5 Tips for Better Extract Brewing

Homebrewing malt extracts

Muntons extract syrup, and dry extract powder

If you’ve spent any time reading homebrew discussion forums, you’ve no doubt been exposed to the unfortunate myth that extract beers are universally inferior to beers brewed from all-grain.  This idea is what doctors refer to as “bullshit”.

It’s true that all-grain brewing allows for more flexibility and customization of your beers.  But this does not make all-grain beers objectively “better” by default.  With this in mind, here are a few tips for brewing better extract beers.

1. Use fresh, quality extract from a vendor you trust.
Avoid canned extract — particularly the single-can, pre-hopped extract kits.  I prefer dry malt extract over liquid as it’s easier to use, and it’s shelf life is a bit longer.  If your local homebrew shop doesn’t know or simply wont tell you the age of their extract stock, I would suggest buying it online.  Northern Brewer and MoreBeer both sell an excellent “house brand” liquid malt extract.

2. Turn off the burner before you add extract.
If you leave the burner on, any extract that sinks to the bottom could be scorched by the direct heat.  Turning the heat off is particularly important if you’re using liquid extract, which will invariably sink straight to the bottom of your kettle.  In addition, make sure all of your extract is thoroughly dissolved before turning the heat back on.

3. Use the lightest extract you can find.
Malt extract is primarily used as the base of a beer.  However, some malt extracts make use of other grains to add aroma, flavor, color, etc.  These varieties range in color from “extra light” to “dark” (or something along those lines).  I’ve found that my extract beers turn out best when I use light extracts, and build on it with specialty grains to add the characteristics I want.

4. Use the largest brew kettle you can find.
Small volume boils result in a thicker wort which is susceptible to excessive carmelization, and possibly even scorching.  If you can manage it, a full-volume boil is really the way to go.  In addition to cleaner, clearer worth, you’ll also get better hop utilization.

5. Experiment with late extract additions.
This tip is most beneficial to those who don’t have a kettle large enough for a full-volume boil. The technique involves adding only a small amount of the malt extract at the beginning of the boil, and then adding the rest during the last few minutes. By reducing wort viscosity, you reduce the amount of carmelization and increase hop utilization. This technique is even more beneficial when you’re brewing higher gravity beers that call for large quantities of extract.

These are just a few things I do every time I brew with extract.

Got any other tips?  What works for you?

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