At some point in the home brewing hobby, everyone makes a simple batch of extract beer. Often the passion for home brewing starts as simply as a father’s day present the form of an extract beer kit. I imagine that very few new brewers have started by going straight to all grain.
Extract brewing is generally considered to be a beginner level in the hobby. Not that you can’t produce a really great brew out of liquid or dry malt extract. In fact many brewers have won prestigious awards using extract beer recipes. This type of brewing is considered beginner because the equipment need is simple and more accessible. A beginner equipment kit and extract kit will maybe run you a hundred dollars in total.
Dry/Liquid Malt Extract
So what exactly is malt extract and how is malt extract made? Malt extract is quite simply maltose syrup that is needed for the yeast to eat and change into ethanol alcohol. Maybe that doesn’t really sound that simple but for the sake of simplicity, let’s make a comparison to all grain brewing. To create our base wort with grains we mash, which simply means steep, our grains in hot water for an hour.
After this mash we have our wort. When we mix our DME or LME with hot water during extract brewing, we have the exact same wort as the all grain brewed wort.
See where I’m going here? Dry malt extract and liquid malt extract are the exact same as an all grain wort only the water has been removed from the wort. Essentially extract brewing is the act of re-hydrating the malt extract.
As I have already mentioned a couple times, malt extract comes in two forms. Liquid malt extract has had most of the water removed from the original wort but only to the point that it remains a liquid goop. Yes, that’s a technical term.
The more popular Dry malt extract has been dehydrated to the point where it is only 3% or less water. Because of this, the shelf life on DME is considerably longer than LME and can be safely stored for five years. On the other hand Liquid malt extract should be used as soon as possible.
Pre-hopped Malt Extract
For a long time these were the only options on the market. These days it is possible to get liquid malt extract that has already been hopped. Basically an entire batch of pre-hopped wort that has been reduced to a tin can of liquid goop. These are what fathers, brother, and boyfriends typically find under the Christmas tree as they are simple beginner brew kit.
Literally add water, sprinkle yeast into the concoction, and wipe your hands clean. The problem with these kits is they are usually lacking in flavor, character, and hops. So on one hand they are easy, but on the other they don’t tend to make great beer. But don’t fret, with the addition of some extra hops and a few steeped specialty grains, that hopped malt extract can be great!
The other type of malt extract on the market now is very similar to liquid malt extract but is 100% gluten free. So yes there is finally hope for you celiacs! This type of malt extract is created through the same process as normal liquid malt extract but instead of malted barley they use malted sorghum. Since sorghum is actually a type of grass, there is no gluten in the grains that are malted and mashed.
So again to answer the question how is malt extract made, it is made by removing the water from wort of mashed grains. By removing the water from the wort, we are left with a dry malt extract if all the water is removed or liquid malt extract if most of the water is removed.