Why start extract brewing? There are plenty of kits available to make really good beer at home. They have a range of styles and are almost foolproof. As long as you measure everything properly and keep it all clean and sanitized you can brew almost any beer that you want and do it a lot cheaper than buying it. But you are making somebody else’s beer.
Kit brewing is just rehydrating a concentrated wort that somebody else has formulated. It is a great way to learn the basics of fermentation and cleaning and to make good beer that is consistently flavored. The problem is that it is difficult to put your own spin on it. You can change the flavor profile somewhat with different yeasts, adjuncts and dry hopping, but if you want to make your own beer recipe you either need to start extract brewing or all grain brewing. All grain can be a bit intimidating when starting out and if you get serious, can start to get costly. Extract brewing will allow you to make your own beers without too much difficulty or expense.
So, what is extract brewing? If you’ve been kit brewing, you do get malt extract in the kit. This is hopped extract though, so the bitterness and hop flavor are already formulated. Malt extract, that have no hop additions are available in liquid and dry form. When brewing with this you get to choose what hops to add, and really determine the beer style.
There’s a bit more to it than a kit though. While you are still skipping the mashing stage, that all-grain brewers have to do, when adding hops, you will need to boil your wort. Typically, this is for an hour to 90 minutes. At different stages of the boil you add hops. Hops added at the beginning of the boil gives your final beer bitterness, while adding later and at the end of the boil gives flavor and aroma.
The Extract process goes like this:
Heat Water → Dissolve Malt Extract → Bring to the Boil → Add Hops → Cool → Transfer to Fermenter → Pitch Yeast
Before starting though there are a few things to consider:
What is the biggest size batch I will make?
To extract brew, you’re going to need a brew kettle (big pot) and a mash paddle or large spoon to stir with. When buying brewing equipment, it’s important to consider its capacity. Boiling wort is going to bubble and foam, especially when you add hops, so your pot needs to be a gallon or two larger than your batch size at least. This way you won’t end up with hot sticky wort on your counter or floor.
How am I going to transfer the wort?
Once you’ve boiled and cooled, you need to get the wort into the fermenter. Lifting a pot with five gallons and trying to pour it into a funnel is not a great option. The easiest way to do this is to buy a brew kettle with a ball valve at the base. You can connect a hose to the ball valve and let it flow into the fermenter. As long as the fermenter is below the kettle, gravity will do all the work and no kind of pump is necessary. If you don’t want a ball valve in your kettle, the other option is to us an auto-siphon. A few pumps of the auto-syphon will start the flow of wort through a hose and into the fermenter.
How do I cool the wort?
This step is one that you can add in later if you like. There are a range of wort chillers available, the easiest to use being an immersion chiller. When starting out though you can use an ice bath (Get a lot of ice. This is a pot that had gallons of boiling liquid in it).
What recipes do I make?
The whole idea of stepping up to extract brewing is to come up with your own recipes. For your first few batches try somebody else’s recipe (here’s one to start you off) to get a feel for the process and using hops. Then do a little research and figure out what styles you want to make. A brewing calculator like Beer Smith is a great way to figure out and adjust recipes before starting your brew day. It will calculate color, %ABV, IBU and even tell you if your recipe is correct for the style you’re trying to make.
Once you have your kettle and have done a little research on the type of beer you want to make and tried a few recipes, you can advance to more advanced techniques like using specialty grains and dry hopping. Alternatively, once you get the hang of it you can make your own recipes, perfect them and keep making tasty beer with your individual stamp on it.
Are you an extract brewer? Got any tales or recipes to share? Leave a comment.
For more information about brewing kettles check out our review.