The use of malt extract in beermaking tends to be regarded with contempt in brewing circles. However, it is very possible to make truly excellent beer with malt extract so long as you follow a few simple rules of thumb.
First, stick to darkier, hoppier beers. Anything with an SRM below 5, or IBU below 30 or so has a good chance of exhibiting the off flavors and colors that extract can contribute to your brew. It's probably not a great idea to attempt brewing a pilsner at home under any circumstances, but it's definitely a bad idea to do so with extract.
Second, avoid all extracts that are amber, dark, hopped, or otherwise intended for use as anything other than a base malt. These 'enhanced' extracts have a much higher chance of adding undesirable flavor and aromatic compounds to your brew. Use only light malt extract as a substitute for pale, 2-row, or other base malt to contribute the majority of fermentable sugars to the wort. A good strategy is to limit the use of extract to no more than 80% of the total grain bill, with actual specialty grains comprising the balance.
Third, stick to dry extract. Liquid extracts have a tendency to darken as they age and are also far more likely to contain undesirable compounds. Essentially, the minimal amount of water in the syrup causes the sugars to remain chemically active and caramelize. If you can be certain of the freshness of the syrup, liquid extracts are perfectly safe to use, but unless you're buying in bulk from a distributor, this is practically impossible. Dry extract contains no water so the sugars are chemically inert and do not darken over time, so freshness isn't an issue. To convert an all-grain recipe to extract, multiply the base malt quantity by .6.
While all-grain brewing will always be superior (there's a reason no commercial brewers use extract), the cost in both time and money for proper equipment and procedures is simply not practical for many people interested in homebrewing. Using extract as a base malt, along with specialty grains to complete the recipe is a practical solution that still allows the creation of great tasting beers.
6 lbs light dry extract, .5 lbs Maris Otter, .5 lbs flaked rye, .5 lbs Crystal 55L, hopped at 10 minute intervals throughout a 60 minute boil with a blend of Cascade, Centennial, and Columbus grown in my backyard. Brewed 1/3/14, racked to secondary and dry hopped 1/10/14, bottled 1/31/14.
OG 1.058, FG 1.015
- Appearance: 3.5 Pale straw, slightly cloudy, one finger of ivory head that dissipated almost immediately.
- Aroma: 3.5 Subdued orange peel, fresh bread
- Taste: 3.0 Sweet and citrusy up front, with peppery rye notes developing. Finishes clean apart from some lingering sugars that will abate as it bottle conditions.
- Mouthfeel: 3.0 Soft, creamy, a bit heavier than an APA should be
- Overall: 3.0 Went with the lower rating because I really shouldn't be drinking this for at least a week. It's going to be much better with a bit more conditioning time.
This recipe is just about as light in both color and IBU as I'd recommend going with an extract brew. The malt bill is definitely a keeper, but I'd hop it more aggressively next time. Also, I hope George Lucas doesn't sue me.