About Brewing with Extract Beer Kits

Beer Still Life

Extract beer kits are pre-bittered malt extracts designed to match the color and bittersweet balance of a particular beer style. These kits offer the homebrewer some excellent advantages like less brewing time and consistency in bittering.

Extract kits are a great place to start your homebrewing adventure. They are available in three to four pound tins and require the addition of fermentable sugars. Here’s where you can start your creative process. There are three basic brewing sugars to choose from; dry malt extract, rice syrup and corn sugar, common sugars like honey, brown sugar and molasses can also be used. For a more exotic taste, Belgian brewing candi and flaked oats, corn, wheat and rye are available. It’s important that you know what each sugar type will do to your brew. There are good references in most homebrewing books. A good rule of thumb is to use at least one pound of malt extract per gallon of water.

One beer kit and two pounds of dry malt will result in a finished beer of low to medium strength with good body. Adding more dry malt (up to three pounds total) will increase alcohol strength, accent malt character and produce richer body. Dry malt extract (DME) is an excellent choice for 60% to 100% of the additional sugar required to reach your original gravity target. DME is available plain (unhopped) or hopped. If you like strong bitter character you may opt to use all or some hopped dry extract. If you prefer medium to light bitterness use the plain version. Remember that the beer kit is already bittered at a ratio of one pound of malt to five gallons of water. Using more than two pounds of additional sugar will reduce the perceived bitterness of the finished beer.

Dry malt is available in four color ratings, extra light, light, amber and dark. Selecting the color rating of dry malt is a little tricky unless you are making a dark beer. I prefer to control color by steeping specialty grains. I usually choose dry malt that is lighter than the finished beer style, check the beer kit instructions to see if the manufacture has made any recommendations.

Steeping grain is a critical step in making an extract beer. The processing of the extract (syrup or dry) is not without losses in the malt character. Steeping specialty grains for 20 to 30 minutes at between 150 and 160 degrees will make up for some of the character that was sacrificed for convenience. The list of grains to choose from and possible combinations are limitless. Each malted grain makes its own statement in the finished product.

Crystal malt is the most common steeping grain; it adds color and caramel character. If you want to make the beer the same color as its rating on the label and you want crystal in the formula then select a one with a Lovibond (color) rating which is less than the kit; higher Lovibond grains will add color. To add body and character without adding color, use dextrin or carapils malt. Combining grains for steeping will add to the complexity of the malt flavors in the finished beer, just make sure the selected grains are compatible with your desired results.

When selecting finishing hops, take the time to smell each one and seek out the aroma which suits your anticipated palette. Keep in mind, just like using salt in cooking, over hopping is almost impossible to repair. Choose hops with alpha acid ratings of less the 5% and try mixing different varieties. It’s not necessary to use a full ounce. Finishing hops added to the boiling wort for 15 minutes or less, become the signature of your brew, you don’t have to add them all at once or even boil them at all; steeping one half to one ounce for one or two minutes after the boil will add distinct aroma without adding much flavor or any bitterness.

Brewer’s yeast is not just responsible for the production of alcohol and carbonation, many of the complex flavors which make a beer distinctive are contributed by the yeast strain used in fermentation. The 5 to 7 gram packet of dry yeast included with most extract kits is about half the yeast that should be pitched. Some of the beer kits make recommendations for substituting liquid yeast strains for the dry yeast packet supplied with the kit. These do require more planning of your brew schedule to allow time for the yeast to activate. For those of us with less control over our brewing schedule there is specialty dry yeast strains available which are an improvement over the packets included with the kits.

homebrewed beer with malted grains and hop flowers

Home Beer Brewing

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