First Time Brewing An Extract With Grains Beer
In this article you'll learn how to use steeped grains, pellet hops and yeast to modify an extract beer to closely match a popular style of pale ale. Brewing with specialty grains, your own choice of hops and yeast takes a few additional pieces of equipment and some added work. However, using the techniques described here, you can modify an extract-based beer to brew virtually any style of beer you want.
In our recipe (at the end of this article), we'll add some caramel sweetness and color with the use of crystal malt. We'll add hop bitterness as well as hop flavor and aroma to our wort from an aromatic variety of American hops. And finally, we'll pick a yeast strain that gives us that clean, neutral fermentation character found in most American pale ales.
Choosing Your Extract and Specialty (Steeping) Grains
When brewing extract-only beer, you must find a malt extract formulated to yield your desired style of beer. When brewing an extract beer with specialty grains, you will start with a base of malt extract and add in certain specialty grains to fine tune the beer. If you are choosing to brew a darker beer like a porter, then you may choose to start with a dark malt extract as your base, then add in specialty grains to acheive certain nuances. There are a wide variety of malt extracts available in the marketplace, so we encourage beginning brewers to find reliable recipes to get familiar with the array of ingredients first. We have a wide selection of recipes found here. Once you find your extract base, you can then add flavors, aromas and colors to your beer by adding one or more specialty grains.
Specialty grains are any grain that is not a base grain. So, what's a base grain? Base grains are the grains — usually lightly kilned malted barley or malted wheat — that provide the bulk of the fermentable sugars in a beer. Specialty grains are most often darker grains that are added to beer in smaller quantities. Although they add a small amount of fermentables, the flavor, aroma and color of these grains are the main reasons they are added to beers. There are many different kinds of specialty grains. Adding them singly or in combination yields a large range of possible flavors and colors.
What Grains Can I Steep?
There are two basic types of specialty grains home brewers should be using when steeping (not mashing), those that have been prepared by stewing (crystal malts) and those that have been produced by roasting (dark roasted malts). Stewed grains are heated such that the liquid inside them cannot escape. The upshot is that in the center of a stewed grain most of the starch has been converted to sugar. In contrast, roasted grains are heated so they are dried quickly. In a roasted grain, the center of the grain is mostly starch. The most common types of stewed grains are crystal malts. Common roasted grains include chocolate, roasted barley, and black patent. If you plan to use grains that are outside of these two categories, then you should consider trying a partial mash.
We'll use crystal malt in our beer. Different crystal malts are kilned to different degrees. The more kilned the malt is, the darker the color. The color of a crystal malt is usually expressed in degrees Lovibond (°L), the higher the Lovibond, the darker the results. For our pale ale, any crystal malt from 30° to 40 °L will suffice.
You can steep large amounts of stewed grains in an extract beer since it is mostly just sugar inside the grains. Although some brewers load their beers up with specialty grains, most extract homebrewers try to keep specialty grains under 10 to 15 percent of the total grain bill. You should limit the amount of roasted grains that you steep. The starch in roasted grains can create a haze in your beer that can serve as a source of growth for bacteria. Using less than 5 percent roasted grains in an extract beer is a good rule of thumb. In order to use larger amounts of roasted grains, we advise that you mash the grains.
Using Specialty Grains
Specialty grains must be crushed before they are steeped. Most homebrew stores either sell crushed grains or have a grain mill and will crush the grains for you. To do it yourself, simply use a rolling pin and a fairly light touch. You want to crack the grain and open the husk, but not pulverize it.
Specialty grains should be steeped at temperatures in the range that base malts are mashed. This range is usually 140° to 170° F (60 to 77 °C). If you steep the grains at higher temperatures — for example, if you boil them — you risk extracting too many tannins from the husks. A beer with too many tannins will be astringent, meaning it will have a drying sensation on your palate. Not a desirable trait in beer.
To steep the specialty grains, place the grains in your nylon grain bag. If the bag has a drawstring, close it. If not, tie off the end of the bag. Heat 3 gallons (11 L) of water to about 160° F (71 °C), then turn off the heat. Place the grain bag in the water. (This should drop the temperature a couple of degrees.) You can tie the bag's drawstring to the handles of your pot or use string to tie the bag to the handles. This will keep part of the bag out of the liquid and make it easier to pull out. Stir the water a few times while you steep, and stir the water one final time before you remove the grain bag. Stirring will cause water to flow through the bag and release colors and flavors from the grain.
After the grains have been steeped for 15-30 minutes, pull them out and set them in the sink. The grains will be hot, so be careful. Now it's time to add the extract and proceed towards the boil. During the boil, you'll further alter the flavor of your base malt extract by adding hops, the spicing of the beer.
Bring In The Hops
Your local homebrew shop probably has a large variety of hops. Hops come in two basic forms: leaf hops and pellet hops. Pellet hops are the most convenient and most widely used form of hop among homebrewers. Pellet hops are made by compressing shredded hop cones (the female hop flower) into small, cylindrical pellets. Leaf hops are the unprocessed form of the hop cone. Some homebrewers prefer the unprocessed form, while some prefer pellets. Over time, you will find which you prefer. We'll use the pellet form of hops in our West Coast pale ale.
Although there are a large number of different varieties of hops, you can use the country of origin as a guide to what type of beers to use it in. Our Resource Guide has a chart found here if you want to explore what hops may be fitting for certain styles of beers. But in general, British hops, such as Fuggles and East Kent Goldings, go well in bitters, porters or other beers traditionally brewed in the region. Hops from the European continent, such as German Hallertau or Czech Saaz, go well in continental lagers such as helles or Pilsner. Here in the U.S., craft brewers frequently use American hops grown in the Pacific Northwest like Centennial, Cascade and Willamette to name a few.
We'll load up our pale ale with Cascade hops. Cascade has a citrus-floral smell that is prominent in many traditional West Coast pale ales, including Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, the quintessential West Coast pale ale. You can decide which hop you would like to add if want to explore some of the new aromatic varieties such as Citra®, or Galaxy, or Amarillo®.
Regardless of what region they come from, hops are rated for their bittering strength. Bittering strength is given in percent alpha acids. Many homebrewers use high alpha-acid hops early in the boil to provide bitterness. In beer recipes, the amount of hops required is often given in AAU (alpha acid units). AAUs are the alpha-acid rating of the hop times the weight of the hops in ounces. To calculate how many ounces of hops you need for a recipe, divide the value of AAU given by the alpha-acid rating of the hops. For example, if you need 12 AAU of hops and you choose hops with a 4% alpha acid rating, you need (12/4) = 3 ounces of hops. Bitterness also can be expressed in terms of International Bitterness Units (IBU), a more complex measurement.
Bitterness is affected by the AAUs of the hops and the length of time the hops are boiled. The longer hops are boiled, the more bitterness is extracted from them. Another major factor that influences how much bitterness gets extracted from hops is wort concentration. The more concentrated a wort is, the less bitterness gets extracted from the hops. If you want to increase the hop flavor and aroma of the beer, then you will want to increase the amount of hops added late in the boil (15 minutes or less left in the boil). You can also add dry hops to really give a boost to the hop aroma. See here for more information on the basics of dry hopping.
Conducting the Boil
Heat the steeping water to a boil. Once the water starts boiling, turn off the heat and add the malt extract. Turn the heat back on until the wort begins to boil. Often, wort will foam a lot at the beginning of the boil. A couple quick stirs with a clean spoon should calm the foaming down. If it doesn't, lower the heat until the foam subsides. A product called Fermcap can be invaluable for brewers who are trying to maximize the capacity of their brewpot. It keeps the foam reduced to almost nothing and does not have any affect on the final beer.
Generally the first charge of hops are added right after the wort comes to a boil. These hops will boil for an hour and add to the bitterness of the beer. If you want to keep the hops separate, you can add the hops to a hop bag and tie the hop bag to the handle of your pot. Aroma and flavor hops will be added in the final minutes of the boil.
Try to maintain a rolling boil and always try to keep adding hot water to keep the level around 3 gallons (11.4 L). If your wort is only simmering, cover the pot partially with its lid. If the wort is boiling fine, leave the cover off. Never cover the pot completely no matter how weak the boil is. There are compounds in the wort that need to boil off or they will add off-flavors or aromas to your beer.
Be sure to chill the wort all the way down to an appropriate temperature for the yeast before you consider adding in the yeast. For beginners, we recommend using a sachet of dry yeast. To find an appropriate yeast for a recipe you are working on, we have a full guide with up-to-date info on dozens of strains in our Yeast Strains Chart. For our American West Coast pale ale, we recommend you opt for Safale US-05 or Lallemand Nottingham or Mangrove Jack M44 US West Coast yeast. All these strains produce very clean yeast profiles and come in sachets that are ready for pitching direct into the fermenter once cooled. Sometimes it is recommended to re-hydrate the dry yeast, but this adds steps that we find unnecessary. If you do want to rehydrate your yeast, we recommend reading up on the steps found here.
There are advantages to buying liquid yeast. They come in a wide variety of strains for dozens of different beer styles, a much greater variety than dried yeast. Since liquid yeast should be grown in a yeast starter immediately before being pitched, it takes little or no time for it to adapt to new surroundings. Dry yeast, in contrast, goes from being desiccated to soaking in hot water to swimming in cool wort. It takes the yeast some time to adapt to the wort before it can start moving wort sugars across its cell membrane. If you do opt for a liquid yeast strain, we recommend making a yeast starter. Instructions for a starter are found here.
Secondary fermentation (optional)
After fermenting for a week, our procedure calls for an optional secondary fermentation to aid with beer clarity. If you don't want to transfer the beer to a secondary vessel, then simply leave the beer in primary for two weeks and proceed straight to bottling.
The term secondary fermentation is a bit of a misnomer as it implies that fermentation begins again. Secondary fermentation is really just a settling stage. The fermented beer is racked off the layer of dead yeast from the primary fermentation. Yeast and other particles still in suspension are allowed to settle out. Removing the beer from the yeast ensures that it doesn't pick up any off-flavors from these materials.
To conduct the "secondary fermentation," clean and sterilize a carboy and a racking cane. Rack the beer from your primary fermenter (bucket) to your secondary fermenter (carboy). Splash the beer as little as possible to avoid oxidation. When racking, keep the end of the hose beneath the surface of the beer in the carboy. One benefit of a carboy is that you can see what's going on with your beer!
After secondary fermentation is finished, bottle the beer. Your beer should be a little clearer as a result of the secondary fermentation.
Ready For More?
Here is a popular article to help take your extract brewing to the next level.
West Coast Pale Ale
(5 gallon/19 L, extract with grains)
OG = 1.050 FG = 1.015
IBU = 40 ABV = 4.9%
6.6 lbs. (3 kg) extra light liquid malt extract
0.50 lb. (0.23 kg) crystal malt (30° to 40° L)
10 AAU Cascade pellet hops (boil 60 min.)
(2 oz./57 g at 5% alpha acid)
5 AAU Cascade pellet hops (boil 15 min.)
(1 oz./28 g at 5% alpha acid)
10 AAU Cascade pellet hops (0 min.)
(2 oz./57 g at 5% alpha acid)
Safale US-05 or Lallemand Nottingham or Mangrove Jack M44 (US West Coast) yeast
3/4 cup priming sugar for bottling
Step By Step
Heat 3 gallons (11.4 L) of water to 160 °F (71 °C). Steep crystal malt for 30 minutes, then remove the grain bag. Bring water to boil, then stir in malt extract. Bring wort back to a boil and add the first round of hops, the bittering hops. Keep adding water to try to maintain at least 3 gallons (11.4 L) of wort. With 15 minutes left in the boil, add second flavor addition of hops. When the boil is over, remove the brewpot and add the final charge of hops. Let sit 5-10 minutes, then remove the hop bags and place the brewpot in an ice bath. Once the temperature drop below 100 °F (38 °C), pour the wort into your fermenter and add cold, aerated water to your bucket fermenter until you reach 5 gallons (19 L). Wait until the temperature reaches about 70 °F (21 °C), then it is time to pitch your yeast. Take a sample of wort and record your original gravity with a hydrometer. Ferment for 1 week, trying to hold the ambient temperature around 68 °F (20 °C). After one week you can transfer the beer via racking cane into a carboy to help clear the beer. Optional: If you want to add dry hops, you can toss in 1-2 oz. (30-60 g) of hop pellets in a sanitized hop bag directly into the primary or secondary fermenter after the first week. This will give a big boost to the aroma of the final beer.
After two weeks, check the gravity with a hydrometer to see the final gravity. Bottle the beer with priming sugar and condition the beer for 2 weeks at room temperature. One month after brewday, your beer should be carbonated and ready to drink.