Dry malt extract (DME) is something you should always have in your supplies regardless of whether you brew all grain or not. Obviously extract and partial mash brewers will be making their beers from malt extract of some sort, whether that be dry or liquid. You may be an extract brewer for example that prefers to use liquid malt extract (LME) for your brewing, even so you should still have some dry malt extract to hand as well. All grain brewers should too and in this post we will look at a few of the reasons why.
Dry Malt Extract
The thing that makes DME so indispensable in my eyes is the fact it’s so much easier to store compared to LME. If you are buying liquid malt extract in moderate amounts then it usually comes in tins. These tins will store well whilst they are sealed, around 2 years I have read. Once you open that tin however unless you use all of syrup it’s difficult to store it without it degrading somewhat or completely in a few weeks.
Dry malt extract on the other hand is, as the name suggest dry. This makes storage much easier as long as you keep it dry (in a sealed container or vacuum pack) then it will last much longer. I brew all grain about 80-90% of the time but I still get through a fair amount of malt extract and almost always I will use dry malt extract. Here’s why:
The Many Uses of Dry Malt Extract
Whether you brew all grain, partial mash, extract or even with a kit you cannot ever think of making good beer without looking after your yeast. If you want to improve your beer making straight away then this is what should look after, not your efficiency (we’ll look at this in a minute), not your equipment and not the sparging technique you’ve just invented. Unless you’re making sure you pitch enough yeast (and controlling fermentation temps) then you’ll be making poorer beer. To ensure you’re pitching adequate yeast you need to make a starter and what’s the best way to make one? Using dry malt extract of course. Take a look at making a yeast starter here.
To Achieve The Correct Quantity of Malt Needed for a Recipe
If you brew with extract you’ll know it comes in tins that are usually about 1.5kg. This is fine, usually this will mean you use 2 or 3 tins for example, but when you come to design a recipe unless you create the recipe to use a certain number of tins you’ll always have a bit remaining which is bad because it’s difficult to keep. This is where the dry malt extract you have stored in an airtight container comes in. You can use 3kg of LME and then ½ kg of DME to make up your desired gravity.
To Correct Specific Gravity Errors
If we’re being honest we have all been in a position where we have taken the gravity after the sparge on the pre-boil wort, run the calculation and come up short. There are a couple of option here, carry on anway, increase the length of the boil until you reduce the wort enough to hit your target gravity or add some malt extract to reach the desired gravity.
If you want to adjust the gravity using dry malt extract then you need to perform a simple calculation, let’s assume we are brewing a 19 litre beer with a target gravity of 1.045
45 x 19 = 855 - 34 x 23 = 782 = 73 73/350 = 0.208kg
If you use lbs and gallons then use the same format but substitute enter gallons instead of litres and instead of using 350 LDK use 45 which is the extract value for dry malt extract. Here’s how it’d look a 5 gallon 1.062 brew:
62 x 5 = 310 - 56 x 6 = 288 = 22 22/45 = 0.49lbs
Due to Constraints with Equipment
When I started out brewing I only had a small mash tun, it was fine for most beers but I once brewed a particularly strong beer and literally didn’t have enough space to fit all the grain in the mash tun required to hit the target gravity for the beer. So I mashed up to the capacity of the mash tun and sparged as usual then added enough extract to hit my target gravity.
It’s simple enough to just substitute a portion of the base malt with a similarly coloured malt extract.
Malt Extract Frequently Asked Questions
Does it matter if I use liquid malt extract (LME) or dry malt extract (DME)?
In terms of what it is, no. Both liquid and dry malt extract are the same thing and that is malt extract. You can get different colours of DME and LME ranging from pale to medium to dark for example but pale malt extract is the same thing whether it be dry or liquid. What you do have to bear in mind though is that you can’t just substitute equal quantities of each, a recipe calling for 3kg (6.6lbs) of liquid extract will require more dry malt extract because liquid malt extract weighs more. Which brings me onto the next question.
How can I convert liquid malt extract (LME) to dry malt extract (DME)?
Liquid malt extracts are roughly 20% water so 1kg of liquid is the same as 800g of dry malt extract. If you want to convert a recipe that list LME then multiply the amount by 0.8 to achieve the amount of DME required. If your recipe list dry then divide the amount by 0.8 to reach the amount of liquid extract needed. For example
3kg of LME = 3 x 0.8 = 2.4kg of DME
3kg of DME = 3 / 0.8 = 3.75kg of LME
How much sugar does malt extract contribute?
What we need to look at is the extract potential, similarly to how you’d measure malt but the difference being that you’ll get 100% using malt extract. As we know that you’ll always get 100% we can easily calculate the specific gravity of a extract beer according to how much DME or LME is used and the size of the batch.
Liquid malt extract has a extract potential of 300 LDK (litre degrees/ kilo) or 1.036 ppg (points/pound/gallon) for US brewers. To work out the gravity of a beer we can use these figures in a simple calculation to get the answer.
In a 19 litre batch we have 3kg of malt extract, the calculation would be as follows:
(3kg x 300 LDK) ÷ 19 litres = 47 This means we would be making a beer with a specific gravity of 1.047 which would end up roughly around 4.8% ABV For US brewers using a PPG of 1.035 for liquid malt a beer of 5 US gallons using 6lbs of LME the calculation would look like this: (6lbs x 36ppg) ÷ 5 gallons = 43 or a OG of 1.042, so a beer of around 4.4% ABV If you are using dry malt extract then the extract figures you need to use in your calculations are approximately 350 LDK or 1.042 ppg
If you are having difficulties calculating this manually then there are plenty of software solutions you can use or online calculators such as this one.
Does malt extract have a shelf life?
Although malt extract is tinned or dried it does lose some of it qualities over time. When you are buying extract you want to try and find the freshest tins or bags that you can. A common suggestion is if the tin is covered in dust give it a miss. People have reported a staleness or metallic tang when using older malt extract.
As a general rule dry malt extract stores better than liquid malt extract especially once opened. Store DME in an airtight container otherwise it will quickly attract moisture and go bad. As with anything you are planning to consume look for the freshest ingredients, they are going to taste better than something that’s been sat around for a while.
Is beer brewed using malt extract worse than all grain?
Not at all. Just because you use extract doesn’t mean it will be a poorer beer, many home brewers use extract and never bother progressing to all grain for the very reason they can make high quality beer using it plus a variety of speciality grains to produce nearly any style of beer. If you make a beer using only extract then you are going to be limited but take a look at this article on steeping grains and you open up a whole variety of options.
Why would you bother brewing all grain then?
Although extract + speciality grain beers can be superb you still lose some control over the final outcome of the beer. The whole process of mashing is taken away from you which means you lose control of things like the mash temperature,style of mash (multi-step, infusion, decoction) and using certain grains that need to be mashed.
Also because of the way that malt extract is produced it’s difficult to make very light beers and certain styles. I also think that by removing a chunk of the process you feel less connected to the brewing process and it’s a little less fun.