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Beer Brewing Basics - Extract Brewing VS. All-Grain Brewing


Before you consider homebrewing your own beer, you will want to understand the two major brewing processes, extract brewing and all-grain brewing. The decision you make between the two will greatly affect your brewing process and your resulting brew. There are reasons, advantages, and disadvantages for each of these brewing processes.

While each brewer may have strong opinions for each of these methods, neither method is "the right" or "the perfect" brewing method. You can achieve high quality and delicious beer with both methods if you understand brewing and learn to brew using these ingredients. Brewing is a science and while there are some rules you may need to follow, there is also a lot of room for experimentation and variation in methodology.



What is Extract Brewing?

Beginning homebrewers often use this process because it doesn't require you to mill your own grains. A grain mill is often a pricey investment for a beginning brewer especially, if you're just experimenting with the hobby. Instead of milling your own grains, you would combine a concentrated malt extract and hops to create your wort, which is the sweet liquid extracted from barley that is the base of your beer.

Extract brewing saves you time spent on milling and mashing grains to create a malt extract. For a beginning brewer, this step can be very technical and advanced, which is why many beginners start with extract brewing. You will not lose the complexity of your beer by brewing with extract. When you are first starting with brewing making your own extract through All-Grain Brewing is a technical and more difficult process, which means your resulting extract may not be as good as the pre-made extracts.

The downside of extract brewing is that you are limited by the malt extract and you have less control over your resulting beer. For a beginning homebrewer, this is a good way to take small steps into the very complicated world of brewing beer because you will have three main factors you can adjust and play with to customize your beer - the alcohol content, the hoppiness, and the color of your beer. After you have mastered these basic manipulations, you can experiment with All-Grain Brewing, which allows for virtually endless ways to manipulate and change the profile of your beer.



What is Malt Extract?

Malt Extract is the concentrated sugars extracted from malted barley during the mashing process and it can be found in liquid or powder form. Malt Extract is made by milling grains and steeping them in hot water to hydrate the barley, activate the malt enzymes, and extract the grains fermentable sugars.

When you use Malt Extract, you skip the milling and mashing stage of the brewing process, which saves you a lot of time and additional equipment.



Types of Malt Extract

The two types of Malt Extract, dry and liquid, have different water and sugar contents. This means they are not interchangeable in recipes.

We offer a wide variety of both Dry Malt and Liquid Malt Extract for Extract Brewing. Contact our product specialists at 1-800-710-9939 and get help selecting the perfect malt extract for your needs.

Dry Malt Extract (DME)

This is a powdered form of Malt Extract, in which almost all the water has been removed through an evaporation process.

Pros
  • Longer shelf life
  • Cost-effective - you need to less of it to brew
  • More temperature tolerant and stable
  • Easier to measure and achieve accuracy

Cons
  • Reacts poorly to humidity
  • A smaller variety available
  • Has a tendency to clump
  • Messy to deal with because of its super fine powder texture

Liquid Malt Extract (LME)

The liquid version of malt typically contains about 20% water and 80% sugars and unfermentable solids.

Pros
  • Has a better and richer flavor when liquid is fresh
  • A broader variety available
  • Convenient packaging for storage and transport

Cons
  • Sticky consistency makes it difficult to pour and measure accurately
  • Hard to store again once opened
  • Susceptible to aging, an older liquid will not provide the best flavors
  • Less cost-effective
  • Constrained to the size of liquid malt containers for brewing


Hopped vs. Unhopped Malt Extracts

While most malt extracts come unhopped, which means that during the boiling process the brewer will add the Malt Extract with the desired amount of hops to create the wort. With hopped or Pre-Hopped Malt Extract, the hops are already combined saving a step in the process but it means your brew isn't as customizable and you have less control over your resulting beer.

Hopped Malt Extracts are a significant time-saver because hops have already been processed with the malt and they are ready to be fermented. With some hopped Malt Extracts, the brewer can skin the boiling phase of the brewing process, which can be a bit technical for a beginner. It is hotly debated whether Hopped Malt Extracts need to be boiled, we recommend boiling your Malt Extract for sanitation purposes but some Malt Extract makers may recommend that you do not boil your extract.

We also offer a wide variety of Hopped and Unhopped Malt Extracts. Contact our product specialists at 1-800-710-9939 and get help selecting the perfect malt extract for your needs.



What is All-Grain Brewing?

This brewing process is what you would traditionally associate with brewing beer and it is a more time-consuming and process-heavy method. This brewing process involves starting from the very beginning with the raw material, the grains, and ending with a delicious fermented beverage, known as beer.

The major difference between All-Grain Brewing and Extract Brewing is the beginning stages of the brewing process, which can be skipped when using Extract Brewing but are required in All-Grain Brewing. In order to catch up to the stage that Extract Brewing starts at, the brewer needs to mill the grains, mash them, and boil them with the hops to create wort for fermenting.

The advantage of milling your own grain is that it will give you the freshest and best flavor. It also gives you full control over the flavors in your resulting beer. Additionally, grains store very well for long periods of time and in the long run, it is more cost-efficient. Milling your own grains will take time and energy to do, whether you decide to hand-crank all your grains or use a motorize method. You can learn how to mill your own grains in our guide here.

It is important to properly mill your grains will a grain mill because grinding your grains in another device like a blender will result in paste in your mash tun, which you don't want. Another option is purchasing crushed grains, which have been already milled for your convenience. If properly stored in an airtight container you will not lose the flavors of the grain but ideally, for the best flavor, you will want to mill your own grain.

After you mill your grains, you will need to mash them to pull out the starchy sugars that are used as the base of your beer for fermenting. This requires steeping your grains in hot water at a specific temperature depending on the beer you're brewing. The temperature you mash your grains in is crucial because it creates the sugars that your yeast will be eating, therefore affecting your resulting beer's flavor profile. This technical and time-consuming step is why some brewers choose to brew with Malt Extracts.

After your grains have been mashed, there is the lautering process, which is the removal of the grains from the liquid. This step is necessary but also a messy step in the All-Grain Brewing process. There is also the sparging process, which requires rinsing the grain bed again and steeping the grains to pull out any remaining sugars.

Finally, to finish your wort, you need to carefully boil your wort to a specified temperature for your beer type and add in the hops. This is a stage you will still have to do if you are Extract brewing with unhopped extract but if you use a pre-hopped version, you will be skipping this step of the process.

With All-Grain Brewing, you can manipulate so many different factors that will affect your final result. There are virtually endless possibilities and combination of ingredients that you can use to customize your beer, however, this often takes a lot of skill to create a quality beer.

Additionally, All-Grain Brewing can require up to three times the amount of equipment that Extract Brewing requires, depending on your brewing style. However, it allows you to play with a variety of factors that will affect the taste of the beer and build complexity. There are many different methods for All-Grain Brewing that we will go into in a different article.



Which brewing method is right for me?

If you are a beginning brewer, we highly recommend starting with Extract Brewing because it requires less equipment, ingredients, and skill. Many people even start brewing with Brewing Equipment Kits that include everything you need to brew from equipment to ingredients and they often include step-by-step instructions to help you through the process. Since it skips many time-consuming steps, Extract Brewing is also ideal for those who don't have a lot of time to brew but still enjoy homebrewing.

As you develop more skills and you become a more dedicated brewer, you will want to use Extract Homebrewing Equipment to do your extract brewing, these equipment starter kits have everything you need to brew except for the ingredients, which for more intermediate brewers, there are homebrew ingredients kits available that include all the ingredients to brew a variety of beers.

As you grow in skill and confidence, you will want to move away from ingredient kits and move into choosing your own ingredients. We offer a wide variety of dry malt, liquid malt, hops, yeast, and other brewing ingredients to choose from for extract homebrew.

Finally, when you're ready to venture into All-Grain Brewing, you will be able to use some of the same equipment but depending on your All-Grain brewing method, you may find yourself need a significant amount of additional equipment, including a grain mill. You can find Homebrewing Equipment Kits here but you can also pick your individual Boiling and Mashing Equipment here and Fermentation Equipment here. For those who are looking for a means to All-Grain Brew with minimal equipment or those who have space limitations in your home, there are Brew Systems that allow you to do the mashing and boiling process in one vessel.

If you have any questions about homebrewing equipment, ingredients, or dispense products contact our product specialists at 1-800-710-9939.