Disclosure: this page contains referral links, meaning that I will get a commission from qualified purchases.
All Grain vs Extract Brewing – Which Should You Use?
Homebrewing processes are usually uncomplicated but they require several steps and equipment. Among the first decisions, you will make as a brewer is whether you should use all-grain or extract brewing methods. Each method comes with its benefits and drawbacks, which means that you have to base your decision on what you are comfortable with, the amount of space you already have and the amount of money you are willing to spend on the brewing. To decide on whether to go the all-grain or extract brewing way, you will have to start by understanding the main differences between the two. We are going to take you through the top methods.
The All-grain Brewing Process
In the all-grain brewing method, the brewers extract sugars from the grains through the mashing process. They have to mash a larger amount of crushed malted grains so that they can convert the starches to fermentable sugars. The mashing process involves soaking of the grains in water so that they can release the starches and the enzymes in the grains to break the starches into sugar. The brewer then rinses the sugars from the soaked grains in a process known as sparging.
The brewer either uses a three-vessel setup or a one-vessel setup to attain the goal. In fact, the selection of a single or three vessels setup will highly affect the cost of your brewing equipment. It will also have a significant effect on the space you require to store and assemble the equipment.
All-Grain brewing is a good choice for an expert. It is the purest way of making beer and it allows you to influence the outcome of your brewing processes. Possibly, the greatest benefit of the all-grain brewing method offers over the extract brewing is that the brewer is usually in full control of the beer making. The brewer decides how the beer will taste and how it will look like – from the aroma to flavour and from the colour to the mouthfeel and any other complexity.
The ingredients are also inexpensive. Essentially, all-grain brewing and extract brewing methods use the same ingredients – hops, malt and yeast. All-grain requires more grains to achieve the needed sugar levels that are achievable with the highly concentrated malt extracts. Therefore, you would be inclined to believing that the large amounts of grains will cost you more. In reality, grains are cheaper when in their whole form than in the form of extracts. When buying extracts, you will have to pay for the effort and time of the producer. Even though saving might seem nominal at the level of single batches, people who save over thousands of batches might have a good amount to spend elsewhere.
On the downside, the all-grain brewing method involves more complex processes that involve large equipment. For, example, a 5-gallon pot would be adequate when making 5-gallons of beer from malt extracts but an all-grain of similar size will need an 8-gallon pot to account for any water that evaporates. Moreover, the brewer requires larger mash tun and a hot liquor tank to hold the hot water for sparging – depending on the selected method.
The all-grain brewing involves additional steps that are not applicable in the malt extract methods such as sparging and mashing. A large number of involved equipment means that you will have many items to clean after the beer is ready.
- The cost of ingredients is lower than that of malt extracts
- You will get the taste, colour, complexity and mouthfeel you need
- The method is advanced and suitable for professional brewers
- Requires more equipment than that involved in extract brewing
- Takes a longer time – up to one day
- You will need a larger space to set up the equipment
The Extract Brewing Method
Most homebrewers experiment with partial mash and extract brewing. The investment is inexpensive and the likelihood for errors is minimal compared to the all-grain brewing. That alone makes the method a good choice for the beginners. The extract method incorporates malt extracts to make the base.
Brewers derive the malt extract from grains but during the production, they remove the water content to improve the transportation and preservation capabilities. That contributes to the convenience factor and offers the necessary form for distribution and retail purposes. The all-grain brewing method does not use pre-made concentrated sugars from the malt but forms the base from grains in their original form.
You should keep in mind that no method is better than the other is in all aspects because brewing is not a one-size-fits-all hobby. However, one method might be better for one style of beer, the brewer’s experience or budget level and the desired results.
When brewing with the malt extract, you do not need massive operations to mash down grains in large quantities. In other words, the equipment you will have to buy or source is smaller and you will end up saving more money.
All-inclusive kits, including the Gold Complete Beer Equipment Kit, are ideal when brewing with malt extracts because the boil kettles – primary and the secondary fermenters are a good choice for the 5-gallon batches of beer – the batch size for the ingredient kits of malt extracts.
And because brewing is a form of science, you have to understand how the entire process works before you start modifying the ingredient list or parts of the brewing process. One of the things that make the extract brewing simpler is that there is no need for mashing the grains together to form sparge or wort to extract any remaining sugar from the whole grains.
The processes require the brewer to monitor the PH, gravity, temperature and some other elements carefully, therefore, creating more room for errors or creation of a batch that is off the intended results. The extract brewing processes involve minimal steps with a few moving parts that the brewer has to monitor. That alone makes the process easier for people who are very new to the world of brewing.
In addition to monitoring fewer functions, extract brewing does not involve the mashing step. The company that produces malt extracts derive and concentrate all the sugar the brewer needs from the grains. That saves the brewers more time in the end because they steep a small number of grains. The hop/boil additions are small and the cooling down is little.
On the downside, the malt extract and yeast you need to make beer is high. Even though you can reclaim and reuse the yeast to make more batches, the malt extract is not reusable. Therefore, if you are planning to brew more often or possibly you enjoy brewing high gravity beers that demand hefty malt bills, you are likely to find the cost of malt extract adding up very fast.
The biggest drawback of malt extract brewing is that it limits you on the level of control you have in designing and creating your beer. The market offers a very wide variety of malted grains for the brewers but when it comes to malt extracts the options are limited. Even though that is not a huge deal to the novice brewers, it is a significant handicap for people who understand the spectrum of flavours, aromas, colours and the other characteristics that contribute to the quality of the beer.
Use of malt extract as the base when brewing means that you will remain confined to limits of that specific malt extract. The main point here is that regardless of any other ingredient you decide to include in the mix, the beer will remain limited to the qualities of that malt extract. That should not mean that the malt extracts are bad. They are produced by grain companies that have been specializing in refined processes of converting grains into good malt extracts for long. They have a good understanding of science and they choose to handle the complicated parts for you.
However, they convert the grains to malt how they want them and not how you want them to be. For the novice and intermediate home brewers that will not make a huge difference, but the expert brewers might need full control of all aspects. That alone makes the all-grain brewing vital.
- The method is time-saving because the brewing takes 1-2 hours
- It is easier to do and does not require extra equipment
- Involves fewer variables, which means that you will always get consistent results
- Malt is very expensive
- It limits your creativity
- It is not a purist way of making beer
Which Method Should You Use for Brewing Beer?
The best news is that you do not have to stick to any of the two methods. If you need more flexibility, you will have to spend some more money on the all-grain setup and then decide on the method to use during each brewing process. If you would want to spend the minimum time possible on the brewing, then the extract method is a good choice.
As we have already said, when choosing between the two methods, you will have to consider the time, money, flexibility and space. If you have the time, money and space and you need flexibility, then all-grain brewing is for you. If you do not have the three and you do not need flexibility, stick to extract brewing.
Both the all-grain and the extract brewing methods have their benefits and problems. Therefore, we are not going to advocate for any of them. You are the one to decide on which route to follow. However, the information above will help you make the decision.
Featured Image: FlickrUpdated on: April 11, 2019