In this article you'll learn how to use steeped grains, pellet hops and liquid 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 liquid 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.
We'll examine the recipe and procedure for brewing a West Coast pale ale recipe. Pale ale is one of the most popular styles of ales for homebrewers. The best pale ales are refreshing beers in which the flavor of malt is balanced by the hop bitterness. West Coast pale ales have more color and more hop bitterness and flavor than their East Coast (or British) counterparts.
In our recipe (at the end of this article), we'll add some sweetness and color with the use of crystal malt. In addition, we'll boost the level of hop bitterness and flavor from the hopped malt extract by adding additional hops to our wort. And finally, we'll pick a liquid yeast strain that gives us that clean, neutral fermentation character found in most American pale ales.
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 can start with a base of light malt extract. From this starting point, you can 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 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.
There are two basic types of specialty grains, those that have been prepared by stewing and those that have been produced by roasting. Stewing and roasting are two ways of adding heat to darken the grain. The process of heating malted grains in the malting process is called kilning. Stewed grains are heated such that the liquid inside them cannot escape. In contrast, roasted grains are heated so they are dried quickly. The upshot is that in the center of a stewed grain most of the starch has been converted to sugar. 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 and black patent.
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). 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. Although some brewers load their beers up with specialty grains, most 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, you need to 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 150° to 158° F (66 to 70 °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 taste astringent.
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 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, pull them out and set them in the sink. The grains will be hot, so be careful. It's a good idea to take a small kitchen strainer and remove most of the "floaties" left in the water. The floaties are mostly husk parts. If boiled, the pieces of husk will surrender their tannins and lead to astringency. Don't worry if you can't get them all; a few stray husk pieces won't hurt your beer. The strainer should be clean, but don't bother sanitizing it, as you will boil the wort later.
Once you're done steeping the grains, 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.
Your local homebrew shop probably has a large variety of hops. To a beginning brewer, the variety can seem overwhelming. However, after reading a few recipes, you'll start to see some patterns emerge.
Hops come in three basic forms: leaf hops, plug 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 leaves into small, cylindrical pellets. We'll use this 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. 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 Cascade or Chinook, which are grown in the Pacific Northwest.
We'll load up our pale ale with Cascade hops. Cascade has a citrus-floral smell that is prominent in most West Coast pale ales, including Sierra Nevada (the quintessential West Coast pale ale).
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 and lower alpha-acid hops later in the boil to provide flavor and aroma. Lower alpha-acid hops provide less bitterness, but often have better flavor and aromatic properties than the high- alpha hops. 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. To counteract this, we are adding hops to our base of hopped malt extract. If we used an unhopped extract, we'd have to add considerably more hops to get the level of bitterness we desire.
Pellet hops turn into a green sludge when they are boiled. You need to ensure this mess doesn't get transferred to your kettle. One way of doing this is by enclosing the hops in a nylon bag or tea ball. Both will keep large hop particles from diffusing into your beer, but tea balls have the advantage of being heavy enough to submerge the hops. Often, hops in nylon bags will float on top of the wort.
It's important not to fill the bag or ball more than one-quarter to one-thirds full. When boiled, the hops will take on water and expand. If they are too constrained, they will pack into a tight ball. Only bittering molecules from the outside of the ball will diffuse into the beer. Molecules in the middle will be trapped, leading to inefficient use of the hops. At the end of the boil, remove the hops and set aside to cool.
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.
Add the first charge of hops right after the wort comes to a boil. These hops will boil for an hour and add to the bitterness of the hopped malt extract. You can tie the hop bag or tea ball to the handle of your pot.
Try to maintain a vigorous, rolling boil. 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.
Add the second charge of hops with 15 minutes left in the boil. When the boil is over, remove the hops and turn off the heat. Add cold, aerated water to your bucket fermenter, then pour in your wort.
You need to plan ahead when you use liquid yeast. There are not enough yeast cells in liquid yeast containers to pitch directly into 5 gallons (19 L) of beer. So, you must build a yeast starter. For 5 gallons (19 L) of average-strength beer — like our pale ale — you will need about 1/2 gallon (approximately 2 L) of yeast starter. At ale fermentation temperatures (68 to 72 °F/20 to 22 °C), it takes about 3 days for enough yeast to grow in a starter this size. This preparation time is the major disadvantage of using liquid yeast. There are, however, many advantages to using liquid yeast.
Liquid yeast comes in a wide variety of strains for dozens of different beer styles. Since liquid yeast grows 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.
American ales are usually cleaner than their British counterparts, containing fewer esters. For our beer, we'll use Wyeast 1056 or White Labs WLP001. These yeasts yield a beer with very little "ale nose," which focuses more attention on the flavor and aroma from the malt and hops.
Making a Yeast Starter
A yeast starter is just a small batch of beer. The yeast in this beer multiply to numbers great enough to pitch into the next larger size batch of beer. You can make a starter for 5 gallons of beer by adding 4 to 5 ounces of dried malt extract (light, unhopped) to 2 L of water. Boil the extract for 15 minutes, cool, and pour into a sanitized bottle. Cap the bottle and refrigerate the yeast starter overnight.
You can aerate the yeast starter well by shaking the next day. Then, remove the cap, affix an airlock and leave it out at room temperature to warm up. Once the starter warms to room temperature, pitch the yeast and keep the starter at room temperature (around 72 °F/22 °C) for two to three days. On brewing day, after you have checked the temperature of the wort, the entire yeast starter can be pitched.
After fermenting for a week, our procedure calls for a secondary fermentation. The term secondary fermentation is a bit of a misnomer as it implies that fermentation begins again. In fact, the bulk of the fermentation for our ale will have finished in the first 3 to 4 days. After that, the yeast finish off the few remaining fermentable sugars and begin dropping out of solution. This is called flocculation.
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 glass 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 cane beneath the surface of the beer in the carboy. One benefit of a glass 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.
West Coast Pale Ale
OG 1.048 • FG 1.015
IBU over 25 (depends on extract)
3.3 lbs. of liquid malt extract (light, hopped)
2.75 lbs. of dried malt extract (light, unhopped)
0.50 lb. crystal malt (30° to 40° L)
10 AAU Cascades hops (bittering)
(2 oz. hops at 5% alpha acid)
5 AAU Cascades hops (flavor)
(1 oz. hops at 5% alpha acid)
1 bag of Wyeast 1056 or 1 vial White Labs WLP001
Priming sugar for bottling
4 days before brew day:
Make yeast starter
Refrigerate yeast starter
3 days before brew day:
Shake yeast starter
Bring to room temperature
Pitch yeast and affix airlock
1 day before brew day:
Clean, sanitize, and rinse 4 2L soda bottles with warm water
Fill the soda bottles with water and refrigerate overnight
On brewing day:
Heat 3 gallons of water to 160 °F (71 °C)
Steep crystal malt for 30 minutes
Strain out floaties
Bring water to boil
Stir in malt extract
Bring wort to boil
Add bittering hops
At final 15 minutes, add flavor hops
Shake refrigerated water bottles Add water to primary fermenter
Add hot wort to fermenter
Pitch yeast starter
Ferment for one week
1 week after brewing day:
Rack to secondary fermenter
2 weeks after brewing day:
Check gravity with hydrometer
Bottle beer when gravity is constant for three days
Leave bottles at room temperature for 1 week, then refrigerate for 1 week
3 weeks after brewing day:
Beer is ready