Nick Carr on January 27, 2016 7 Comments Extract brewing is where it all starts for most of us. We talk to a friend who’s done some brewing, maybe taste a latest creation, and maybe this gets us thinking, “Hey, I could do this too.” So, we do a little research online, pickup some pointers from that friend, buy a homebrewing book and pick up your first equipment kit. While busy doing all this gearing up to the big “first brew” moment you, no doubt, continually hear or read the same advice: start with extract, it’s easier. And so it is. Less equipment is needed. There are fewer steps, which equals a shorter brew day. It is simply not as overwhelming and — the really good part — with attention to your sanitation, processes, and a few tricks you can brew beer just as good as those purest who say the only way to a truly great batch of homebrew is through all-grain. 1. Fresh Ingredients, Right Ingredients Click Here to View All Extract Ingredient Kits This one cannot be overstated (that’s why it’s number one right?). Whether using extract or all-grain this should always be your first concern. Though it is more processed then grain, malt extract will go stale. Liquid malt extract will start to go stale in a few months and continue to darken, a result of the higher water content. Dry malt extract remains viable for a longer period of time, but will also become stale with age. Buy your ingredients and use them as quickly as you can. If you are steeping specialty grains or mini-mashing buy only what you need for your next one or two brews, especially if you are buying them milled. Avoid storing ingredients whenever possible. Of course you don’t want to waste left over ingredients either, so it is likely you will end up storing some. Here are a few things to know: First, a good overall rule is to smell and taste your fresh ingredients. Then, before you use that leftover extract, that bag of opened hops, or stored specialty grains smell and taste them again. If something seems off it may be better to buy knew ingredients. Under the same conditions Dry malt extract stores longer then liquid malt extract. Liquid malt extract will continue to darken as it ages. Both dry malt extract and liquid malt extract oxidize over time. Store both in airtight containers of some sort. Keep them away from light. If you have room in your refrigerator store them here to reduce and slow down the aging process. Hops should be kept in a dark airtight bag or other container in your fridge. Unopened hops will last longer than those you’ve dipped into for a brew. Reseal open bags and use these (if still good) first. Cracked grain will oxidize and go stale faster than whole malt. Also, when selecting ingredients ensure you match what you are buying to your chosen beer style. That is, if you are making an American pale use a domestic two-row malt extract for your base, if you are going for a Strong bitter find a good British pale extract, and so on. Always try to get ingredients authentic to the style. You won’t always be able to, but at least give it a shot. 2. Use Grains Click Here to Buy Brewing Malts & Grain You don’t have to go all-out, all-grain to take advantage of some of the added qualities they bring to a brew. Steeping can lend color, body, and character. I’d suggest always using a pale malt extract for your base and then specialty grains to add depth. Don’t rely on darker shades of extract. Specialty grains such as crystal, black patent, chocolate, and coffee can be used to lend color, mouthfeel, and complexity to your all extract brew. About the easiest way to do this is to turn your kettle water into a big pot of tea. Grab a brewing bag, you can buy cheap muslin bags or longer lasting nylon bags, throw your specialty grains in, tie off the top, and plop the bag into your kettle before you start heating up the water. Check the temp every so often and when it’s between 150-170°F turn off the heat and let the grains sit for about 20 minutes. Then pull the bag and hang it over your brew kettle, letting the liquid drain for another 10 to 15 minutes. Don’t squeeze the bag, this puts more tannins into the beer which can create astringent off flavors. Voila! Character, color, mouthfeel, imparted. More detailed information can be found in the “Steeping & Mini-Mashing” Article. 3. The Boil Ignore the boil volumes given in extract recipes. You want to boil the biggest volume of wort you possibly can. Ideally you can boil your whole volume plus about 6-8% more to account for evaporation. So, for a five gallon batch a good pre-boil volume would be at least 5.5 gallons. Small boil volumes result in a higher gravity boil which reduces hop utilization and increases color pickup and the likelihood of caramelization. If you can’t boil your whole wort volume, consider splitting the wort between two or more smaller pots. You can also boil one volume after another if you have the time. I’d highly recommend not boiling in smaller volumes then about 2.5 gallons. A few other boiling tips: Turn off your burner when you pour your extract in. This helps minimize clumping of Dry malt extract and chances of boil over. Breakup and stir until you don’t see any clumps then turn your heat back on carefully. You want a vigorous boil. Don’t just let your wort simmer. Don’t fully lid your boil. Beyond increasing the likelihood of boil over, this traps the volatile chemicals you’re trying to boil off. Only boil as long as your hop schedule demands. If you can get away with boiling for less than an hour, do it. It will help reduce unwanted color pickup. 4. Hold Extract in Reserve Another good practice for extract brewers is to only add a portion of their extract at the beginning of the boil. This helps the brewer in a couple ways. We’ve already talked about high gravities impeding hop utilization. By adding less extract you have a lower gravity during the boil. It is especially relevant to those brewer’s whose equipment won’t allow them to boil their full volume. It is also another way to decrease unwanted darkening of color. So, how much extract do you add? Well, a good, though by no means hard and fast rule, is to match how much extract you use to your boil volume. That is, if you are boiling 2.5 gallons of a 5 gallon batch add half your malt extract. If you are boiling 3 gallons add 2/3rds of your extract. 5. Buy Your Hops Separately Click Here to Buy Hops Online This goes back to getting fresh ingredients. I’d recommend avoiding any malt extract that has the hops already added. Hop oils are volatile and will breakdown and fade over time. Buying these malt extract “plus” kits is sort of like buying store demonstration electronics expecting the batteries to still be good when you get home. It is always safer to buy your hops separately and add them to the boil. This also gives control over when they’re added and in what quantities. There is no disputing, fine craft beer can be had from extract brewing. A fact confirmed year after year by extract beer winning at every level of brewing competition. However I can almost guarantee that all those beers were brewed under practices conforming to at least some of the above tips, and very likely all of them. But, if you are brand new to the brewing game don’t overwhelm yourself either. Go slow, always look for top quality fresh ingredients, work on getting good brewing practices down, and add new tricks as you feel comfortable. Cheers and Happy Brewing!