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Uses for Malt Extract in All Grain Brewing

Malt extract is a great ingredient for beginners and seasoned home brewers alike. In this article, we look at what it is, how it’s made and how you can make the most of your homebrew by brewing with malt extract.

What is malt extract?

According to the American Homebrewer’s Association, malt extract can be defined as “concentrated sugar extracted from brewing-grade malted barley.” Malt extract comes in both liquid or dry form.

Liquid malt extract (LME) has a similar consistency to molasses, whereas dried malt extract (DME) is like a fine powder. Types of malt extract differ depending on the grains that are used when making it.

1kg (2.2lbs) of Dextrose is roughly equivalent to 1.1kg of DME (2.4lbs) and 1.2kg of LME (2.6lbs).

How is malt extract made?

Malt extract begins life in much the same way as an all-grain beer. Grains are mashed in the usual way in order to create wort. The wort is then heated gently which causes the water to evaporate and the wort to concentrate. Oftentimes, the wort is placed under a vacuum so that lower temperatures can be used to remove the excess water.

Many brewers brew with malt extract alone or a combination of malt extract with steeped specialty grains. Malt extract beers can be brilliant! They have also proven, at many competitions, to be capable of competing with all-grain beers.

Reasons to keep malt extract in your home brewery as an all-grain brewer

Making a yeast starter

A yeast starter is a very small batch of wort used to grow enough viable yeast cells to ferment your beer. By using a starter, you are trying to ensure a healthy fermentation. It can also help you avoid problems like off-flavours or a slow start.

Making a yeast starter with malt extract makes life much easier! It means that you don’t need to create the wort from scratch (having to mash your chosen grains for an hour) every time you want the yeast to pitch. Instead, you can: heat water, add malt extract, boil the mixture, cool it to pitching temperature and add yeast. Additionally, since wort – or malt extract, in this case – contains most of the nutrients and minerals needed for a starter, you don’t need to add extra nutrients like you would if you were making a dextrose starter.

There are a couple of things you should be looking for when you make a yeast starter. 

Firstly, you need to be really strict on your cleaning and sanitisation as there is a risk that any unwanted infection you pick up in this stage will be carried over to your beer.

The next thing you should be aware of is that the Specific Gravity of the wort you create should be around 1.030-1.040. Keep this in mind when deciding how much malt extract to use. This Specific Gravity is often used because it is relatively low so that it provides the right environment for yeast replication and healthy growth.

You may need to use multiple stepped starters to get the right amount of yeast. This is calculated based on the Specific Gravity of the beer you are brewing and the amount of yeast you are starting with. The Grainfather App has a yeast pitch calculator to help with the size of the starter and the amount of malt extract you will need.

When you come to make your starter;
  1. Bring your water to the boil.
  2. Stir in your malt extract.
  3. Continue to boil for 10 minutes.
  4. Take your wort off the boil and cool it down. When cooled, pour the wort into a large flask.
    Cooling to your planned pitching temperature allows the yeast to become acclimatised to working at that temperature. This means that the yeast should start working faster when you move it to your full-size wort. For best results, chill your starter in the fridge. This will allow the yeast to drop to the bottom.
  5. Once cooled, pour out the resulting beer and add to your full wort; this will allow you to just pitch the yeast into your full batch.
  6. Shake the starter vigorously in order to aerate it (you can place some sanitised cling film or tin foil over the top whilst you do this), then pitch your yeast.
    You want to allow access to oxygen for yeast growth and replication. For this, we advise leaving the tin foil or cling wrap loosely in place afterwards.
  7. Allow the starter to rest at the approximate temperature you are going to ferment at. Shake the starter occasionally in the first 12 hours.
  8. Before pitching into the fermenter, decant the liquid on the top so that you have approximately 1 inch of solution above the yeast. Swirl the flask to make a slurry and pitch this into your fermenter. 
  9. Allow fermentation to occur as normal.
Adjusting gravity mid-brew

For many of us, brewing can be a ‘see what you get’ exercise. We plan our recipe and know how we want it to turn out, however, sometimes things go wrong… Perhaps you stop mashing too early or added the wrong amount of grain. 

Don’t let that ruin your batch, though! With a little bit of planning, you can make adjustments to your gravity during your brew session. This is where it can be really handy to have some malt extract on hand.

Here’s an example:

If you want to brew a beer with a pre-boil gravity of 1.053 but you find that your gravity reading is 1.046 after your sparge, you can make the necessary adjustments. In gravity units, 1.053 is 53 GU and 1.046 is 46 GU. As you can see, target gravity was missed by 7 GU.

You can manually calculate this using the gravity points per pound per gallon (of DME or LME), then work out the weight needed to increase your gravity to the desired SG. Alternatively, the Grainfather App has a gravity adjustment calculator to make this simpler and quicker for you. 

Brewing high gravity beers

Brewing very high gravity beers usually requires a longer boil or more malt. Sometimes, you don’t want to add more time to your brew day or perhaps you’re already pushing the limits of your equipment in terms of how much malt you are using.

In those cases, adding malt extract to your wort can help you hit high target gravities and create high ABV beers.

This is a really easy way to increase the gravity of your beer without adding extra steps to your brew day.

Brewing part grain

Finally, as an all grain brewer, you may choose to have malt extract in the brewery for those days when you want to brew but just haven’t got the time for a full mash/sparge/boil/cooling stage. Malt extract is a great way to keep your stocks up between all-grain brew days. It can produce great beer too if you follow your normal good practices.

What could be simpler than an extract or part grain brew-day?

Storing Malt Extract

As with any fresh ingredient, the way in which you store your malt extract will affect its quality and the results of your finished beer.

You should store dried malt extract out of the presence of moisture and oxygen as much as possible. You can store dried malt extract for up to a year at temperatures between 10–21 °C (50–70 °F).

Liquid malt extract (in the pouch) has been pasteurised and can last for up to 2 years. If you need to store an opened pouch of liquid malt, pour the remainder of your malt into the smallest container possible, to eliminate headspace and exposure to oxygen. Store refrigerated to keep as fresh as possible and use within three months of opening.

If you want to learn more about brewing beer at home, check out our beginner’s brewing course.

As always if you have any questions or comments let us know in the comments section below or by emailing us at [email protected]

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