Tastings School - Malt extract or full mash?

Tastings School

From basics to more advanced topics, the Beer School has all the info to expand your knowledge and enjoyment of your beers, ales and lagers.


Malt extract or full mash?

Ron Allison provides the second part in our guide to brewing beer at home.

Basically, there are two main methods to make beer at home. The first, and the more simple, is to use a commercial liquid malt extract kit. The second is to follow the method used by commercial breweries. Here we use malted grains, mostly barley, and employ the full mash process. Perfectly drinkable beer can be brewed using kits and if you have never brewed before then this is the best way to start. A compromise between the two is to use dry or liquid malt and some grain. A variation of the first method is to use malt extract, hops, and yeast, and your own recipes.

USING KITS Kits vary in quality and price. If you are going to start with kits then look closely at the contents. Some kits include the malt and yeast but require the use of additional sugar. Other kits are all malt and do not need sugar. Both types will produce good beer but I believe, other things being equal, that the all malt variety will produce a smoother and more rounded beer.

Kits are widely available. Specialist homebrew shops should have a good selection of both types and many supermarkets sell the cheaper type. Brewery shops usually stock the all malt type. If your budget is tight, then start with the cheaper added-sugar variety. Generally, you get what you pay for, so more expensive kits should produce better results.

As a final word in this section, you may have memories in the past of drinking “homebrew” that, to put it bluntly, was not good at all. It was often cloudy with a pronounced yeasty flavour and off tastes. However, modern kits and techniques have greatly improved over the last two to three decades so don’t be afraid to try again.

FULL MASH BREWING There is no doubt that full-mash beer is better than beer produced from malt extract. This way, the craft brewer can produce some excellent beer as good as, or better than, many commercial efforts.

Basically, brewing beer is very simple and don’t forget that until quite recently many families brewed their own beer at home, using simple equipment and techniques.

To put it simply, the full mash process involves mixing malted barley and hot water (mashing in), keeping it at a more or less constant temperature for about 90 minutes (mashing), washing the resultant sweet liquid from the grains (sparging), adding hops and boiling in a suitable vessel, cooling the liquid (wort) down, and then adding yeast. After the fermentation is over, the precious liquid is then bottled and/or barrelled and, after maturation, consumed.

However, although it is a simple process, there are complicated chemical reactions taking place and there is great latitude for the brewer to influence the process, and great scope for things to go wrong.

Some brewers never progress beyond malt extract brewing and, indeed, do not want to. Because the full mash process has much more potential to produce the type of beer that you really like and can be so complex and rewarding, the remainder of this series will concentrate on this method.

READING AND SUPPLIES Although a later article will cover making a full mash beer, using a tried and tested recipe and technique, it is important that prospective brewers do some reading. Much material is available on the internet but be warned the quality is variable. This is also true of books. There is no single method or technique to brew successfully and in the end you will evolve a process and use equipment that suits you.

You may be fortunate to live near a home brew shop. If you are happy with the shop then do please support it. If, like me, you do not live near a specialist shop then it will have to be mail order for supplies and equipment. I have used three and all have been very good. As a satisfied customer, and nothing more, I can recommend: • Hop and Grape, 117 North Road, Darlington, DL1 2PS, UK www.hopandgrape.co.uk • BROUWLAND, Korspelsesteenweg 86, 3581 Beverlo, Belgium www.brouwland.com • MoreBeer, 975 Detroit Ave. Unit D, Concord, CA 94518 http://morebeer.com/