Working with Extract Recipes

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Editor’s Note

This excerpt from Modern Homebrew Recipes: Exploring Styles and Contemporary Techniques by Gordon Strong has been lightly edited for length and style.

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By Gordon Strong

The ability to convert between all-grain and extract recipes is a skill every brewer should master. You shouldn’t have to pass on a great-sounding recipe just because it’s all-grain and you only brew extract beers. Likewise, you might sometimes find wonderful extract recipes in basic brewing books and want to brew them on your all-grain system.

In the United States, more than half of all brewers are extract brewers [as of 2015], but the percentage of all-grain brewers keeps growing. Homebrewers in South America are all-grain brewers because malt extract is not available. Don’t make the assumption that brewing using a particular method equates to skill level or experience. Brewers of all skill levels might need to convert recipes to suit their needs.

My recipes are all-grain because that’s how I brew. I’m not comfortable giving extract versions if I haven’t actually brewed them. I am, however, more than happy to describe the conversion process so that you can adapt them yourself.

Converting All-Grain Recipes to Extract

I’ll first give you my method for converting recipes, and then walk through an example and discuss the various points where there might be alternatives. The basic method involves substituting malt sources; more advanced approaches look at other aspects of the beer (I’ll cover those separately). Note that this method uses the US customary measurement system (sometimes colloquially known as English units), but the quantities can be converted to metric afterwards, if needed.

  1. Address malt first – In the recipe, separate the mashed grains from the steeped grains. Steeped grains are crystal malts, dark/roasted malts and grains, and anything that does not contain convertible starches. If it’s already a form of sugar, leave it alone, it doesn’t need to be converted. Mashed grains are generally base malts (two-row, pale ale, Pilsner, Vienna, Munich, and similar) that make up the bulk of the grist.
  2. Get recipe parameters – You’ll need to have the batch size and the system efficiency in the recipe. If this information isn’t present, you’ll need to calculate it (recipe software can help). I’m assuming you’ll be brewing a batch of the same size as the original recipe (if you’re not, see the Advanced Topics). Keeping the volumes equal allows you to use the original recipe’s OG and IBU, saving you considerable time and effort.
  3. Calculate total gravity points contributed by base malts – Add up the total pounds of base malts. Multiply this number by the system efficiency. Then multiply the product by the theoretical extract from the base malt. This can vary by type of malt, but is generally 36 to 38 points per pound (if you are unsure, use 37). The result represents the total number of gravity points in the wort that must be replaced by extract.
  4. Replace gravity points with an equivalent amount of pale extract – If you want to substitute liquid malt extract (LME) for the base malts, divide the total gravity points contributed by the base malts by 36 to get the pounds of LME (or liquid sugars) required. If substituting with dry malt extract (DME), divide the total gravity points contributed by the base malts by 45 to get the pounds of DME (or dry sugars) required. If you want to use both LME and DME, keep in mind that the total gravity points contributed by malt extract should match what was contributed by the base malts in the original recipe.
  5. Steep steeped grains, then boil with extract – The most common extract brewing process involves putting crushed specialty grains in a mesh bag and holding it in the strike water at 150–170°F (66–77°C) for between 15 and 30 minutes. After the grains have been removed, the malt extract is added, and the kettle is brought to boil. From this point on, the converted recipe should be the same as the original (hop additions, chilling, fermentation, and packaging).

As an example, consider this partial recipe for a dark mild:

6.5 gallons @ 1.036 (75% efficiency)

  • 7 lb. Maris Otter
  • 12 oz. Crystal 65
  • 7 oz. Chocolate malt
  • 0.5 oz. Target hops @ 60 (15 IBUs)
  • Wyeast 1968 yeast

Using my process step by step, we can convert this to extract:

  • Base malt: 7 lb.; steeping malts: 19 oz. (12 oz. + 7 oz.)
  • Batch size: 6.5 gallons; Efficiency: 75%
  • 7 lb. • 0.75 • 37 points per pound = 194.25 points
  • 25 / 36 = 5.4 lb. LME (or 194.25 / 45 = 4.3 lb. DME)

The converted extract recipe would be:

  • 5.4 lb. Pale liquid malt extract
  • 12 oz. Crystal 65
  • 7 oz. Chocolate malt
  • 0.5 oz. Target hops @ 60
  • Wyeast 1968

Steep crystal and chocolate malt in mesh bag in 8 gallons 158°F water for 15 minutes. Remove bag from water, add liquid malt extract, bring to a boil, and boil 60 minutes.

Be sure to check your calculations:

  • 5.4 lb. x 36 points per pound = 194.4 points.
  • 19 oz = 1.2 pounds. 1.2 lb. x 30 points per pound = 36 points.
  • 194.4 + 36 = 230.4 points.
  • 230.4 points / 6.5 gallons = 35.4 points per gallon
  • 35.4 is close to 36, or 1.036 starting gravity; recipe validated.

With rounding and approximation, the number won’t usually be exact, but should be close. Note that I also averaged the gravity contributions from specialty malts, using 30 points per pound for combined crystal-type and dark malts. For a more accurate calculation, calculate the contributions independently.

With me so far? Let’s try a bit more complicated example. Consider this Belgian dubbel:

6.5 gallons @ 1.064 (70% efficiency)

  • 7 lb. Pale ale malt
  • 3 lb. Munich malt
  • 2 lb. Dark Munich malt
  • 1.5 lb. Aromatic malt
  • 4 oz. CaraPils
  • 8 oz. CaraMunich 60
  • 6 oz. Special B
  • 1 oz. Chocolate wheat malt
  • 1 lb. Dark candi sugar
  • 1.5 oz. Styrian Goldings @ 60
  • 0.5 oz. Saaz @ 15
  • 0.5 oz. Saaz @ 2
  • Wyeast 3787
  • 22 IBUs

OK, maybe a lot more complicated. A version of this recipe was my first all-grain batch, since I knew I couldn’t get the same malt flavors from extract. But let’s see how close we can get when following my process:

  • Base malt: 13.5 lb. (pale, Munich, dark Munich, Aromatic); steeping malt: 19 oz. (CaraPils, CaraMunich, Special B, Chocolate wheat); sugar 1 lb.
  • Batch size: 6.5 gallons; Efficiency: 70%
  • 5 lb. • 0.7 • 37 points per pound = 350 points
  • 350 / 36 = 9.7 lb. LME (or 350 / 45 = 7.8 lb. DME)

The converted extract recipe would be:

  • 5 lb. pale liquid malt extract
  • 4.7 lb. liquid Munich malt extract
  • 4 oz. CaraPils
  • 8 oz. CaraMunich 60
  • 6 oz. Special B
  • 1 oz. Chocolate wheat malt
  • 1 lb. Dark candi sugar
  • 1.5 oz. Styrian Goldings hops @ 60
  • 0.5 oz. Saaz hops @ 15
  • 0.5 oz. Saaz hops @ 2
  • Wyeast 3787

Steep specialty malts in mesh bag in 8 gallons 158°F water for 15 minutes. Remove bag from water, add liquid malt extracts and candi sugar, bring to a boil, and boil 60 minutes.

Be sure to check your calculations:

  • 5 lb. x 36 points per pound = 180 points
  • 4.7 lb. x 36 points per pound = 169 points
  • 19 oz = 1.2 pounds. 1.2 lb. x 30 points per pound = 36 points. 1 lb. candi sugar = 45 points
  • 180 + 169 + 36 + 45 = 430 points
  • 430 points / 6.5 gallons = 66 points per gallon
  • 66 is close to 64, or 1.064 starting gravity; recipe validated

Did you see the extra trick I slipped in (it’s something I cover in the advanced tips)? I noticed that some of the base malts included Munich-type malts (Munich, dark Munich, Aromatic) so I separated those from the pale ale malt, converted them into Munich malt extract, and used the more common pale malt extract for the pale ale malt.

This method will result in beer similar to the all-grain version, but it is unlikely to taste exactly the same due to the differences in ingredients and methods. If you’re a perfectionist and want your extract brew to be an even closer match, there are still a few more advanced methods you can try.

Advanced Topics in Extract Recipe Conversion

Not all recipes are easily converted. Sometimes there are ingredients that can’t be found in extract form, or sometimes the recipe needs to be adapted to the size or idiosyncrasies of your brewing system. Rather than overly complicate the basic recipe conversion procedure, I’ve separated out the special cases and optimizations. Use any or all of them if they apply, and you want to make your recipe more accurate. Many of these methods can be calculated using recipe software.

Concentrated boil – If doing a concentrated boil (boiling less than the full wort volume, adding water post-boil to reach the target volume; sometimes called a partial boil), your original bitterness calculations will likely be wrong. The extraction of bitterness from hops is gravity-dependent, with higher gravities resulting in lower hop utilization. A concentrated boil has the same amount of sugar in a smaller quantity of water, so the gravity will always be higher. You can correct for this difference by first calculating the bitterness obtained using the parameters of the actual boil (which is a higher-gravity, smaller-sized batch than the full recipe), then further reducing the bitterness due to dilution as the partial boil is topped up with water in the fermenter.

If you’re confused by what that means, here’s a quick example. First, let’s handle the dilution factor. If you have 3 gallons of 1.060 wort, and you top it off to 5 gallons by adding water, the final gravity of that batch will be 1.036. To reach that number, take the gravity points of the concentrated boil (60) and multiply by the volume (3) to yield the number of gravity points in the wort (180). Adding 2 gallons of 1.000 water doesn’t change the total gravity points, just the volume. So the final gravity is the number of points of sugar (180) divided by the batch size (5), which gives 36, or 1.036 specific gravity. You could also do this by percentage scaling, if that makes more sense to you. The concentrated boil (3) is 60% of the total volume (5), so you can multiply by 0.6 to get the same answer.

How do you calculate hop bitterness? If you’re only boiling hops in the concentrated boil, you need to determine the bitterness based on a 1.060 gravity beer, not a 1.036 beer. Perform the standard bitterness calculations using the higher gravity and actual boil volume, which will estimate the bitterness of the concentrated boil. You can scale IBUs the same way as the specific gravity because IBUs are a measure of isomerized alpha acids in solution (diluting the bitterness with additional water reduces the IBUs accordingly). Apply the same scaling factor based on batch size to get the estimated IBUs of the final beer.

The basic point to remember is that if you use a concentrated boil, you will have to add more bittering hops to reach the same level of perceived bitterness as the full boil recipe. There are other limiting factors; remember that it’s nearly impossible to get more than 100 IBUs in a beer, so if your concentrated boil is above that limit, you should cap it. You won’t get an 80 IBU beer by diluting a 160 IBU beer with an equal portion of water since a 160 IBU beer can’t exist.

Different volumes – For homebrew-size recipes, you can typically apply a batch scaling factor to the weight of the malt and hops to get an equivalent recipe. If you want to brew a double-sized batch, double all the ingredients. If you want to brew a half-sized batch, halve all the ingredients. If you’re converting a 6.5-gallon recipe to 5 gallons, use 77% as the scaling factor (5.0 / 6.5 = 0.769). This isn’t perfect math, but it’s close enough for the batch sizes homebrewers use. Recipe software works wonders for this type of scaling.

Matching malt to extract – You can replace specific malts with “varietal” flavors (if available), but that can be expensive. Some styles (such as bocks) depend more heavily on the flavors of Munich or Vienna malt, for instance. Some brewers writing 5-gallon recipes will add in a pound of Munich (maybe 10% of the grist) here or there just to increase the overall maltiness (guilty as charged). If the flavor of a specific malt is an important part of the style profile, try to use an extract version of that malt. If an ingredient is used only as an accent, it’s not vital to the recipe and can be substituted.

Munich, wheat, and rye malt extracts exist, and can be used as substitutes. It’s also possible to find Maris Otter extract, which is pretty important for many English beer styles. You may need to search some of the larger online homebrew retailers for these products if you don’t see them in your local shop. Given their specific uses, they can sometimes be hard to find.

I tend to use pale or extra pale LME and DME as much as possible. If using amber or darker extracts, you often have no idea what malt produced the color; therefore, the flavor of the extract is a big unknown (for example, was dark extract made using chocolate malt, roasted barley, black malt, dark crystal malts, caramel coloring, or something else? They all have different flavor profiles). You also have no idea what mash program was used, so you won’t know the wort composition or fermentability. In general, I assume that pale malt extract is made with pale ale malt, and extra pale malt extract is made with two-row or Pilsner malt. If the malt extract comes from a certain country, I might further assume that the flavor will have a character typical of base malt that originates from there.

If you can obtain information about the composition of the malt extract, you can do a better job matching the extract to the base malt. Modern extract often comes with more information, and some is produced from single varieties of malt. Read the information packaged with extract carefully, as you might not be getting what you expect. For instance, some wheat extracts are actually a blend of a pale malt and wheat malt in a ratio common for brewing German weisse beers. You don’t want to assume that it is 100% wheat malt, because it may be 50–65%, and throw off your recipe. Instead of just using the blend, you’d want to substitute the wheat malt extract for both the pale and wheat malts from the original recipe in the same proportion.

The earlier section on Ingredient Substitution has other ideas that you might want to use to add flavors that might be present in the all-grain base malt but not in the extract. If there are character malts in the grist that are providing flavor and not gravity points, you can steep them or perform a mini-mash. Note that steeping starchy grains will add unconverted starch to your wort, which could lead to clarity problems.

Some of the starch will likely go away as part of the break. Anything darker than light Munich malt that isn’t a crystal or roasted malt falls into this category. I would generally treat these as minor grist additions, unless it has a signature flavor (dark Munich, brown malt, etc.). I’d generally use a mini-mash for these, or in a pinch, steep them since I care more about their flavor contributions than potential problems with clarity.

Eliminating small grist additions – Sometimes all-grain brewers have personal preferences for including a little bit of certain malts as a “house character” ingredient, or add in certain grains only for their side effects (adding body, assisting with head retention, adjusting color). These grains can often be eliminated since the issues they are trying to address are generally not present in extract beers. For instance, if you see a brewer including less than 5% wheat malt in a recipe, chances are they included it to improve head retention. Small additions of CaraPils, flaked oats, flaked barley, dextrin malt, and the like are typically used to increase body. Less than 1% of a dark grain or malt is likely just to add a darker hue to the appearance, or to add a touch of dryness. As I mentioned previously, up to 10% of Munich or Vienna malt is likely being used to increase the general maltiness of the beer, and can be converted to pale malt extract (unless you want to perform a mini-mash).

Converting First Wort Hop additions – First wort hopping (FWH) is difficult to perform on extract batches since you never lauter the beer. You could mix together the full volume of extract and water, raise it to mash temperature, then slowly syphon it into another pot, and bring it to a boil when done. But it’s probably easier to convert it to traditional additions. You could try using the FWH addition as a 20-minute boil addition instead, as equal levels of perceived bitterness and some hop flavor should persist. Or you can calculate the IBU contributions of the FWH addition and add those IBUs through a flavor addition and a bitterness addition. Use the same quantity of FWH hops as a flavor addition at 10 minutes, calculate the bitterness of that 10-minute addition, and calculate how many hops need to be added at 60 minutes to reach the same level of IBUs. Or you can ignore the flavor contributions of the FWH hops and use them as a straight bittering addition at 60 minutes. That’s admittedly a little sloppy, but certainly easy.

Accounting for the mash schedule and fermentability – Several mash techniques bring flavor and body contributions to the beer. For example, a step mash increases fermentability and attenuation, a decoction mash increases the maltiness and color of the beer, as well as improves efficiency and attenuation, and higher-temperature rests build body. An all-grain brewer controls wort fermentability through selecting rest temperatures in the mash program; if the rest temperatures are too high, or the wort contains excessive dextrins, then the wort fermentability is likely to be too low.

If your beer lacks sufficient fermentable sugars (i.e., you wind up with a high final gravity), next time substitute sugars for some of the malts. Corn sugar and plain table sugar are both highly fermentable and add little, if any, flavor. If the body of your beer is too thin (due to an excessively fermentable wort), reduce the amount of plain sugars. If there are no sugars in the recipe, add some malt with dextrins such as CaraPils. Start with 2 or 3% of the total fermentables.

If your recipe uses a decoction mash, try adding Munich malt (which is also available as an extract). Dark Munich and aromatic malts can all provide the extra color and flavor commonly produced during decoction mashes. You can add these (depending on the style, but try to limit them to 5 to 10% of the total fermentables to start), but you may cause other problems (such as needing to perform a mini-mash).

Economical purchasing quantities – While it’s easy to crunch the numbers to find the necessary amounts of extract you need to exchange for malts, you can’t always buy exactly the right amounts due to how they are packaged. So you wind up buying more than you need, and not using it all during that brew session. Using full cans or jugs of LME can reduce the possibility that the remaining amount will oxidize and ruin future batches. DME is more stable, as long as you keep it dry. Measuring DME over a pot of boiling water is a bad idea since steam can enter the bag and cause the powder to solidify.

It may be advantageous to first determine the weight of the LME you can buy in an individual container, then use whole multiples of that weight in your recipe. Determine the number of gravity points each container contributes (weight of container • 36), and then divide that into the total number of gravity points needed. Take the whole number of containers (mathematically this is the quotient) and allocate that towards LME. Calculate the remaining gravity points; this value is what the DME needs to contribute. Divide those gravity points by 45 to determine the number of pounds needed (it’s easier to weigh out fractional amounts of DME than LME).

Converting Extract Recipes to All-Grain

To convert an extract recipe to all-grain, perform the extract conversion procedure in reverse. Keep specialty or steeping malts the same, but replace malt extract with grain. You will still need to know your mash efficiency to perform the calculation.

Determine how many gravity points are contributed by extract (multiply the weight of liquid extract by 36, and the weight of dry extract by 45). Sum those calculations to determine the total gravity points from extract. Divide that number by 37 to determine how many gravity points from base malts are needed. Finally, divide that number by your mash efficiency to determine the total weight of base malt needed.

Your next task is to choose which base malts to use. If there is a specialty type of extract used (such as Munich), then use Munich malt for that fraction of the grist. The remainder of the grist can consist of two-row, Pilsner, or pale ale malt if the beer was using pale malt extract. Look to the style of the beer to give you clues as to the proper type of malt rather than relying on a certain brand.

Start with a mash temperature of 150°F (66°C). You can adjust that if you know the style requires it, such as increasing the mash temperature if your beer needs a more dextrinous body. If you are brewing a style that traditionally uses another type of mash technique, you can obviously use that instead.

Converting extract recipes to all-grain is generally easier than going the other way since you have more control in your ingredient choices. Primarily you are seeking to hit the same gravity numbers first, then adjusting the bitterness to get the same balance, then finally selecting the ingredients that give you the desired flavor profile while hitting the color target. If you get the style parameters right, any mistakes made on the flavor profile can be adjusted in subsequent batches through malt substitutions. But if you selected your ingredients with knowledge of the style, you have a very good chance of being close on your first try.

Gordon Strong, author of Modern Homebrew Recipes: Exploring Styles and Contemporary Techniques (Brewers Publications, 2015) and Brewing Better Beer: Master Lessons for Advanced Homebrewers (Brewers Publications, 2011), is the only three-time winner of the coveted National Homebrew Competition Samuel Adams Ninkasi Award. He is president emeritus and highest-ranking judge in the Beer Judge Certification Program, and principal author of the BJCP Style Guidelines and the BJCP Mead Exam Study Guide.

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