Compared to whole-grain brewing, extract brewing is considered by some as a simplified process. Extract brewing eliminates a major step in whole-grain brewing (mashing) and requires less brewing time. However, it is important to discuss whether there are significant differences between extract brewing and whole-grain brewing. In reality, extract brewing presents its own set of challenges that are not encountered in the whole-grain brewing process. In this article, we will introduce 10 specific brewing techniques for extract brewing.
Know Your Brewery
If you want to consistently produce great craft beer, it’s essential to understand the details of your brewing system and how they affect the brewing process. Seek advice from friends when selecting brewery equipment. Taste your friend’s extract beer, your favorite beer, and whole-grain beer together, and observe and record the differences in taste each time. Identify which factors influence the color, bitterness, malt, and yeast quality of craft beer. Once you have this knowledge, you can use it to address any issues with your craft beer.
Increase Wort Volume
The most significant improvement extract brewers can make to their brewing process is to boil a larger volume of wort. Traditional homebrewing books suggested boiling 5 gallons (19 liters) of malt extract in as little as 1.5 gallons (5.7 liters) of water. While this method is convenient, it has drawbacks. Boiling concentrated wort darkens its color and reduces hop bitterness. Regardless of the required volume in your brewing recipe, always aim to boil the wort at the maximum volume you can handle.
Caramelization of Malt Extract
Boiling is not the sole factor that contributes to darker wort color. Another factor is the partial caramelization of malt extract. When adding malt extract to hot water, it may not dissolve immediately or evenly. Even when it appears that the extract has dissolved completely, there may be small undissolved spots that settle at the bottom of the brewing vessel and caramelize. Therefore, it is important to stir the extract thoroughly, even if you can’t see any undissolved extract.
Use Fresh Extract
Although most extracts are available in dry form, some functional compounds may be lost during the drying process, resulting in a loss of flavor in the final product. Using fresh extracts maximizes the beer flavor and characteristics they bring. Whenever possible, choose fresh extracts for your extract brewing.
Use Special Grains
Compared to partial malt or whole-grain brewing, extract brewing limits the unique malt flavor in beer. One way to overcome this limitation is by adding special grains to the wort. Your extract is made from basic grains, also known as basic malt, which provides the sugar that ferments into alcohol. By adding flavors such as chocolate or coffee, adjusting bitterness, or even modifying the acidity of the final beer with special grains, you can customize your craft beer. During the extract brewing process, you can soak these grains in hot water to make a “grain tea.” However, remember to remove them before adding the malt extract to the wort. Using special grains allows you to experiment with different malts and add unique flavors to your original craft beer.
Another major difference between whole-grain brewing and extract brewing is that whole-grain wort made from grains is typically easier to ferment than wort made from extracts. Some brewers address this issue by combining malt extract with fully fermentable sugar to achieve a dry beer. However, adding sugar to craft beer was largely frowned upon in early American homebrewing due to its association with commercial American beer brands. If you struggle with achieving the desired final gravity, using some sugar (such as cane or corn sugar) in your brewing recipe instead of part of the malt extract can help. Most homebrewing experts recommend using less fermentable malt extracts rather than sugar, regardless of the beer style. If your brewing recipe contains more than 10% sugar, consider adding yeast nutrients to your craft beer. Note that adding sugar to the wort may slightly lighten the color of your craft beer.
Boiling the wort at a lower density significantly improves the hop bitterness in extract brewing. Therefore, extract brewers should strive to make the most of hops. While it is convenient to use hop bags, doing so reduces the extraction of bitter compounds (alpha acids) from the hops. It is recommended to add loose hops directly to your brewing vessel. After cooling, let the wort settle for about half an hour so that any sediment sinks to the bottom and you can siphon off the clean wort. Additionally, during the boiling process, ensure that any hop particles and residue are removed from the vessel. Consider adding a small amount of neutral high-alpha acid hops along with regular hops to increase the bitterness of your craft beer. Magnum hops, which typically have around 16% alpha acids and mild flavor characteristics, can be used to increase bitterness without altering the hop character.
Boiled wort retains more heat than you might expect and needs to be rapidly cooled to the fermentation temperature. During fermentation, yeast metabolism generates a significant amount of heat. Failure to control the temperature within the appropriate range can result in off-flavors. Using a wort chiller allows you to cool the wort quickly, ensuring it reaches the desired fermentation temperature and maintaining it throughout the process. For more information on this topic, you can read our article titled “The Importance of Cooling and Glycol Systems in Craft Breweries.” If you are transitioning from home brewing to commercial brewing, feel free to reach out to us for a list of brewery equipment and prices. We are a professional brewing equipment manufacturer based in China and provide complete professional brewery turnkey solutions. We look forward to cooperating with you.