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 take a 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 DME is roughly equivalent to 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.
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 1.040. Keep that in mind when deciding how much malt extract to use. This 1.040 Specific Gravity is often cited because it is relatively low gravity. It shouldn’t stress your yeast and won’t cause excessive growth.
When you come to make your starter;
- Bring your water to the boil.
- Stir in your malt extract.
- Continue to boil for 10 minutes.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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, whether we hit those numbers on the day is in the hands of the homebrew gods.
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. 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.
Liquid malt extract adds roughly 38 GU per pound (450g) so do the following equation:
Gravity units short/gravity units contributed = additional required malt extract
eg. 7/38 = 0.18 lbs (82g)
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 dried malt extract, gravity units contributed would be around 43 GU per pound, so you would get;
7/43 = 0.16 lbs (72.5g)
Again, that final figure is how much dry malt extract you will need to add to your wort to increase gravity.
You can see how a bit of planning and some malt extract can help you hit target gravity every time!
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.
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