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. This wort is then heated, causing the water to evaporate and therefore concentrating the wort. This process of concentrating the wort via heat causes the wort to darken. With liquid malt extract, the water present will cause the extract to continue darkening as it ages though this doesn’t occur with dry malt extract.

Many brewers will make beers from just malt extract or malt extract with steeped specialty grains to add colour and flavour. Malt extract beers can be brilliant and have proven, at many competitions, to be capable of competing with all-grain beers.

The idea that you are either an all grain brewer or an extract brewer though seems a little strange as the two are not mutually exclusive. As an all grain brewer there are many reasons to keep some malt extract present in the brewery. Those reasons include;


A yeast starter is basically a very small batch of wort which you use in order to grow enough viable yeast cells to ferment your beer. By using a starter you are trying to ensure a healthy fermentation, avoiding problems like off-flavours or a slow start, leaving your wort susceptible to spoilage organisms.

Making a yeast starter with malt extract makes life much easier for brewers as 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 yeast to pitch. Instead, you can heat water, add your malt extract, boil this mixture, cool it to pitching temperature and then add your yeast.

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 any unwanted infection you pick up in this stage risks being 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 1.040 so keep that in mind when deciding how much malt extract to use. 1kg (2.2lbs) of DME is roughly equivalent to 1.2kg of LME (2.6lbs). This 1.040 Specific Gravity is often cited because it is a relatively low gravity so it shouldn’t stress your yeast and won’t cause excessive growth.

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. You can do this by placing your pot in the sink and running cold water around the outside. Cooling to your planned pitching temperature allows the yeast to become acclimatised to working at that temperature, meaning the yeast should start working faster when you move it to your full-size wort. Pour the contents of your pot into a large flask.

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) before pitching your yeast and placing an airlock in the top of your flask.

7. Allow fermentation to occur as normal. You can use your starter any time after high krausen (although you should use it within two days after the yeast settles out). For best results you should chill your starter in the fridge, causing the yeast to drop to the bottom and then pour the resulting beer away, allowing you to just pitch the yeast into your full batch.


For many of us, brewing can be a ‘see what you get’ exercise. We plan our recipe, we know how we would like it to turn out but then on the day it’s in the hands of the homebrew gods as to whether we hit those numbers or not. It doesn’t have to be like that though. With a little bit of planning you can make adjustments to your gravity during your brew session and this is where it can come in really handy to have some malt extract on hand.

If you want to brew a beer with a pre-boil gravity of 1.053 but you find that after your sparge (and assuming you have stirred your wort to make sure it is homogenised) your gravity reading is 1.046 you can make the necessary adjustments. In gravity units your 1.053 is 53 GU and your 1.046 is 46 GU so you can see you missed your target by 7 GU. Liquid malt extract adds roughly 38 GU per pound (450g) so do the following equation;

Gravity units short divided by gravity units contributed

7 / 38 = 0.18 lbs (82g)

So that final figure is how much liquid malt extract you will need to add to your wort to increase the gravity to your target, simple! If you were using DME the gravity units contributed figure would be around 43 so you would get;

7/43 = 0.16 lbs (72.5g)

So you can see how a bit of planning and some malt extract can help you hit your target gravity every time!


Brewing very high gravity beers usually requires a longer boil or more malt but sometimes you don’t want to add more time to your brew day or you are 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


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. What can be simpler than an extract or part grain brew-day? And it can produce great beer too if you follow your normal good practices. A great way to keep your stocks up between all-grain brew days.


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

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

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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