When it comes to making beer a brewer has three choices in regards to the malt they use, either malt extract, grains, or a combination of both. In this article, we will take a look at what malt extract is, how it is made, the two main types of malt extract as well as the different varieties you can choose from.
What is Malt Extract?
Malt extract is dehydrated and condensed starches and sugars extracted from malted grains such as barley; used by homebrewers to create wort during the beer-making process. During the years surrounding WWII malt extract was also used as a dietary supplement.
Liquid Malt Extract vs Dried Malt Extract
Malt extract comes in two different forms, liquid malt extract or LME for short and dried malt extract or DME. Liquid malt extract, although called a liquid, is more syrup-like with a consistency similar to that of molasses. Whereas dried malt extract as its name implies has been dried and comes in powder form.
Their main difference is their water content, LME has had approximately 80% of its water evaporated and DME has been dried to the point that its water content is approximately 2%.
As such if you are substituting one for the other in a recipe you must use the following formula to convert them:
DME conversion = 0.84 x LME
LME conversion = 1.19 x DME
The other important difference to keep in mind comes down to how you store them once they’ve been opened.
Liquid malt extract comes in a can or plastic container and unopened can be stored for a very long time. However, once you have opened a can of LME it needs to be used relatively sooner thereafter as its quality starts to deteriorate. Dried malt extract on the other hand can be stored in a sealed container for much longer periods of time without concern for its quality being negatively affected.
How is Malt Extract Made?
At the outset, Malt Extract is made in the same manner that wort is made for brewing all-grain beer. To start grains are milled in order to allow access to the starches within them. They are then added to a kettle of warm water, approximately 150℉, and allowed to soak (steep) for 60 – 90 minutes. This process is very similar to steeping tea. Afterward, the liquid is then separated from the grains. This liquid is very sweet and contains the sugars and starches the yeast will convert into alcohol and CO2.
This sweet liquid or wort is then put through an evaporation and drying process. When liquid malt extract is being made approximately 80% of the water is removed leaving behind the syrupy mixture. When dried malt extract is being made approximately 98% of the water is removed leaving behind the fine powder.
Types of Malt Extract
There are many different types of malt extracts on the market. They vary in color, aroma, and flavor they bring to the beer, as well as its gravity which has a direct correlation to its final alcohol content. These differences are achieved during manufacturing by using different types of grains as well as grains with different degrees of roast. Differing techniques used during the mashing process can also affect the characteristics of the malt extract.
The following are some of the more common types of malt extract…
Extra Light or Pilsen – This is the lightest form of malt extract on the market. It is ideal for pilsners and other light-colored lagers as well as some of the lighter ales such as Kolsch and Blondes.
Pale, Cold, or Light – This would be the most widely used malt extract as it is a good base grain for most styles of ales and many lagers. It is typically a blend of pale malt and crystal malts. Examples of beers brewed with this type of malt are pale ales, lagers, ambers, IPAs, reds and stouts, and porters.
Amber – This is one step up in color from pale malt and although fairly similar is typically made using more of the darker crystal malts which provide for more of a malty and/or caramel flavor and aroma as well as a darker reddish/amber color. Beers such as ambers, reds, and brown ales would use a fair amount of this extract.
Dark – This malt provides much darker colors to a beer recipe as well as flavors and aromas of roast, chocolate, and coffee. It is primarily used in the brewing of stouts and porters.
Wheat – Is used for making any beer that has a large percentage of wheat in its grain bill such as Wheat beers, Hefeweizen, and Saisons to name a few. It is produced with a large percentage of wheat as opposed to barley.
Hopped Malt Extract
Another popular variety of malt extract is called hopped malt extract or HME, also called pre-hopped malt extract. It is exactly as its name implies, malt extract that has had hops added to it during manufacturing. Typically used by beginner brewers, they are the easiest beers to make as in most cases all that is required is the addition of water and yeast.
So to recap what is malt extract? In simple terms, malt extract is the sweet wort used in the making of beer that has undergone a process whereby the majority of its water content has been removed either through evaporation or drying. It comes in two forms either LME or DME and there are numerous types with various flavors and aromas with colors ranging from extra light, pale, amber, and dark.
P.S. If you make beer or want to start, be sure to pick up your gift of Big Robb’s 5 favorite beer recipes from his brewpub. Details are on the side of the blog or at the bottom if you are on your phone. Cheers!