Brew a Pale Ale Using Extract and Specialty Grains

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. Full Sail Ale (from Hood River, Oregon) and
Red Seal Ale (from Mendocino County, California) are two excellent
examples of this style.

In our recipe, 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.

Specialty 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 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. (For more on grain
color, see page 36.)

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. 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 of water
to 160° F, 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.

Hop varieties

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). Not all brewers use hops from
their own country. Budweiser, the largest-selling beer in the United
States, advertises the use of European hops in its beer.

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.

Boiling hops

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.

Choosing yeast

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 of beer. So, you must
build a yeast starter. For 5 gallons of average-strength beer —
like our pale ale — you will need about 1/2 gallon (approximately
2L) of yeast starter. At ale fermentation temperatures (68° to 72°
F), 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

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 2L 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 degrees) for two to three days. On brewing
day, after you have checked the temperature of the wort, the entire
yeast starter can be pitched.

Secondary fermentation

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

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 as you did in Homebrew 101. The only
difference is that you will be bottling out of your secondary
fermenter instead of your primary. Your beer should be a little
clearer as a result of the secondary fermentation. In Homebrew 301,
we’ll learn a slightly more advanced procedure for bottling.


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

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
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


Issue: September 2001