Monday, July 12, 2010

Homebrew Tips from the Masters#1: Malt

I recently sent out twenty emails to Canadian breweries, asking for some homebrew advice for beginners. I anticipated a few responses, hopefully enough to fill a blog post. The response was unbelievable. I'm very thankful to several brewers who took the time out of their busy schedules to provide extensive, thoughtful advice. I also want to thank "Homebrew42" — a BeerAdvocate member who responded to my forum post about extract-versus-grain boils with a veritable essay's worth of great tips.

I will therefore be publishing their words of wisdom in a series of blog posts dedicated to giving newb-brewers a headstart. Today I'll cover Malt; over the coming weeks I'll address the topics of yeast, sanitation, method, water and the social side of homebrewing.

Malted barley is one of the core components of beer (along with water, yeast and hops). Malt is partly germinated barley, rich in maltose and other goodies that turn into alcohol and flavour during brewing. Homebrewers face the choice of whether to use full grain or malt extract to create the wort that will become the backbone of the beer. Extract is said to be easier to handle, whereas grain should produce the best results. That's as far as my knowledge goes. What do the pros say?

Whichever way you go, Steve Cavan (Paddock Wood, SK) advises against supplementing malt with other sources of sugars, "All malt. That 1kg of corn sugar and a can of extract doesn't work." Overwhelmingly, the brewers who replied to me frown on adjuncts like corn syrup, and strongly favour full grain boils. As Jason Meyer (Driftwood Brewing, BC) sums it up, "All-grain only, screw that extract stuff".

That's not to say good beers cannot be made with extract. If you're nervous about mashing and boiling grain, or simply don't have the extra equipment you'd need to do this, Homebrew42 has some advice:
If you're doing concentrated boils, you're never going to produce flawless beers. If you're brewing 5 gallons of beer, you MUST start with at least 6-6.5 gallons of wort, and this is ESPECIALLY true for very pale colored or very hoppy beers.
2) Use only high quality, extra light, light, or pilsen extracts, and I much prefer dry extracts over liquid, as they tend to be fresher and lighter in color.
Every extract beer that I brew is based on either extra light DME, or pilsen DME. When an all grain brewer builds a recipe, they start with a pale base malt and work from there, even for the darkest beers, and a great extract brewer should do the same. Extra light extract is nothing but basic good quality 2-ro, and a touch of carapils, while pilsen extract is 100% pilsner malt, and either of these are a fantastic slate on which to build any amazing beer.
3) Use only FRESH extract!
Don't buy extract kits that have been sitting on a store shelf for who knows how man millennia. This is especially true with liquid extract, which has a much shorter shelf life than dry and tends to darken and taste stale over time. This alone is a good reason to completely avoid liquid as far as I'm concerned. And try to find a retailer that moves their product and always has fresh inventory. For example a larger online homebrew supply may be better at providing fresh products than your stagnant local shop.
Finally, if all-grain is the way for you, make sure you handle the grains correctly. Terry Schoffer (Cannery Brewing, BC) says:
If you are an all grain brewer beware of HSA (Hot Side Aeration). HSA takes place in the mash tun from over splashing when mashing in as well as from vigorous stirring. HSA will bring out off flavors when maturing in the bottle.
Homebrew42 adds:
Do NOT scorch your extract! This is yet another reason why I prefer DME over LME, as DME floats while LME sinks to the bottom of the kettle. If you decide to use LME however, remove the kettle from the burner and FULLY dissolve your extract before putting it back on the heat.
Thanks to all the brewers for their advice. Next time we'll look into yeast — acquiring, handling and pitching


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