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Homebrewing 101: An Introduction to Extract Brewing

So, you’ve decided that you like beer. Scratch that, you love beer and you want to learn how to make your own. Now you’ve found yourself going down rabbit holes of internet searches, Idiot’s Guide books, and video tutorials. Launching your homebrew hobby can be intimidating. You’ve quickly realized there are as many ways to brew as there are brewers — and everyone thinks their way is the best.

But if you’re just testing the waters, keep it simple. There’s no need to tackle the most complex processes right away or invest in a ton of expensive equipment. Ease yourself into the world of homebrewing and set yourself up for success by using a malt extract kit.

The first step of brewing is to extract sugar from grains. All-grain brewers handle that entire process themselves, using crushed grains to make a tea through a process of mashing (soaking) and sparging (rinsing) the grains. That tea then gets boiled down into wort, or unfermented beer.

home brewing homebrewing ingredients
Brewing ingredients. Malt extract is in the bottle at the top right. Lee Heidel/The Manual

With extract brewing, that time-consuming and intricate first step is already done for you. Instead of mashing and sparging the grains, your brew day begins with the sugars already extracted, either in a thick liquid or powdered form. You simply combine the extract with water and bring the mixture to a boil. The remaining steps in the brewing process are essentially the same. In short, with extract brewing, you’re saving time and resources with a shorter brew day, less room for error, and smaller up-front costs on equipment.

In short, with extract brewing, you’re saving time and resources with a shorter brew day, less room for error, and smaller up-front costs on equipment.

If using extract is so easy, why do so many brewers prefer an all-grain method? With all-grain brewing, you have more creative control. A brewer can fine tune the malt bill and other elements for a unique recipe that dials into exact specifications. Extract is also more expensive than using grains once the all-grain equipment costs are recouped.

Even with those caveats, malt extract brewing doesn’t have to be one dimensional. Steeping grains can help add new flavors to your favorite malt extracts. Malt extracts can also be combined to get custom blends. Adding your hop combinations and adjuncts like spices or other flavor additives can further customize a standard malt extract.

The best way to get started using malt extracts is with a malt extract kit from a home-brew supply store. Your local shop can help you assemble the ingredients to brew your favorite style or even replicate your favorite commercially available beer. Or, you can head to an online home-brew shop like Austin Homebrew Supply or Great Fermentations. Just make sure you’ve got the necessary equipment to start homebrewing, or you’ll be left with a bucket of syrup and no alcohol to drink.

Though, if you want an even easier way to start homebrewing, you can look into these tabletop homebrewing appliances.

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Lee Heidel
Lee Heidel is the managing editor of Brew/Drink/Run, a website and podcast that promotes brewing your own beer, consuming the…
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