Extract Brewing with Steeped Grain and Hops

Extract brewing opens up a whole variety of options to the home brewer to create countless types of beer without the need to invest in too much equipment. This type of brewing is an ideal progression from making beer kits. In essence you create a beer using a malt extract base but modified by adding different malted grains and hops as well as your own choice in yeast. These different variables allow you to truly customise the type of beer you make.

In this section we will explore some of the varieties of malt available to the extract brewer, varieties of hops and then decide on a recipe to brew, either a Pale Ale or a Porter. These recipes will be made with a malt extract base and then a variety of speciality malts will be steeped to add further flavour followed by the addition of hops to balance the malt base.

Quick-Start Guide to Our Brewday

Let’s take a look at what our brew day is going to look like, in essence a quick start guide to brewing one of the beers I’ve listed down below.These short steps are all you need if you just want to get going right away. However, below I run through with some more details for each part of the process and give you a little more information on why the brewer does certain things. All you need to do is click on the sidebar if you want to get a fuller explanation. Cool.

Extract Brew Day As It Happens

  1. 8 litres of water is heated in your brew pot.
  2. Grains are placed in a straining bag and immersed in the brew pot at 70°C, bringing the temperature down to about 67°C.
  3. The grain is steeped for 30 minutes.
  4. The grain bag is removed and drained. The resulting wort is then heated to a boil.
  5. Once we reach a rolling boil hops are added at varying intervals and the boil is maintained for an hour.
  6. 20 minutes before the end of the boil the malt extract is added and thoroughly mixed in
  7. After an hour the heat is turned off. The brew pot is immersed in a water bath.
  8. The cooled wort is added to the fermenter through a sanitised strainer and the level topped up to 19 litres.
  9. Yeast is pitched (added) and fermentation takes place over the course of 2 weeks.
  10. The beer is then transferred into bottles and stored for 2 weeks.
  11. The beer is ready for drinking.

Speciality Grains

Speciality Malt

For an extract brewer there are a number of speciality grains that can be used to make a wide range of different beers providing  a lot of scope to start experimenting with all sorts of combinations.

There are 2 types of malted grains, those that need to be mashed and those that don’t. When brewing with speciality grains the conversion of starches to sugar within the malt has already occurred, bypassing the need to mash.

We are replacing the malt that needs to be mashed with extract and using the speciality grains to add further sugars and more complex flavours to the extract base.

Below is a list of some of the types of speciality grain that you can use in an extract brew to add more depth, character and complexity:

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

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 Malt – This is a malt that has been kilned to a lesser extent than chocolate malt so therefore is lighter in colour. It is said to add a biscuit aroma to beer and chocolatey/coffee characters.

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.

Using Speciality Grains

Our extract beer will be made with an unhopped malt extract and further to this we will steep grains in hot water to add further complexity to the malt extract base. The steeping of special grains, such as chocolate and black malts, will turn an ordinary pale malt extract beer into a dark porter.  Alternatively the same pale malt extract beer can be given a more complex malt flavour by steeping crystal malts to make a flavourful light coloured pale ale. These are just examples and the tip of the iceberg regarding the scope there is for creating some unique beers.

Steeping GrainSteeping Process

Before you can steep your special malts they need to be crushed. Most home brew shops will be able to supply you with crushed grain so you don’t have to invest in a grain mill, just make sure you buy the crushed varieties.

To enhance the steeping process and extract the most flavour from your malts hot water is best. A temperature range of around 60°C and 75°C is ideal and will get the most flavour from your malts without extracting unwanted flavours that hotter temperatures can sometimes encourage.

To steep the special malts you will need a large stock pot and a steeping bag as specified in the equipment section. Heat up water at around a ratio of 4-6 litres per kilo of grain in the brew pot and when you are just above the target temperature add the malt in the grain bag to the pot.

At this point stop heating, give the grain a good mix to get everything wet and then secure the bag opening. The malt now needs to steep much like you would a tea bag.

Allow the malt to steep for around 30 minutes then lift the bag and allow to drain on its own. It’s best not to squeeze the bag as this can affect the clarity and extract tannins which will affect the taste of the finished beer.

The grains can now be discarded and what we are left with is essentially a grain tea in our stock pot. We can now move to the next part of the brewing process which is the boil.

Hop Use in the Boil

There are very many varieties of hops available to the home brewer and at first it may seem overwhelming. However, they are great for adding different flavours to a beer and give the brewer scope to make something completely unique.

When looking at different hops it’s a good idea to do some research. You will find that each variety will be categorized into groups depending on how they are best used in the brewing process:

Bittering: Used to add bitterness to the beer and balance the malt sweetness. Bittering hops are added early on during the boil to extract alpha acids from the hop. This process is called isomerisation and is most effective when the hops are boiled for around an hour.

Alpha acids in the hops are the primary source of bitterness, each variety of hop will have a different level of alpha acid present. The higher the level of acids, the more bittering power the hop has.

Aroma: These hops are most effective when added at the end of the boil. Aroma hops are added late so their volatile compounds stick around and aren’t driven off by the boiling wort. These hops all add some character to the beer which can range from floral, earthy, pine or even citrus and tropical fruit qualities.

Dual Use: As you may of guessed dual use hops give you the best of both worlds and can be added early to provide bitters or late for aroma. Dual use hops are great all rounders.

Hops can come in different forms, either pellets, whole leaf or plugs. Our recipes will use whole leaf hops as they are easier to separate from the beer after being boiled. The varieties I have suggested to use in the recipes later on are; Centennial and Cascade for the pale ale; and Fuggles and Bramling Cross in the porter.

Boiling Your Beer with Hops

Home BrewingTo extract bitterness from the hops they need to be boiled. Alpha acids in the hops are the primary source of bitterness and aren’t very soluble, boiling for around an hour is the most effective length of time to extract the alpha acids.

As you are probably aware certain beer styles have differing amounts of bitterness in comparison to others so this means the amount of bitterness needs to be measured. This measurement is called “International Bitterness Units” (IBU).

When a recipe is formulated the Alpha Acid % that is associated with the hops can allow us to work out how much hops are needed in that brew, according to what level of IBU is needed. In our recipes I have worked out the IBU for each brew so it falls in the range for the style.

Our steeped grain tea we made earlier can now be topped up the wort to a level suitable for the stock pot you are using. If it’s 12 litres for example a suitable level will be around 10 litres. The idea is to boil as much as possible without risking the pan boiling over and being unsafe. Now it’s full bring to a boil, turn off the heat and then the malt extract can be added, stirred in and thoroughly incorporated. Again be safe and leave plenty of head space in your pot so you can conduct the boil safely. You can now heat again and start a rolling boil.

Now the wort is boiling we can add the hops as directed by the recipe. The first hops added are boiled for an hour and provide the bulk of the bitterness as time passes add the aroma hops at the time indicated. During the boil leave your stock pot uncovered and keep an eye on it the whole time to ensure it doesn’t boil over.

Once the hour has elapsed we can start cooling and get the beer ready for fermentation.

Dry Hopping

Previously I have talked about hops as a means of providing bitterness by boiling them to extract the alpha acids present..

So you can add hops at the beginning of the boil to provide bitterness and towards the end to give you a sense of the aroma and flavour of a particular hop, these are called late additions.

As you boil them for less time more of the flavour of the hops are preserved. As well as this brewers can also do something called dry hopping. Even a late addition of hops in the boil will lose some of the aroma of the hops so dry hopping involves putting them in the fermenter. This means none of the aromatic oils are lost in the boil and you can achieve completely different flavour characteristics in your home brew.

A number of notable styles of beer use dry hopping such as IPA’s and Pale Ales but the beauty of brewing your own beer means you can experiment as you wish and incorporate dry hopping in any style you want.

Dry hopping

Dry Hopping Techniques

Generally the best time to add hops is during secondary fermentation when the yeast activity has settled down after the initial burst. Depending on your recipe you add around 25 – 50 grams to the fermenting beer for the period of the secondary fermentation, so around 2 – 4 weeks.

Because there is already alcohol and the compounds present in the hops it is not generally necessary to worry about sterilising the hops and of course you don’t want to boil then as this will drive off the aroma that you are trying to attain.

There is also the option of adding a smaller quantity of hops to the keg if you keg your beer rather than bottle it. This works in the same way as adding them during the fermentation process but remember that your kegged beer will be sitting around longer so less hops should be used.

Also you will want to decide whether to add the hops in loose or in a hop bag. The obvious advantages of using a bag will mean you can separate the hops from the beer a whole lot easier once you’re finished. Of course ensure the bag is sanitised before using, I use muslin bags a boil them for a short while.

Generally when you use loose hops pellets are your best option because they fall out of suspension after a few days and allow you to rack beer from above.

Making A Yeast Starter

yeast_safale_s04When making beer it is imperative to get the fermentation started as soon as possible. We want to ensure an adequate amount of yeast is pitched to get the beer fermenting straight away and also to form a protection against infection from bacteria.

The sachets and tubes of yeast that are supplied from the home brew shop are a long way short of what is required, a lot of time to begin with will be the yeast cells reproducing to an adequate quantity to ferment the whole batch of beer. This is fine of course and I have pitched yeast straight from the packet but there was a noticeable lag in the time it took to begin fermenting.

Commercially, yeast will be pitched at a rate far higher than what is available to buy in either liquid or dry forms. If you are making a higher gravity beer it may be necessary to make a starter so here is a basic guide to how to go about it.

Things you will need:

Glass Jug or Jar
Dry Malt Extract
Sauce pan and lid


  1. Put 4 tablespoons full of dry malt extract into the pan and add 2 pints of water. It is important that not to much dry malt extract is added as when the starter starts to ferment it will produce alcohol. If the levels of alcohol are too high it will become toxic to the yeast cells.
  2. Bring the mixture to the boil. Whilst the is happening make sure your glass container and thermometer are completely sanitised using your preferred sanitiser, this is imperative.
  3. After boiling the malt extract and water for around 10 minutes this will also be sterile allow to cool to room temperature with the lid on. It may be a good idea to use a cold water batch for this to get it cool quickly.
  4. Pour the malt extract solution (wort effectively) into the sterilised container and check it is at room temperature with a sterilised thermometer.
  5. Pitch the yeast. If this is liquid straight from the vial. If dried it should be re-hydrated according to the packet instructions.
  6. Cover the container with a sterilised piece of foil and shake vigorously to get as much oxygen as possible into the wort. You can shake every so often for the next 24 hours whilst the yeast reproduces.

It may not seem to be doing anything for a while but eventually you will see some signs of activity and a layer of yeast will form at the bottom of the container in a whitish layer.

It is a good idea to do this a couple of days before hand so you can ensure the maximum amount of yeast cell reproduction. When you are ready to pitch you can swirl the yeast back into suspension and add the whole lot or decant off a proportion of the starter without disturbing the yeast then swirl and pitch to the wort.

Cooling and Pitching Yeast

To get the beer ready for fermentation we need to start cooling the wort down. Yeast require a specific temperature range to thrive in. Ale yeasts need be kept around 16°C – 24°C any colder and the yeast will begin to hibernate and not ferment the beer, warmer and the yeast will produce harsh flavours and at much warmer temperatures the yeast cells will die.

Our aim is to cool the beer as quickly as possible. There are a couple of reasons to do this, one is that oxidation can occur when cooled over a long period as well as allowing the possibility of bacteria contaminating the wort which would completely ruin the batch. Also as the beer cools slowly it produces a sulfur compound that will remain in the finished beer creating unwanted off-flavours.

Water BathCooling the Wort in a Water Bath

This really is as easy as it sounds. Obviously if you boil your wort in a metal pot then it will cool a lot quicker due to conduction.

Sit your vessel with the lid on if you have one in a bath of ice cold water. You can of course throw a load of ice into the water bath to speed up cooling and you will notice after 5 minutes or so the water bath will be noticeably warm. It’s a good idea to stir this water to even out the temperature. Also you may find you will need to change the water several times to get it to around room temperature. Using this method you can quickly cool the beer to room temperature within a fairly short period of time.

Once the wort is cooled  it can be added to the fermenter. Remove hops and debris by running  the beer though a sanitised strainer into the fermenter. The resulting amount can be topped up to the full desired brew amount(for the recipes below this will be 18 litres).  Remember this action of topping up the fermenter will also cool the beer too.

Pouring and topping up the beer in the fermenter should introduce enough oxygen that the yeast need to ferment the beer. At this stage take a final temperature check and you can now add the yeast to the wort simply by sprinkling over the surface. Seal the fermenter with the lid and insert the airlock. That’s the brewday over, it’s now time to sit back and wait for the yeast to do its thing and ferment out the beer.


Primary and Secondary Fermentation


The fermentation of your beer is one of the most important parts of the brewing process. It may seem like the part where you don’t really do much but it is also the stage of the process where many things can influence the taste of the finished beer, so what exactly is happening during fermentation.

Lag Phase

After pitching the yeast the first thing they do is adapt to their new environment and begin to reproduce and growing at a high rate. To aid this growth phase nutrients in the wort and any available oxygen are utilised by the yeast cells. This lag time for the beer is a critical point during fermentation, the yeast need to produce enough cells to ferment the beer fully without leaving any residual sugars unfermented. At the same time the wort is at its most susceptible to bacterial infection that could ruin the batch, this is why making sure everything is clean and sanitised is vitally important. The only thing we want to thrive in the beer is the yeast we the brewers select.

This lag phase can last anywhere between 12 – 48 hours, generally speaking the shorter the time the better. The next phase of fermentation is the primary phase.

Primary FermentationPrimary Fermentation

After the lag phase the yeast should now be at a point where they have reproduced and exhausted all the oxygen available, so they begin to consume sugar as a means of energy. This primary phase is where the majority of the sugars in the beer are converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Primary fermentation is easy to identify because the beer visually transforms in the fermenter. The vigorous activity by the yeast creates a foamy head on the beer called a krausen which is made up of yeast cells, hop debris and proteins in the wort. Your airlock fitted in the fermenter will be actively bubbling every few seconds and this whole process will last several days before winding down.

At this point the majority of the fermentable sugars present in the wort will have been consumed by the yeast and alcohol will have been produced. Depending on the type of beer this period of primary lasts between 2 and 7 days (lagers take slightly longer up to around 2 weeks). The beer now moves into the next stage of fermentation, Secondary.

Secondary fermentation

Some people prefer the term conditioning phase as when you  brew a typical ale there is only a small amount of fermentable material left at this point. During this phase  the beer will begin to clear as the yeast cells drop out of suspension and some of the undesirable compounds created during primary fermentation will be cleaned up and the flavours will become rounded and any harsh flavours evened out.

In a lot of brewing texts there is some difference in opinion as to whether this second phase should happen in the same vessel as the primary fermentation. A lot of people use the term secondary fermentation to mean they are transferring the beer to a second fermenting vessel. This has benefits such as helping to get a clearer final beer. However there are only a few particular instances when I think using a second fermenter may be considered so I will list them here:

  • When Brewing High Gravity Beers

It takes a lot longer to ferment beers up above 8% abv. This means that after primary fermentation the yeast will settle out, those dead yeast cells and the trub can cause off flavours in the beer. If you rack the beer to a second fermenter you leave all the undesirable material behind and ensure a better beer.

  • When Fermenting with Hops, Fruit or Wood

If you are adding anything to the beer I think it’s a good idea to add it after the primary fermentation is over. If you are dry hopping there is no way to sterilise the hops so it’s best to add them after there is alcohol present to minimise risk of infection. The easiest and cleanest way to introduce hops or fruit is to put them in the secondary vessel and syphon the beer on them. This means they aren’t going to get caught up in the trub and make the process difficult and messy later on.

If you are using fruit or wood chips you might want to keep them in the beer for longer than 2-3 weeks so using a second fermenter will reduce the risk of any off flavours from the the beer sitting on the trub too long.

  • When You are Brewing Certain Styles

If you are brewing a lager generally it will be fermenting for longer so it’s a good idea to get the beer off the trub.

Is It Necessary to Use a Secondary Fermenting Vessel?

If you are brewing an ale then I would say no, not really.

Primary fermentation and conditioning will be over with 2-3 weeks so you aren’t going to get any off flavours and by moving to secondary you have a small risk of oxidising the beer or getting an infection. Unless I am leaving the beer in the fermenter for long periods or doing one of the things listed above then I always just bottle or keg without a second vessel being used.

Primary fermentation and secondary (conditioning) will be over within 2-3 weeks, then it’s time to bottle the beer or keg it.