Skills to Know – Extract Brewing

I’ve used four mash methods ranging from letting someone else to it (extract) to full-blown decoction mashing.  And I have to say I don’t have a real favorite.  All of them are useful in different settings so as a brewer, I try to keep proficient in all of them.

Extract brewing is generally regarded as entry-level.  For good reason:  It’s the style most of us cut our teeth on and I still recommend it for beginners.  That’s why it’s a skill I like to keep.  Extract, an industrial product, is very consistent which makes it a great product to use to diagnose problems with your process or to try out new hops or yeast.

Extract reduces the number of variables in a brew.  When I’m advising beginners, I advise them to use extract, pick a recipe and brew it until it tastes the same every time.  That way they hone their process in readily observable ways.  My current use is testing.  I can brew a small extract batch with new hops and see exactly how the hops work in a beer.  Likewise, I can test yeast, fermentation control, anything that doesn’t deal with mashing and be sure that my treatment, the thing I’m changing, is causing the change I’m observing.  And an extract beer can be very good.  You lose some control but you gain a consistency I can never get with my 10-gallon Igloo cooler and false bottom.

Not to mention a three-hour brew day even with steeping grains.  You can use extract to test any crystal, roast or black malt simply by steeping and adding that malt tea to the boil.  As a medium for testing ingredients, a simple extract beer with Magnum hops for bittering, consistently made, is the brewer’s equivalent of a freshly gessoed canvas, a plain white surface that will show any color applied to it.

As a test, try a three-gallon full-boil batch in your five gallon kettle.  Use just pale extract and Magnum hops to a medium bitterness, say 25 IBU.  Ferment it normally using a neutral yeast such as American Ale.  You’ll get a very plain pale ale.  Now start layering new flavors on it with late hop additions, steeping grains, different yeasts, spices.  This beer will tell you what your addition tastes like and will aid immensely in recipe formulation.  You won’t be guessing what pie spice tastes like in beer after testing it on this plain, simple brew.

Let me know how your tests go!

Lots to Do

Getting behind on my beer tasks.  I have a gallon of Lemongrass Ginger Wheat to bottle, five gallons of pilsner to bottle, the Naked Porter to rack….  Tomorrow and Sunday seem like nice times to knock them out, particularly since I need the pilsner for some upcoming competitions….

Brew Day – Dry Dock Naked Porter

Happy New Year to all!

My local craft brewery, the Dry Dock in Aurora, CO, brews a Vanilla Porter.  And I can’t stand it.  But when they leave the vanilla out, what a beer!  More to come, but first, a few other items.

Just finished Book 4 of the Brewing Elements series, Malt.  It was well written, a statement that pretty much ensures that the following review is not positive.  There was some useful information in there if you’re malting your own grain but for general homebrewing, not a lot.  You can learn how to calculate beer color from the book but Palmer already has told us how in “How to Brew” (the one brewing book that, if you don’t own, go buy, right now).  You can get a good idea of how to malt, a lot of info about the commercial production, shipping, storage and handling of malt and a good bit on some smaller craft malt houses but all in all, borrow it if you can, skip it if you can’t, unless you’re just fascinated by malt.  This book will not help you brew better beer at homebrew scale.

Now to brew day.  The Porter is very dark, 40 SRM.  It has lots of roasty-toasty flavor, in fact, I’d classify it more a robust porter than a brown porter.  I’m brewing it to 4.8 ABV, very sessionable.  It’s low-hop, 20 IBUs:  Malt is the key player in this beer.  It has some complexity, malt-sweetness to balance out the other flavors and I’m hoping my brew will get close to it.

Everything went well.  Really.  There was nothing to complain about.  I even enjoy a good Denver brew day in the snow….


I hit all my numbers and determined my new boil rate for the new, wind-shielded burner.  In the past, I’ve had to turn the flame up much higher to keep the wind that seems to blow here every time I start a boil from blowing the flame aside and stopping the boil.  So I got this shielded number.  Using my stick gauge, I was able to determine this bad boy was boiling off about a gallon an hour, less than my previous setup.  So I am now able to start with 7.25 gallons of wort to get to 5.5 by boil end rather than the 7.75 I used to start with.  Fewer boil overs, less mess.

Another new piece of equipment:  While cleaning up last brew day, I wasted yet another hydrometer.  I use a refractometer on brew day so I can take multiple readings easily but for the “real” measurement, it’s the good old fashioned triple-scale hydrometer.  The only problem:  The “cheap” hydrometers at the homebrew shop may not be well calibrated so it pays to check:


I filled the sample jar with distilled water, cooled it below 60 degrees F, the calibration temperature of the hydrometer, then let the water warm up.  Once it hit 60 degrees, I checked the reading, 0.998, or an adjustment of -.002 degrees.  So I now have to subtract 2 points from every reading I take with the new hydrometer.

If you haven’t calibrated yours, I’d do so.  Cheers!