Michael Tonsmeire, of The Mad Fermentationist, recently put up a great post listing 10 brewing myths that sort of get under his skin. So if he can gripe a little bit then so can I. Brewing beer starts with making wort. Mashing to make wort is how ALL wort is made, whether you mash the base malt yourself or someone else has done it for you (extract). There are four main modes of brewing that get mis-labeled all the time. This is my treatise on making wort and what each method should be called. In order of how I think most brewers progress in this hobby:
Open a couple cans, or a couple bags of pre-made extract either liquid or dry and put it in a pot with some water. Sometimes the extract has hops in it, sometimes you add some hops yourself. This is the gateway method for making some wort. It doesn’t get any easier than this. You are at the mercy of the malt producer for how much body, fermentability and what ingredients are in the beer. But not to be looked down upon as a good fermentation process will still get you great beer for a little fuss.
Extract with Grains Brewing:
See above, but put some crushed malt in a muslin or nylon bag and steep away prior to adding the extract. Steeping roasted or caramelized grains in this matter allows you to explore the color palette of brewing adding just a little or a whole lot of different grains of different colors. Here you can really start to explore what different grains taste like. In order for this method to work best you leave behind extract called “dark” or “amber” or “golden” and start with the lightest extract you can get. Make this grain tea first in the brewing water also adds a dimension of freshness you might not get from extract alone. The key here is that you are using only grains that NEED NO enzymatic conversion of starch to sugar. Hence you are not mashing, only steeping. I see a lot of new brewers say they are mashing but without any enzymes present its just like making tea, color and flavor only.
See above but add in a couple pounds of two row base malt. Or Pilsner malt or Munich or Maris Otter. Here you ARE mashing as the base malt brings some enzyme to the pool party with your other grains. Here your water temp is critical, where a steep sort of can happen at any temp below 180F. Here you target a range of 145-160F. Depending on where you set the “dial” you can have an impact on the final beer’s body, mouthfeel and fermentability, using up to 25-30% of a mini-mash to get the total fermentable bill in the recipe. This step is the gateway to full on all-grain brewing. Personally I only did a couple batches this way. Most brewers realize that the water, temperature and grain thing isn’t all that hard; and they finally say good bye to their relationship with extract.
No can openers, no dusty bags of extract here. 10-15 lbs of base malt, a mill and some colored malt and your doing it just like a pro only on a small scale. Some mash in a cooler, or a keg or even in a nylon bag in there brew pot. But in this technique you have total control of the whole recipe from base malts to total fermentability. This is truly mashing.
I think you can make great beer with any of these methods and I don’t shun any of them. As an all-grain brewer, I am often envious of the quick extract batch. I still occasionally pop out an extract batch just for ease and fun. My intent isn’t to offend anyone, but we need to all speak a common language with how we make our wort. Regardless of you you do it…BREW ON!