Selection of ingredients is one of the most important parts of brewing beer from extracts. If you are just graduating from kit brewing, you may want to do a few batches according to someone else’s recipe which you have found in a book, or perhaps on a website somewhere. This allows you to familiarize yourself with the new procedures you’ll be using, without worrying too much about whether or not the recipe is any good. But after you get a few batches under your belt, you will almost certainly want to start making up your own recipes, and making your own decisions on ingredients. Afterall, one of the whole reasons for making your own beer is so that you can produce exactly what you want to drink.

It’s almost impossible for us to tell you what ingredients you should be using, since that is primarily a function of the type of beer you want to brew, what ingredients you have available to you, as well as exactly how you like to drink your beer. Instead what we’ll do is give you a bit of information on the types of ingredients you’ll be using, and how you can best go about selecting these ingredients. At first this will be fairly difficult since you won’t be familiar with the ingredients or what type of effect they have on your beer. Your job is to develop this familiarity over time. Don’t expect it to happen all at once. Patience, perseverance and a lot of trial and error are very important.

Yeast

They type of yeast you use can have a very dramatic effect on the final product which you will be drinking. Obviously, using different yeasts is something that even kit brewers can do to have more control over their beer. Once you move up to full extract brewing, however, you will be choosing your yeast every time you brew.

There is a general misconception in the homebrewing community that dried yeasts are no good. It is true that the yeast which comes with most beer kits is not of a very high quality, so there is some basis to this misconception. However, there are a great number of quality dried yeasts to choose from, any one of which will produce a superb beer. Some of our favorite dry yeasts are Coopers, Munton’s Gold, Danstar and our most favorite DCL. But there are even more out there which we personally have never tried.

And of course there is also liquid yeast, which comes both in vials as well as in sealed pouches. As of this writing there are some 50 or more strains of liquid yeast to choose from when brewing your beer. And many of them will produce a significantly different beer than the next one would produce. With such a wide variety of choices, it is impossible for us to comment on each and every one. The best way to compare yeasts is to split your batch of beer into 2 separate primary fermenters, and then to ferment each half with a different type of yeast. Once the fermentation has completed and the beer has been aged and bottled, you can open a bottle of each of the two and compare them with your own tastebuds to see which you like best. Note that even if you were to brew the same recipe twice in a row – using a different yeast each time – you wouldn’t necessarily be certain that the yeast was the only variable which has changed between the two. By far the best way to do a proper comparison is to split a single batch of beer in half (or into more parts if you want to compare more yeasts), and then ferment each portion with a different yeast.

Malt Extract

Malt extract is obviously the base ingredient of the extract brewer, whether it comes in the form of kits, unhopped liquid extract (LME), or dry (powdered) extract (DME). It is crucial to good beer that good quality ingredients be used, so it is extremely important that you check the dates on all ingredients and ensure you are buying only the freshest.

Canned liquid malt extract is more prone to spoilage in the form of oxydation, and we therefore recommend that you never buy out-of-date cans from the bargain bin. In fact, in the fall of 2002 we made an extract beer with canned extracts that were about 6 months before their expiry date, and the beer turned out a bit oxydized. Ideally your cans of liquid extract should have an expiry date at least a year in the future.

Although it is usually more expensive than liquid, powdered dry malt extract keeps far better than liquid. As long as it has been stored in air-tight packaging and is still in powdered form rather than hardened into a brick, it is probably still fresh. Another great property of powdered extracts is that they tend to be a lot lighter coloured than liquids, because of they different ways in which both are produced. So this generally means the resulting beers can be brewed with a lighter colour.

One final thing to note about extracts is that there is a conversion factor to go from liquid to dry or vice-versa, because of the water content in the liquid extract. 1 pound of dry extract is equal to about 1.2 pounds of liquid extract in terms of the amount of malt extract contained in it.

Kits

Although some people might at first think that this is simply brewing from a kit, it is in fact far from it. Like any ingredient, a kit will add a certain flavour to a certain beer. It is the job of the brewer to use his or her experience to know how to use all the ingredients – including kits – to create exactly the beer desired.

Using Specialty Grains

If you are using any specialty grains , they should be dealt with first of all.

Crushing the Grains

The first step in dealing with the grains is crushing them. A proper crush is not nearly as important when using specialty grains in extract brewing as it is when brewing all-grain, so if you don’t have a grain mill, and your local brew store doesn’t have one for public use, then simply put your grains into a large ziplock freezer bag and crush them well with a rolling pin or a wine bottle. We’ve found that you can crush about 350g-500g (3/4 to 1 lb) at a time in a large ziplock bag. But if you do have access to a brewing mill, definitely use it.

Grain / Water Ratio

The next thing to keep in mind when using specialty grains is your water to grain ratio. You want to use between 1 and 2 quarts of water per pound of grain. Or if metric is your thing, then use 1 to 2 litres of water per 500g of grain. You can actually get away with using more water than this, but you’ll be assured better results this way. And since these are the same ratios used in all-grain brewing, you’ll be preparing yourself for things to come.

The basic procedure when using specialty grains involves steeping the crushed grains for a period of time, then straining out all the liquid and using that liquid in your brewpot. This adds the flavour of the grains to your beer. You have two choices in exactly how you want to steep your grains, and depending upon which way you go, you have different selections of grain that you can use.

Steeping Grains – Method 1 – Pseudo Mash

The most versatile way to use specialty grains in extract brewing is only slightly more difficult than the easier way, and it does require a more accurate thermometer. With a good thermometer (many of the floating thermometers sold in brew shops are not so great, but you can get a good one at Starbucks for under 10 bucks CDN), and a bit of patience, you can choose to closely monitor your steeping grains. With this technique, you want to at all times keep the grains between 149F and 160F. It’s OK to dip under that temp for short periods, but you really want to avoid going over it. As you may or may not know, this is the same temperature range that all-grain brewers use, and it will open the door for you to use any kind of grain you want to use. Any at all. You just have to make sure that if you are using any unmalted grain, that you use at least twice that amount of grain which has strong enzymatic power. This ensures that all the starches in both the malted and unmalted grain are converted to sugar for you.

Steeping Grains – Method 2 – Simple Steep

If you don’t want to bother with all the trouble of monitoring the pot that closely, then all you have to do is put your grain into cold water, and slowly bring the temperature up to 170F. If you don’t have a thermometer, then when a lot of steam really starts to rise from the pot, consider it to be 170F. Under no circumstances should you boil the grain, and you should really try to stay under that 170F limit, since going above this (or boiling the grains) can extract harsh tannins from the grain husk, and make for a rather putrid beer.

Straining Liquid

Once you’ve steeped the grain, strain them in a colander or by some other means, and save all the liquid which comes off. Put the liquid into your brewpot and continue on with your brew session. Now that you are done with the grains, simply continue on with the process as though they were never there. See, we told you it was easy!

Using Hops

Adding your own hops to kits and recipes is extremely easy. Just put the hops either directly into the boiling kettle (to be strained out later), or put them into a muslin bag, and throw that into the kettle. Then just continue on like you were brewing from kits making sure to remove your bag of grains well before the wort starts to boil (idealy in the aforementioned 170F range), except that you’ll want to boil your wort for 45 minutes to an hour in order to fully utilize the hops. At the end of the boil, take out the hop bag, and pour the wort into your fermenter. If you didn’t use a bag, then strain the wort into the fermenter through a fine strainer.

Aside from that, everything is exactly like brewing from kits. For the sake of completion, that information will be repeated here.