One of the things you see a lot when researching beer recipes is the vast majority of them are aimed all grain brewers. Even I am guilty of this very same bias, pretty much all of the recipes that I have posted here on Home Brew Answers are formulated for all grain brewers.
Having the ability to convert beer recipes from all grain to extract is something I think will really help unlock a whole variety of options not available otherwise. When looking for the next beer to brew you won’t have to skip over a recipe just because it’s formulated for all grain brewing, you will be able to sit down and work out exactly what is needed to turn it into a malt extract beer.
In this post I’m going to detail the steps that you’ll need to convert all grain recipes into extract recipes, in the majority of cases you will be able to get a pretty good match or even a like-for-like beer. There are some beers which can be troublesome to convert to extract, beers that rely on large portions of malts such as Vienna malt for instance where there may not be a suitable malt extract to match it with. In some of these cases you can make approximations to brew a similar style of beer and we will cover that further on in this article.
Before we continue I want to make a point about extract brewing in general. A lot of the information you read in forums and online generally relates to all grain brewing and it can seem like nobody brews extract beers.
The thing to take note of though Is that forums and online communities tend to have a high proportion of users who are completely obsessed by the hobby, this is great of course and means the collective knowledge about home brewing continues to grow. When you’re obsessed by a hobby you want to learn advanced skills and progress as far as you can, you then share those experiences online with other like-minded people.
This, I think is why you will find a lot of information about all grain brewing and not so much about extract brewing. That is not to say though that extract brewing is in any way worse than all grain brewing, both methods can produce exceptional beers and like all things in life the way to do something exceptionally is to practice.
Converting Recipes From All Grain To Extract
With that said, let’s continue onwards and learn how to convert all grain recipes to extract versions.
Identify Base Malts
The first thing he will need to do is concentrate on the grains in a recipe. Identify the base malt or malts that make up the largest portion of the fermentables in the beer.
Most beers are made up of grains that need mashing to convert starches to fermentable sugars (primarily base malts) and grains that have no convertible starches such as roasted grains or crystal malts. In most cases the base malt in a beer recipe makes up between 60 – 100% of the grain in a beer.
In the majority of cases the base malt will be a pale malt or something like Maris Otter or 2 row, it could be a Pilsner Malt or occasionally a combination of lightly kilned malts like Munich malt, Rye malt and Vienna malt. Fortunately you are now able to get most of these malts in liquid or dry malt extract forms. Check out the range here for example.
Swap Base Malts For Malt Extract
What we now need to do is to swap the base malts for malt extract, this effectively replaces the fermentable sugars provided from the grain with fermentable sugars provided by malt extract.
When an all grain recipe is formulated you may notice a mash efficiency percentage listed, this will usually be somewhere around 70 – 80%. What this percentage tell this is how efficiently sugars are extracted from the grains so we will need to use this percentage when calculating how much malt extract is needed.
The easiest way to convert from grain to malt extract is using this handy table below, I first saw expressed in the book Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels. You take the amount of base malt and multiply by the decimal listed in the table for the mash efficiency.
|Mash Efficiency||Liquid Malt Extract||Dry Malt Extract|
In a recipe that uses 3kg of Maris Otter malt for example you would check the mash efficiency for the recipe and then find the corresponding figure on the table above.
At an efficiency of 70% you would multply 3kg by 0.68 to calculate the weight of liquid malt extract needed and 0.56 for dry malt extract depending on which you are using for your beer.
3kg x 0.68 = 2.04kg of LME
3kg x 0.56 = 1.68kg of DME
If you are making a lager you would switch in Pilsner malt extract or if you were making a wheat beer you’d use wheat malt extract.
Speciality and Roasted Grains
Once the base malts have been isolated and converted to extract it is time to look through the rest of the malts used in the recipe. What we are looking to do is pinpoint each of the malts or grains that add flavour and colour without necessarily adding fermentable sugars. These grains are commonly called speciality grains.
Typically these speciality malts and grains are either crystal/cara malts or highly roasted grains. Check out this article which discusses the most common speciality grains, below I have added a short list of the most common choices.
Crystal Malt – This is made in a slightly different way to ordinary barley malt using barley that has not been dried and is called green malt. It is kilned in a set range of temperature steps that in effect mash (the process that converts starches to sugars) the grain inside the husk. This means when it comes to brewing the sugars are already present in the malt. Crystal malt will add sweetness to the beer and a caramel-like quality, this attributes body to the beer which people refer to as mouthfeel. It comes in a variety of colours according to the length of time it is roasted for and can be referred to as caramalt or a trade name such as caramunich or cara-pils.
Chocolate Malt – This is a barley malt that has been kilned to quite a high degree but still retains some aromatic qualities. Chocolate malt will add a toasted, nutty and cocoa like flavour to the beer and also colour.
Amber/Brown Malts – These are malts that have been kilned to a lesser extent than chocolate malt so therefore is lighter in colour. They add a biscuit aroma to beer and chocolatey/coffee characters. There are some fermentables in these malts but steeping will still derive some flavour and colour.
Black Malt – Black malt like chocolate malt has been kilned but for a longer time so many of the aromatics have been driven off. It is primarily used in stouts and porters for colour and certain dry bitterness.
Roasted Barley – This is barley that has not been malted, just kilned at a higher temperature and is a rich brown colour. As the name suggests it will add a rich roasty character to your beer.
Wheat Crystal Malt – This is processed in the same way as barley crystal malt, but as the name suggests uses wheat instead of barley, and is often used in the darker variations of wheat beers.
There are of course other grains that fall in and around those listed above, what you will notice though is they are all crystal malts or dark/roasted grains. Lightly kilned malts generally need mashing.
Finishing Your Recipe Conversion
Once you have substituted all the grains to either malt extract or speciality malts, that is all you need to do, if there is an addition of sugar then this stays exactly the same. The hop additions stay the same as long as you are brewing the same amount as the original recipe. You can get on with brewing the beer.
In the case of most recipes a straight conversion is simple, swap out base malts for malt extract, steep the speciality grains and follow the extract brewing process as normal. There may be instances however where there are grains listed in the recipe that there is no malt extract available to substitute in and cannot be steeped as the grain requires mashing, what happens here?
Tricky Conversion Scenarios
It is true that not all recipes are easy to convert to extract brewing, some beers are just made for all grain brewing but these kinds of recipes are few and far between, take a look at this book, “Brewing Classic Styles” where you can see nearly all the recipes that account for most modern beer styles are formulated in extract versions.
Eliminating Small Additions
A lot of recipes you see published have small grain additions that make up such a small part of the whole recipe, sometimes these are done to add a certain individual twist to a recipe and don’t play a huge part in changing the flavour of a beer.
An example of this is the addition of a small amount of wheat malt in an all grain beer. This small addition is not about adding flavour, it is usually to aid head retention or boost the body. The extract brewer, not being able to steep wheat malt can usually eliminate these types of grain as they are aesthetic rather than flavour enhancing.
Malts and grains such as dextrin, carapils, torrified wheat, oat malt in small quantities are usually body or foam enhancing additions that can be eliminated by the extract brewer without sacrificing flavour, of course this is up to the brewers discretion. If you do want to increase body in an extract beer then a small addition of maltodextrin can be added
Often a small portion of munich or vienna malt of up to 10% of the grain bill is added in all grain recipes to boost the general maltiness. Whilst this does arguably boost flavour it is subtle and the extract brewer may consider sacrificing these small additions rather than adding munich extract.
In most instances where a grain might need to be mashed, there can be an option of performing a partial mash. This process is almost exactly the same as steeping speciality grains which you would do in normal extract brewing but with a couple of small tweaks.
Mini Mash vs Steeping
In certain styles of beer you may find the character of the beer comes from a malt that just isn’t available as a malt extract. Vienna malt for example isn’t available as an extract but does provide a pale beer with a maltier backbone than just using pilsner malt alone for example. It also makes up large portions of the grain in Octoberfest Lagers and Vienna Lagers.
Including vienna malt in an extract recipe wouldn’t work as only starches would be extracted potentially hazing up the finished beer and providing no fermentable sugars. If it is steeped at a certain temperature however there are enough enzymes present in Vienna malt for the starches to be broken down.
The process of doing a mini mash compared to steeping is almost exactly the same, it is just the temperature you steep the grain at and the length of time that make all the difference.
Steeping Vienna malt for 45 minutes between 64°C – 68°C will allow enzymes to convert the starches, if it is steeped at temperature to far out of this range then it won’t work. That is the only real difference between mashing and steeping grain. Of course the limit you have with steeping like this is the amount of grain you can use.
Working out whether a malt has enough enzymes to convert it’s own starches into fermentable sugars means knowing it’s diastatic power. A good resource to work this out for yourself is here.
Partial mashing can be a viable option for the extract brewer but to cover everything here would be a bit much. Keep an eye out as I’m working on an article as we speak that covers this aspect of brewing fully.
Get Converting Those Recipes
The only way to test whether you can brew an extract version of an all grain beer is to deconstruct it and try to put it back together. In most cases you will find there is a way to do it and just remember that a recipe is not set in stone, make tweaks and changes and you might find things work out great.