So what is this malt stuff? Malt is grain (typically barley, wheat or rye) that is allowed to germinate (sprout and get ready to grow), air dried and then sometimes kilned. There are two basic types of malt, base malt (Two-Row, Six-Row, Maris Otter/English Pale, Pilsner, Wheat, Rye, Vienna, Munich…) and specialty malt (Caramel/crystal, chocolate, roasted barley, black patent, Victory…). Each of these malts contributes a different aspect to your beer. Base malt contributes most of the fermentable sugar for the yeast to convert to alcohol and some flavor. The specialty malts contribute color (measured in Lovibond – the lower – the lighter; higher – the darker) and flavor. The style of beer you brew is highly dependent on the combination of these malts.
During germination, very important things happen. One of the key processes that brewers use is that the grain ramps up the production of two enzymes, alpha amylase and beta amylase. These enzymes convert the long chain sugars to smaller bite-size sugars that the yeast can fit into their figurative mouths to convert to alcohol.
[A quickie on sugars. Sugars are like trees or tinker toys. Many round Tinker Toy pieces are connected by straight sticks like trunks, sticks or branches. The problem is, regular beer yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae - don't freak out by this image. The yellow blobs are new yeast forming - a good thing.) only like sugars with one, two or sometimes three round pieces the small sticks at the ends of the branches.]
The alpha amylase chops off any branches stemming from the trunk or other branches and chops the long branches in smaller sticks. The beta amylase chops off the ends of the sticks into smaller sticks (1-3 round tinker toy sugars). You need both of these enzymes to get good fermentable sugars. Here’s the problem…alpha amylase likes to work at 158F and beta likes to work at 145F. That’s a huge difference in the alcohol content, sweetness and mouthfeel of your beer. So you have to shoot the gap. But do you ferment at 148F to favor alcohol or 156F to favor sweetness and body? It depends on the style of beer you are making. Dryer beer like lagers and pale ales need to mash at a lower temperature like 148-150. Heavier beer like stouts and porters need to go a little higher at 152-154. It’s that precise. A good rule of thumb is shoot for 152F – middle of the road.
Now you’re edge-yumacated and malty, but so what, you brew with extracts (dry and liquid) not grains. Good point. You can brew good beer with kits, but you have no control over how the grains are mashed (malted barley combined with hot water to get the sugars out of the grain). Really it just depends on your level of OCD and how much time you want to spend brewing. Companies are making great malt extract these days, but again if you like your stout a little more or less roasty, you can’t control it by using a kit. Malt extract is the product of taking malted barley, mashing it (combining it with water at a certain temperature), collecting the wort and evaporating the water (for liquid malt) or spray drying it (for dry malt). Basically, this is the same endpoint that all-grain brewers are at right before the boil (without concentrating the wort). But there’s an easy solution to this control dilemma that will get you great beer.
Use the lightest dry malt extract you can find (Pilsen) and steep the specialty grains in a grain bag, in hot water at ~160F. Do not boil the grains; you’ll get an astringency that it not very pleasant. Do it right and you’ll get the flavor and color from the specialty grains, and get the fermentable sugar from the extract. I would not recommend using hopped extract. Hops lose their aroma and flavor potency over time (6 months). An IPA today is not going to be even close to the same beer 5 months from now. A can of hopped liquid malt extract will lose a good portion of it’s hop character over a few months. It’s way easier to add your own hops. Another quick thing about hops, the less other “stuff” in the boil, the more hop bitterness, flavor and aroma you will get out of your hops (called hop utilization) – see hints about when to add extract below.
Here’s some quick tips with extract brewing
- Use dry malt extract over liquid when you can.
- Add half of the extract at the beginning, then the other half at 20 min till the end of the boil with as much water as your boil kettle can handle.
- Take into consideration the size of your brew kettle and how much volume you need to add to it with extract. The boil will also foam once some of the proteins come out of solution (another lesson), so keep a spray bottle of water to spray the foam down, or be ready to move your pot off the heat quickly. Don’t boil with a lid on your pot. This will ensure a boil over (when the foam comes over the top of your boil kettle and makes nasty black marks on your stove)
- The extract doesn’t have to boil for 60 min, but the hops do (see Hop posting). So you can add some of the extract early, and the rest later (at least 20 till the end of the boil).
- The sugar conversion of DME is .034 points of original gravity points/pound/gallon. This means if you want to make 5 gallons of a 5% beer, you’d add 8 lbs of dry malt extract in a final volume of 5 gallons in your fermentor (you need to think about losses (how much is left over) in the bottom of your brew kettle). Again, another reason to get BeerSmith (or just email me with your recipe and equipment).
- Basic procedure: steep grains at 160F in a grain bag, remove grains, bring to boil, add 1/2 of extract, bring to boil, add hops/start 60 min timer, add aroma hops (20, 15, 10, 5 min till end of boil depending on recipe) and the other 1/2 of extract, cool to fermentation temperature.
Here’s a sample recipe for a Porter
5 gallons, extract/specialty grains
Lubbock Homebrew Supply
“The Ultimate Porter was created while looking for the perfect porter. I believe I have found it. I have brewed it four times now, and it is the perfect blend of hop aroma and dark bitterness.”
All grains are steeped.
- 6 oz. chocolate malt
- 2 oz. black patent malt
- 0.5 lb. crystal malt, 120° Lovibond
- 0.5 lb. wheat malt
- 0.5 lb. victory malt
- 7 lbs. Dry pale malt extract
- 1 oz. Chinook hops (13% alpha acid), for 60 min.
- 1 oz. Cascade hops (5.5% alpha acid), for 10 min.
- 1 oz. Strissal Spalt hops (4% alpha acid), for 2 min.
- 1/2 tsp. Irish moss, for 20 min.
- Wyeast 1084 Irish Ale yeast
Step by Step:
Steep grains at 160° F for 20 minutes in 3 gals. of water. Remove grains and bring the liquid to a boil. Add 1/2 extract and Chinook hops and bring back to a boil. Boil 40 minutes and add Irish moss, add the other 1/2 extract. Boil 10 minutes more and add the Cascade hops. Boil 8 min more minutes and add the Strissal Spalt. Total boil is 60 minutes. Cool the wort. Place in fermenter and add cool boiled and cooled water to 5 gals. Pitch yeast when cool enough. After two weeks prime with corn sugar and bottle.