Starting Out With Extract Brewing
Extract brewing is a great way to get your start into homebrewing. With just a few pieces of equipment, some ingredients and a bit of time you’ll be drinking your first brew. I’ll start with just the bare minimums for efficient extract brewing. Extracts are a condensed powder or liquid wort that lets you skip a few steps in brewing. Follow my instructions and in just a few weeks you’ll be downing your first homebrew!
My suggestion for minimum equipment for extract brewing is a brew pot, fermentation vessel, airlock, steeping bag, heat source, clean bottles, bottle capper, caps, thermometer, bottling bucket and sanitizing agents. Your brew pot should be as big as you can afford or accommodate. A clean stainless steel spoon is necessary. You can go glass or plastic carboy or even a bucket for fermentation vessel. You will need an airlock or blowback setup depending on your beer. Think of your steeping bag as a giant tea bag for specialty grains. It is typically made of muslin or nylon. Your heat source can be anything from your stove, to a gas burner or heating coil. Bottles will either come from your consumed beers or buy them new. Only bottles that require an opener will work here. A bottle capper and caps will be needed unless you decide to go flip top. Don’t go with a plastic capper and don’t go with a bench capper unless going all out. A thermometer is a must to avoid boiling your yeast into obliteration. Bottling buckets are essentially a bucket with a spigot in it for easy filling. The most important piece of equipment is your sanitizing and cleaning agents. A good cleaner is PBW or OxiClean Free. My preferred sanitizer is Star San.
While not necessary there are a few things that will help you with extract brewing. First and foremost a hydrometer and test tube will help you determine your ABV while also avoiding bottle bombs. A refractometer is a better option if you want more accurate results or tend to break things. Yeast is alive and as such won’t always work like clockwork. Pressure buildup from an unfinished ferment can cause a bottle to explode and quite a mess. An auto-siphon is important when extracting wort from the boil kettle or fermenter without sediment and yeast cake. Auto-siphons come in different sizes so remember to buy the right size! A wort chiller will come in handy if you want the least risk of infection and a much quicker cooling time.
Your minimum ingredients are extracts, specialty grains, hops, corn sugar, and yeast. It would be in your best interests to start with a kit from a homebrew store. Kits typically come with everything except yeast. Extracts will either come as a liquid or a powder. Dry extract is very hygroscopic ( pulls moisture from the air ) so do not open it until it’s time to add the extract! Your specialty malts give your beer their true characteristics. Hops provide the bitterness yang to the yin of sweetness in beers. Hops are also an important antibacterial agent so don’t forget these in any style! Corn sugar or priming sugar is used for carbonating your beers. It is predictable and easy to calculate the perfect carbonation levels. Yeast is your final ingredient. Essentially yeast eats sugars and turns your wort into beer. Yeast comes in both dry and liquid forms. Both work equally well, but it is important to choose the right yeast for your style.
Even starting out with extract brewing you will probably want to play around with extra ingredients, aka adjuncts in the brewing world. Sugars can boost your original gravity but too much will dry out your beer. Specialty sugars will add subtle flavors but table sugar will just add to your original gravity. Fruits, both dry and fresh, can add an extra note to your brew. Spices are great but do avoid over seasoning. You’re fairly safe to add any of these near the last few minutes of flame off without infection risk. Additions at flame off have given my best results for adding flavor.
Hopefully, you bought a kit and it came with instructions. However, the quick gist of extract brewing is to boil water to 155F – 160F and steep specialty grains in a mesh bag for at least thirty minutes. Strain or squeeze the saturated grain into the pot and discard bag. Add your extract to the kettle and heat up to boiling. Boil for at least sixty minutes while adding your hops at the correct times according to instructions. If you don’t have a kit it would be wise to look at a recipe of similar style for hop times. Add extra ingredients the last few minutes of the boil ( if you want ) and turn off the heat source. Cool as fast as possible. A bathtub or sink full of ice helps if you don’t have a wort chiller.
Pour or siphon cooled 66F – 70F wort into a sanitized fermenting vessel. Pitch yeast or yeast starter into cooled wort. Cap off fermenter with an airlock or blow off valve. An airlock should be safe for most beers below 1.060 original gravity and ample headspace. A blowoff tube is a must for anything higher than 1.060 original gravity or when you have a very full fermenter. Different styles of beer have different levels of krausen, yeast and other gunk on top, so your best bet is to always use a blowoff tube. Wait at least two weeks for the fermenter’s bubbling to subside. If you cheaped out and didn’t buy a hydrometer then wait at least three weeks. Beer can easily still be fermenting without visible bubbles.
Finally, we can bottle it up. If you have one, Take a hydrometer reading to make sure your beer has reached final gravity before bottling. It’s a good idea to take a sample and taste your fermented wort. It’s not carbonated so it won’t quite taste like a normal beer but should be reminiscent of the style you are going for. Heat one cup of water in a microwave until boiling. Add the required amount of corn sugar and nuke for another minute. Let the sugar water mixture cool to room temperature. Pour sugar mixture into the bottling bucket and then add your fermented wort. A quick swirling motion will suffice in mixing up the priming sugar. Dilute Star San to appropriate concentrations and sanitize each bottle before filling. A funnel works well pouring sanitizer from bottle to bottle. Fill and cap each bottle as soon as sanitizing and dumping sanitizer. Finally, ponder how you can save up for your kegging system while you let the bottles carbonate a minimum of two weeks. As a general rule of thumb beers with a higher gravity will require longer carbonation times.
- Brewing Pot
- Clean Metal Spoon
- Fermenting Vessel
- Steeping Bag
- Heat Source
- Clean Bottles
- Bottle Capper Caps
- Bottling Bucket
- Sanitizing & Cleaning Agents
- Malt Extract
- Specialty Grains
- Corn Sugar
- Heat strike water to 155F to 160F.
- Turn off the heat source and let specialty grains steep for at least 30 minutes holding the temperature at 155F to 160F. Tying your bag to one of the handles will keep it from touching the bottom of pot and burning.
- Drain bag by lifting or squeezing. Be careful because that 150F saturated grain will burn so use a clean silicone glove if squeezing it.
- Remove steeping bag.
- Start raising the temperature up to boiling ( 210F or so ) and add your extract.
- Boil for at least 60 minutes, adding hops according to your schedule. Stir every few minutes to prevent scorching.
- Cool as rapidly as possible using a wort chiller or bathtub with ice.
- Siphon or pour the wort into fermenting vessel once 60F to 70F is reached.
- Add yeast or yeast starter to cooled wort.
- Place airlock or blow off assembly on fermenting vessel.
- Move fermenting vessel to somewhere dark with consistent temperatures.
- (Optional) Transfer wort into a sanitized secondary fermenter after one week. This is useful for brews that have a lot of gunk in the bottom or when adding fruit or oak chips.
- Leave the wort alone for at least 2 weeks or longer until fermentation has subsided.
- Heat one cup of water in microwave till boiling. Add the desired amount of corn sugar for your beer style and volume to water. Microwave again for thirty seconds to a minute to sanitize sugar.
- Let sugar mixture cool to at least 80F and add to sanitized bottling bucket along with your fermented wort.
- Fill sanitized bottles to about an inch below the neck.
- Cap immediately with sanitized caps and place beer somewhere with consistent room temperatures.
- Check a bottle after two weeks for carbonation. Refrigerate bottles if fully carbonated, otherwise, wait another week or two.
- Drink up and enjoy your first adventure in extract brewing!