What are Malt Extracts? Easier homebrewing with extracts

For those of us just starting to dip our toes into the world of homebrewing it can be a little intimidating.  Especially for those of us who have stepped up from that box store “Mr. Beer” kit into something a little more complex.  

Ready to start brewing but don’t have the gear yet?  We got you covered with our favorite homebrew kits.

Having all the right gear still doesn’t make it easy.  Luckily for us there are shortcuts.  Like extracts.

So, what exactly are malt extracts?

Simple really.  Instead of going through the whole process of milling, malting and steeping our barley (which takes significantly more time and pricier equipment) someone else did it for us.
Malt extracts are the easiest way to get a batch brewing.  Once we get comfortable churning out good beer with extracts then we move on to all grain brewing.  But that adventure is for another day.

Where do malt extracts come from?

Malt extracts are made using milled, malted and mashed grain and turning it into a sugary liquid wort.  The wort is then filtered and sent on to evaporators.
This is where it starts to get a little different from the normal brewing process.  Once in the evaporators the water content is reduced to around 20% creating a super thick concentrated syrup.  This becomes liquid malt extract or LME as found in homebrew shops or online.
In some cases homebrewers can use dry malt extracts or DME. For these extracts the amount of water is reduced even further to just a few percent. These DMEs are also highly hygroscopic which means they are thirsty. 
They go for any moisture they can find to try to return to liquid state, even moisture from the air.  Be extra careful when adding DMEs to the boil as the steam from the kettle can cause them to clump as the moisture is sucked up.  And no one wants clumpy beer.  Gross.
Modern evaporation processes, such as doing it in a vacuum, reduce the amount of heat required.  Often times heat will continue to darken the wort as more of the grain is leached into the liquid.  With less heat used, homebrewers are able to take advantage of lighter malt extracts and make lighter beers.
So what’s the catch?  Why doesn’t everyone swear by using malt extracts?
Just because they are easier to use and convenient as all get out the use of extracts take away some of the creativity that brewers have with all grain brewing.  Also more seasoned homebrewers think it’s the easy way and prefer the more fun way of grinding and malting their own grains.  For us extracts work just fine for now.

How are malt extracts used?

Added at the beginning of the brew process the extracts go through a boil stage.  Certain recipes call for add ins and hops to be boiled with the malt extracts.  These are all tossed into kettle together to create the wort, which is then cooled down quickly and sent happily on to the fermentor.
A guide for beginning home brewers.

What to look for in quality extracts

The first consideration for any ingredients should be freshness.
Don’t forget brewing is cooking, plain and simple, and using the best fresh ingredients is synonymous with good beer.  This is what we need to keep in mind when purchasing extracts.  When were they made?  What kind of grains were used?  What is the shelf life?
The fresher the malt extracts the better your beers will be.  Older extracts can come off burnt tasting or worse, ruin an entire batch!

Hopped and unhopped malt extracts

Extracts are available as either hopped and unhopped.  Hopped extracts typically are boiled with hops before the evaporation occurs. This imparts a bit of bitterness to the extract and these kits don’t require additional hops to be added.  Unfortunately this also takes away the control the brewer has over the bitterness and hop profile.
Unhopped malt extracts are devoid of any hop flavor or bitterness. Some recipes will call for hops to be added.  This is an opportunity to use fresh hops or pellet hops.  Again, the fresher the better!
Extracts can come alone, like above, or as part of a kit that includes hops for both bittering and aromas, spices and other add ins. Some recipes may even toss in additional grains for steeping.

Where to buy malt extracts

Malt extracts can be found anywhere fine brewing products are sold.  No, seriously.  They are everywhere these days.  And they aren’t just for brewing. Visit your neighborhood brew shop to get it today. However…
It would be just wrong if we didn’t give our readers an easy way to get what they need without the hassle of warming up the car and trudging down to the local homebrew store.  No, today is the future so here are three different malt extracts to order up and have delivered while you wait.
We chose Briess extracts to showcase because they are grown, harvested and malted up in Wisconsin and have been recognized as a homebrewer’s standard across the hobby. Fun fact, they even pass Reinheitsgebot when brewing with malt only.  

Liquid Malt Extracts

Golden Light by Briess

Briess Golden Light liquid malt extractMade for lighter beers, this malt doesn’t impart heavier malty flavors that darker LMEs do.  Golden Light is also excellent for all grain brewers who need to lighten the color of the wort without adding more malt flavoring.

Think summer ales, IPAs and other easy drinking brews.

Sparkling Amber by Briess

A container of Sparkling Amber liquid malt extract with a reddish color.The perfect middle ground LME.  Sparkling Amber is not too light with a semi-malty flavor that doesn’t overpower the batch.

Like Golden Light, this LME can be used to adjust the color, flavor or gravity of all grain beers when brewing an all grain batch, or can be used alone for extract brewing. Combine with a light LME like above to create a flavorful IPA.

Amber ales and reds and any other in between beers are perfect for this.

Traditional Dark by Briess

A container of Briess Traditional Dark liquid malt extract which has a very dark brown color.Those big beers that are darker than a moonless night that we love in the colder months use malt extracts like this.  

This extract is made up of dark and black malts for that intense flavor you want in stouts and porters. Has some hints of sweetness with the consistency and color of molasses. 

That should do it!  

Now we’re well equipped to brew with malt extracts or talk with our homebrewer buddies at the bar about LMEs and DMEs.  Speaking of equipment, did you find yourself here without a proper homebrew kit?  

Chomping at the bit to get started making the next best beer for our lists but nothing to brew with?  Like we mentioned above we have that covered.  Check out our list of the top homebrew kits.  We cover everything from bare bones to fully loaded.

The Top Homebrew Kits To Get Started Brewing Now

Now get out there and start making some beer.  We can’t wait to try it.

Have suggestions about extracts or want to clue us in on something we missed?  Hit us up in the comments.  

Brew on and hop responsibly!

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