Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Extract Excellence - What to do on brew day.

Everyone knows a guy, who knows a guy
who wins awards with extract home brew. Every club has a guy who knows the tricks to make an extract taste as good as an all grain brew. These home brewers have learned the little secrets that help an extract be all that it can become. And often they are pretty secretive about it. You see many extract brewers are tired of feeling like the red headed step child. They are tired of explaining why they do things the way they do things. Why the process is just a little different. But trust me these guys learn some tricks that help them make amazing extract beer. Tricks you can apply to your all grain or partial mash brewing. So today on Counterbrew we pull back the curtain and let you in on the secrets to making great extract home brew at home. And we give it to you step by step...

The Day Before Brew day:  

Clean your brew gear.   Yes the night before.   You should be focused on brewing on brew day, not on cleaning. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to clean your gear. Remember this is extract excellence...not extract acceptable or extract average

Prepare your water.   Either get 6.5 Gallons of spring water (no chlorine or chloramine) or treat 6.5 Gallons of your municipal water with ½ of a Campden tablet.   If your local water sucks then just go buy spring water. How do you know if your local water sucks? simple... does it taste good? or do you constantly go buy bottled water?.

Make a quick yeast starter a day (or two) before.  Yes, even for an extract.  We don't use a stir plate. We just manually agitate every now and then when we walk by. ( By the way, you can use a 1 gallon jug to make big starters if you need to, it's easy and works.Just don't put them on the stove ) Yeast performance has nothing to do with how you made the wort.  We will make a 2 liter starter of 1.035 wort, and pitch our dry yeast into it.   Extract is less ferment-able than all grain, so you really have to give your yeast every possible chance to succeed and attenuate all the way.   Our favorite yeast starter calculator is Brew United. Now, we like dry yeast and most dry yeast is around 6 Billion Cells per gram at packaging. So in theory you're good... right? wrong. Dry yeast is awesome and remains viable for years. It declines in viability far more slowly than liquid yeast. But it is also dry. Meaning the walls of the yeast cells are not ready for action. They have to re-hydrate. And 6.6 Billion viable cells per 11 ounces is only 72.6 Billion cells. A 5 gallon batch of 1.055 wort takes about 193 Billion cells. Now the yeast will multiply and the colony will grow. But you still want a healthy pitch. So buy two packs, or just make a starter a day or two before. It will work, and it will take off like a liquid starter.

Yeast selection is a factor with extract.  You always want to use a yeast that offers good attenuation.  We like Fermentis US 05 and Fermentis K97 for clean ales, S04 for English styles. For Belgian styles, Abbaye (BE256) and T58, and White Labs 545 (choose this for extract versions of Belgian Tripel, Golden Strong, and Blonde) We also really like White Labs 500 & 530 for Abbey Style Ales.   We like Danstar Belle Saison for saison. We have been using Imperial yeast a lot recently and have had great success. In general look for yeast that has high attenuation. And get your yeast information from the yeast company. Fermentis is especially helpful with questions. Many of the software programs are just wrong on attenuation. So double check. In general we are fans of dry yeast, and feel that the yeast from Fermentis is superior to most of the other yeasts we use, but they have also been a fantastic sponsor and they happen to manufacture the two most widely used yeasts in the world US05 and 34/70.

On Brew day:

You must be able to boil full volume to achieve extract excellence. THERE IS NO WAY AROUND THIS. If you do not have a turkey fryer or a bad ass kitchen stove that can actually boil 6.5 gallons of water. (very rare)  Go get one, borrow one, or steal one. Jake has a gas powered turkey fryer, and I have a Cajun Injector. They both work great for extract. I have posted many videos of the Cajun injector boiling 6.5 gallons. But there is another one, at the bottom of the post. If you are primarily going to make extract beer, then this is the best investment you can make mine was under $100 on Ebay. You can brew inside year round. You can also make great partial mash and all grain BIAB in the Cajun injector.

Transfer your treated water to the kettle.   And begin heating the water. While the water is heating get your additions prepared and organized. We like dixie cups for this (the little clear plastic cups)  But we have found that coffee filters also work very well.

Your steeping grains - All extract kits come with steeping grains to give flavor and color to the beer.   Place these cracked grains in a muslin bag and add it to the water as it is heating.   Remove the grains and give them a squeeze when the temperature of the water reaches 170 F.  

Continue to let the water heat, when the water reaches 190 F.  Turn off the heat, and add ⅓ of the malt extract.  This is enough extract to allow for hop utilization.
Stir well, do not allow any of the extract to burn on the bottom of the pot or on the elements.  If you use an electric kettle you should consider removing a gallon and a half of the wort into another container, and dissolving the extract in this container.  This is what we do.  We with hold 2 gallons of the initial water in a separate pot on the kitchen stove.   We dissolve all of the malt extract in this water.   We then add 1 gallon of the dissolved extract/water when we are done steeping the grains.   The remainder we add with 10 minutes to go in the boil.   That is a large enough boil not to effect hop utilization.

Add the hops and the fining/yeast nutrient per the schedule.  We always use a bag for our hops.  We use a paint strainer bag that is large enough to allow the hops to move around in the boil.

With 10 minutes to go in the boil we add the remainder of the dissolved extract.   If you are not pre-dissolving your extract, you will need to turn off your heat and add the remainder of your extract off of the heat.   Stir well to make sure none of it is stuck to the bottom of the kettle.   Then put the kettle back on the heat and bring it back to a boil.  It is so important to stir a lot when you add the extract and boil hard now to get the extract fully integrated and into solution with the rest of the wort.  But it i also so important not to burn or caramelize the extract.   If you are concerned about that, just do what we do and dissolve your extract separately.   Just remove some wort into another pot and dissolve the extract in that pot. Then add it back. Remember extract excellence, not extract average. You will lose the boil for a couple of minutes, but relax, just re start the timer when it starts boiling. If you have a 10 m hop addition, wait for it to come back to a boil.

At 10 minutes, after we add the rest of the extract we add the Irish Moss, and the yeast nutrient. (the first yeast nutrient, there will be more added during fermentation).  We also add our immersion chiller at 10 minutes. We have a Jaded Hydra.  The Jaded Hydra will chill a 5 gallon batch in under 10 minutes, even when it is hot outside. We can get all the way to ground temps. Which are usually in ale range. If you can not get all the way to the appropriate temperature range for your yeast.  Put your wort into your sanitized fermenter, and put it covered with aluminum foil some place cool until it is at temperature.  If you have a fermentation chamber go ahead and put it in there.  

When the wort is at the right temperature, you will need to aerate it.  We have an aquarium pump that we can sanitize and aerate with, but you can also just shake the heck out of it for 10 minutes.   Make sure the lid is secure if it is a bucket and cover the hole. If it is a carboy, just sanitize some plastic wrap and cover the hole with your hand and the plastic wrap. If it is a carboy you can set it on your knee and rock it back and forth. Alternatively you can sanitize a wine whip, or a paint mixer (that you only use for beer) and aerate that way.

When the wort is aerated pitch your yeast and add your sanitized airlock.   

During Fermentation

Ok here is where extract really gets different than all grain.  Extract batches of beer are not as fermentable by their very nature as all grain batches of beer.  So it is critical that you do everything you can to ferment all of the sugar that will ferment. (On a side note extract works great for Brettanomyces sour beers, bret can eat all that stuff). Fermentation temperature is still critical.  If you do not have a fermentation chamber… you will need to make a swamp cooler, or find the coolest place in your home to ferment.

Remember if a yeast has a fermentation range of 58 to 72 F.  It does not mean the beer will be great if you make it at 72 F. It means the yeast will still grow and perform reasonably well.   At least for the first couple of days, you need to hold that temperature down to ideal temperatures.  Then you can let it rise.  Keep it at ideal temperatures with a swamp cooler. This is especially important for the first 96 hours. (this advice is for ales not lagers, don't even try a lager with out a fermentation chamber). We are lucky to have 2 fermentation chambers.

First off,  if you have followed our advice carefully, you will see fermentation activity in 12 - 24 hours.  But remember extract worts tend to be less fermentable.  Your yeast needs help to get every bit of fermentable sugars attenuated.   To do that we gently rouse the fermenter every day, until high krausen is over. We don’t worry about splashing during the Krausen phase.  After high Krausen we do not splash at all.   We just gently get the yeast up and in suspension.  

Second we make nutrient additions, like you would with a wine, or with a mead.   We like fermaid K.   Just mix with sterile water and add this at high Krausen. Or even better make it part of the sugar addition explained below. Just add it to the sugar water once it has cooled.

Third we add ½ a cup of corn sugar dissolved in 1.5 cups of boiled water (boiled and cooled) at high Krausen.   This gives the yeast the added umpf it needs to finish strong and attenuate completely. We have taken extract batches of beer from 1.081 to 1.013 using this method.  And that my friends is 83% attenuation.   And that keeps an extract from finishing too sweet.

We generally do not rack our wort to secondary.   We let it go until it is done and cleaned up.   A big beer will take 2-3 weeks.  A small beer may be ready to bottle or keg in 10 - 14 days.  We let the beer finish, and we take samples occasionally.   A wine thief and a hydrometer are necessary tools.   When you sample the beer if it is too sweet, and the gravity is still too high, you can gently rouse the beer, and add more simple sugar if you need to.  This is your best method for making the yeast attenuate out all the way.   But to be honest, we have never had to do more than the ½ cup of corn sugar and the yeast nutrient.   

After packaging

My goodness do you have a big healthy colony of yeast now.  If I was you, I would make another beer on bottling day, a bigger beer  (ie if your first beer was 1.056 go up to 1.075).  And I would pitch the slurry of this beer into the new beer.   You can do that about 3 times before you run into mutation of the yeast.  Alternatively you can just get some mason jars and wash your yeast.   

So there it is sport fans.  How we make extract with excellence.   A little different than all grain.  But a great method to follow if you need to make a bunch of beer fast, or if you just need a fast brew day. We will of course be brewing some extracts really soon. And we'll put video content in the post to make it all make sense. Give it a try, it will change your opinion on extract brewing.


  1. Great information here. I have to take issue with making a starter for dry yeast though. I know it's counter-intuitive, but you are wiping out a significant portion of your yeast by making a starter instead of just hydrating it. http://seanterrill.com/2011/04/01/dry-yeast-viability/

    1. I actually take issue with the article you posted. You are wiping out a lot of the yeast anytime you pitch. The theory of hydration is the idea that you can make the chitin walls of the yeast pliable again in a waterbath, which is of course true, and that due to the fact that there is very little osmotic pressure in a water solution, the yeast will be ready to rock... ok still together with that as well. But, we have been working on testing this with fermentis. And the results have been stellar. Yes you loose some yeast, but a colony will reproduce rapidly to it's maximum density per liter in about 24 hours. So if you make a starter you are giving the yeast the very best chance to handle the environment they are going into they are rehydrated, reanimated, and ready to rock and roll. We are now experimenting with rehydration and then a vitality starter (brew day starter) that has been even more awesome. In that circumstance we rehydrate for 30 minutes then add the starter wort to the rehydrated yeast. There isn't time for colony growth, so we have to pitch two packages in most cases but great results so far.

    2. So basically what you're saying is that you know all about rehydration, etc. but you're experimenting with new ways of cranking things up a couple notches. The rehydrate then add to a started method is very interesting and your pseudo-krausening technique of adding Fermaid K & corn sugar is simply brilliant. I'll be trying that soon.

    3. that is exactly correct, what we do is rehydrate in sterile water in order to have the yeast in an environment with almost 0 impact from osmotic pressure. Then after it rehydrates for 30 minutes or so, we pitch into a 1.035 starter to let it start going during brew day.