Extract Without Specialty Malts
Unhopped extracts are carefully produced from wort suitable for a broad range of generic beer styles. All you’ll need to do is devise a hop schedule and select a yeast strain. The manufacturers usually include specialty malts in the formulation, eliminating the need for additional steeping grains. In fact, one of the great myths of homebrewing is that simple extract beers need any whole-grain additions at all and will be boring or too thin.
The first step is to get to know the composition of the extract. The most common vendors, Alexander’s, Muntons and Briess Malt, proudly reveal their extract ingredients. Briess has a dazzling array of extracts and goes the extra mile by offering spec sheets on all of them. They include vital Lovibond ratings at particular extract concentrations, flavor descriptions and suggested use. This information is invaluable for making recipes, especially if you want to forgo specialty grains. For example, Briess’ Pilsen extract is rated at 3º Lovibond when used at a gravity of 1.050, and is made with pilsner and cara-pils malt. Used at that concentration, the wort looks exactly like wort for all-grain kölsch, pilsner or Munich Helles. The cara-pils addition adds body and mouthfeel, just like a fully mashed recipe. Similarly, Briess’ Munich extract is made with equal parts pilsner and Munich malts, just like one of my own all-grain märzen or maibock recipes, and would also be excellent for pale ale and plenty of other light amber brews. Briess wheat malt extract is 65/35 wheat malt/barley malt, suitable for authentic Bavarian hefeweizen as is. The porter and dark malt recipes show an ingredient list designed for porter or stouts, respectively. Muntons makes extra-light and light extracts with lager malts, and its wheat (50 percent each pale and wheat malts), amber (pale ale and crystal malt) and dark (pale ale, crystal and chocolate malts) extracts are excellent for making English wheat ales, pale ales, bitters, milds/browns and porters without augmentation.
Blending these extracts makes the possibilities even more extensive. Munich extract blended with Pilsner or light, for example, will make Vienna lager. Wheat extract can be used in small amounts for better head formation or as an accent. It also can be combined with amber, Munich or dark extract for dunkelweizen or weizenbock.
Extract With Specialty Grains
Unhopped malt extracts combined with steeped specialty grains is by far the most common method of extract brewing. This approach is especially useful for customizing specific brews or adding an extra bit of character. Light, extra light, wheat and Munich extracts serve as the base, putting the character/specialty malt portion entirely in the hands of the brewer. The blank slate that these pale extracts offer is the equivalent to the base malt portion that is used by nearly all brewers to make up 80 to 95 percent of the mash. In this respect, you are essentially making recipes similar to all-grain formulations without the fuss of mashing. To transform all-grain recipes into extract brews, simply steep the recommended specialty malts for 20 minutes at 150 to 170 F and dissolve the extract in this “tea.” Steeped grains and extracts blends add even more diversity and creativity to extract brewing. When I was learning to craft recipes, I usually used the appropriate amount of the light and delicate Alexander’s extract, made exclusively with American 2-row Klages malted barley as my base and experimented with different ratios and combinations of specialty malts based on all recipes, my own research and by poring over the invaluable and insightful writings of Michael Jackson. Alexander’s light malt and wheat malt extract is thankfully still available and is an excellent choice for your American extract beers.