Extract brewing is easy, quick, and convenient; sometimes I miss the good old three hour brew-day. But I don’t miss the increase in freshness that all-grain has over extract.
A recent discussion I had with a couple other brewers yielded these ideas which help extract brewers bring more freshness to their brews:
- Dry malt extract is generally more shelf stable and gives a fresher flavor than canned liquid extract. I tended to use DME exclusively over LME before I switched completely to all-grain. A possible exception to this would be if your local shop carried bulk LME in a drum, that is routinely purged with nitrogen instead of air, and has a high turnover rate. I have a local shop that used to have the drums but their turnover wasn’t so good because more and more folks started doing all grain batches, so then “canned” the barrels (no pun intended). Not to mention that the barrelled LME can get pretty messy with all those people trying to fill a 1 gallon container with 1.2 gallons of extract for that little extra value!
- While it is a common practice for some, I think the use of steeping specialty grains is under-valued for its freshness contribution. For the most part all your caramel/crystal grains, your toasted and roasted grains, and some of your other wacky grains (acid malt and melanoidin malt) do not need to be mashed. Using them for your color and flavor will bring a much fresher taste and value to your wort than using amber extract alone. Not mentioned in part 1 but praised quite a bit by us here at Brew-Dudes, we always recommend the lightest extract you can get.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your local shop folks how long any product has been on the shelf. Don’t just go to the store and grab a 6oz bag of any old thing. It’s tough to tell from sight how fresh a little bag of black patent is, so you have to ask. It’s like purchasing beef at the market with a blindfold on, only to get it home and see that it’s all gray and nasty. With brewing ingredients, you may not realize freshness issues until the beer is brewed. You can taste a few kernels on any malt and they should have a clear crunch in your teeth. If not, they are likely a little stale and you should find another source.
Ingredients are expensive and so is your time. If you want to make beer that you can drink and pass out on, then I encourage you to go get the discounted extract cans at your LHBS. However, if you are interested in making a beer that rivals your favorite commercial beer for flavor and freshness follow those practices above!