try a bottle early, you may notice that the beer hasn’t fully carbonated to your liking, or it may taste a little strange. The two weeks it takes to carbonate the beer is called a conditioning period. Not only are the yeast finishing the priming sugar, they will consume some of the other byproducts of fermentation to mellow the flavors. As a general rule, the beer will improve for a month or two.
- It’s time to enjoy your beer. Sit back and enjoy this “nectar of the gods” that you have crafted with your own two hands.
You can do a lot with extract brewing. Try adding steeping grains to increase body, mouthfeel and flavors that you can’t get from the available malt extracts. These are included with many kits, or you can experiment by adding small amounts to appropriate styles. If you are ready to use your own ingredients and brew from a recipe, I recommend all the 80 award winning extract recipes from the book Brewing Classic Styles written by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer. I built a spreadsheet so you can locate the recipes in the book that use the same ingredients you have on hand. Click Here to download my recipe index from the book. Be sure to take good notes while extract brewing. It is critical to repeating a beer that you really enjoyed.
Don’t be disappointed if your beer doesn’t taste exactly like the commercial example. They aren’t using extract and table sugar to make their wort, and aren’t subject the the environment of your home. There are extract brewing ingredient kits available that do come close though.
These will usually have two cans of malt extract and you won’t be asked to add any additional sugars to extend the gravity. Brew a few of these extract brewing ingredient kits to find out just how good a beer you can make with extract brewing. Before long you will be designing your own winning homebrew beer recipes.
Click Here if you would like to purchase BrewMaster Series of extract brewing ingredients kits from MoreBeer.com.