Extract VS All Grain

So a few weeks back, I laid out the basic procedure for brewing a batch of beer using malt extracts.  And in the coming weeks I will start talking about moving to All Grain.

But you might be asking yourself.  Wait, what exactly is the difference?  What is Extract?  What is All Grain?  What is LIFE?! WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN??!

Okay well, calm down there, Existential Crisis Man, I’ll Explain

What does it all mean?

All alcohol is essentially fermented sugar water.  Where that sugar comes from determines what we call it.  If it comes from barely or other grains, we call it beer.  If it comes from apples, we call it cider, if it comes from grapes we call it wine, if it comes from honey we call it mead and if it comes from the tears of the damned cast in Eternal HellFire, we call it White Claw.

Boom! Take that, White Claw!

When brewing beer from an all grain recipe it means we process the grain in a way that lets us extract the sugar from it.  In an extract recipe, that first step has been done for us.  Think of it as the difference between making mixed drinks from scratch vs making mixed drinks from store-bought mixers.  One is defiantly faster and easier but there is a level of craft involved in the other.  

Brewing With Extracts, The Pros:

A lot of home brewers, like to deride extract brewing as the exclusive realm of the novice brewer. They will loudly proclaim to anyone listening that the serious home brewer (said in tone where you can actually hear the italics) doesn’t brew with extracts at all.  All grain is The Only Way.

Extract brewing does have it’s limitations but it has some definite advantages:

Time:

A brew day with extracts is easily half as long as an all grain brew day. Those with serious scheduling issues can whip out a five gallons of beer in two or three hours verses four or five when brewing with grains.  Good for those times when the kegs are dry and the calendar is packed.

Cost: 

All the equipment needed to start brewing extract batches start at around $70.  Compare that to even the most modest all-grain set up where one is looking at $150 easy.  It’s a comparatively simple way to see if the idea of brewing beer appeals; if it’s something one would like to devote time and energy to.

Space:

If you live in an apartment, duplex  or hidden bunker in the middle of the woods, it might be difficult to fit all he equipment you need for all grain into a limited space (especially for living in the bunker. The heat from the burner can be picked up by the Black Helicopters and is a dead give-away)

But all the equipment for an extract batch can easily fit into a relatively small closet and can be produced on a standard kitchen stove which makes it much more versatile for those with space consideration.

Makes it easy to brew decent beer:

Extract brewers have less control over the process but, in a way, that can bee a good thing. With fewer levels to pull, it makes it easier for one to consistently produce good beer.  Can you make better beer with all grain? Sure. Can you make worse? Absolutely. Think of it as one less thing that can go wrong.

That being said, of course extract does have some distinct disadvantages. What are those limitations? I’m so glad you asked….

The Limitations:

Cost:

Wait, you might say, wasn’t cost listed above as an advantage? It was. But here we are talking about the cost of ingredients. You need far less equipment. But the actual extract costs a little more than the equivalent amount of grain.

Limited Options:

Brewing all from extract means you got about seven to ten different bases to choose from. You can tweak and enhance these by mixing, matching and steeping certain types of grain but, for the most part, you’re saddled with one of those base extracts. If you are rounding up the grain yourself, you have basically infinite options. The only limit is what you are willing to grind and put in a mash. 

Control Your Body:

Seriously, what’s wrong with you? Perv.

*Checks notes*

Oops, wrong type of body.

No we’re talking the feeling of thickness in your beer in the sense of mouthfeel. It’s one of the things that makes a big, bold imperial stout different from a pilsner.

Since you have no control over the type of sugars you are using, its hard to make adjustments. Extracts are notoriously fermentable so trying to brew a beer with some chewiness to it is going to be difficult with extracts. 

That ‘Extract-y’ Flavor:

Okay, I don’t actually believe this is a thing. But I’ll include it because I have met some who report being able to taste some residual fermented quality of extracts. I’m skeptical, but it’s something to consider.  

So there you have it. Really the trade-off is pretty simple. Extract brewing is easier but comes with specific limitations.  All grain requires more equipment and finesse, but gives the brewer a little more space for the craft.

Choose your path. But choose wisely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *