Ask Mr. Wizard

Extract vs all-grain brewing?


Russ Riley asks,

I have only brewed extract recipes (usually with steeped grains) and I have read a number of reasons why all-grain is supposed to be better. Although most concede that extract brewing can yield a very good beer, all-grain is generally regarded as being superior because the brewer has more control over the fermentability of the wort. Having said that, an extract brewer can still control fermentability by either adding sugar (or rice syrup, or corn syrup, etc.) to increase fermentability and lighten the finished beer’s body or adding malto-dextrin (or steeping grains such as crystal malt) to decrease fermentability and lead to a more full-bodied, flavorful beer.

My question is two-fold: one, are such fermentability adjustments by an extract brewer equivalent to those of an all-grain brewer (which is achieved through the temperature and time at which base malt is mashed), or is there a difference in flavor or some other important characteristic? And two, are there other advantages to all-grain vs. extract brewing (even with grains)? It seems like each side of the divide vigorously defends its position, but are there objective reasons why all-grain is superior? I’m curious if I could be brewing better beer!

This is a pretty heavy question because it hits to the foundation of homebrewing. The way I see it, homebrewing is about brewing your own beer. Mashing is certainly part of what
Response by Ashton Lewis.