There are three primary methods for brewing beer: extract, partial mash, and all-grain. Although there are several differences between these three methods, the main distinction lies in how the base of the beer is created.
Extract and partial mash both use malt extract as the base. This malt extract is derived from grain, but the water content is removed during production to improve preservation and transportation. This adds convenience and facilitates distribution and retail. On the other hand, all-grain brewing solely uses grain in its original form and does not rely on pre-made concentrated sugars from malt.
It should be noted that no method is inherently better than the others in every aspect. Brewing is not a “one-size-fits-all” hobby. Each method may be more suitable for specific beer styles, individual experience and budget levels, or desired outcomes.
Malt Extract Brewing
A majority of homebrewers have tried extract and partial mash brewing due to its accessibility. These methods require a smaller initial investment and offer fewer opportunities for error compared to all-grain brewing, making them ideal for beginners.
The Pros of Brewing with Malt Extract
Smaller Initial Investment Required
When using malt extract, there’s no need for a large-scale operation to mash large amounts of grain. This means you need fewer equipment and can save money.
Less Room for Error
Brewing is both an art and a science. However, one must understand the brewing process before experimenting with modifications. Extract brewing simplifies the process by eliminating the need to mash grain or sparge for sugars. These steps require careful monitoring of pH, temperature, gravity, and other factors, increasing the chances of mistakes. Extract brewing involves fewer steps and “moving parts,” making it easier for less experienced brewers.
Extract brewing saves time by skipping the mashing step. The sugars needed for fermentation are already derived and concentrated in the malt extract. This means less time spent mashing grain and more time dedicated to steeping, boiling, adding hops, and cooling down.
The Cons of Brewing with Malt Extract
Cost of Ingredients
Except for yeast, malt extract is the most expensive ingredient for brewing. Unlike yeast, malt extract cannot be reclaimed or reused. If you brew frequently or make high gravity beers requiring a significant amount of malt, the cost of malt extract can quickly add up.
Lack of Creative Control
Using malt extract limits your control over beer design and creation. While there is a wide range of malted grains available for brewing, options for malt extract are more limited. Novice brewers may not find this limiting, but experienced brewers understand the diverse characteristics that various types of grains contribute to a beer in terms of aromas, colors, flavors, and other attributes.
When using malt extract as the base, you are confined to the characteristics of that specific malt extract. Regardless of the other ingredients added, the beer’s qualities will ultimately be influenced by the malt extract used. It’s like an ice cream sundae – you can add toppings, but the quality of the sundae depends on the ice cream. Malt extract, produced by professional grain companies, undergoes a refined process that takes care of most of the work. However, advanced brewers who desire complete control over every aspect of the beer turn to all-grain brewing.