If you are a beginning home brewer, you have probably realized that each and every time you brew, you learn something new. There is a wealth of resources online and plenty of other homebrewers and home brewing clubs to help you out along the way. However, I wanted to take the chance to share a lesser-known tip that most new extract brewers aren’t told.
One of the biggest complaints of extract brewers is that their brews come out a darker color than they would like and they often have what some call the homebrew “tang.” Now, I am not saying that this tip can solve both of these issues, but it is definitely one of the leading causes of color darkening and can also affect the taste.
So…what is this oh-so-secret tip? It is actually rather simple. When you are following the directions on how to brew your extract beer, it will tell you to boil the water and add in all of your dry and liquid malt extract and boil it for the full 60 minutes. This is actually not necessary. It is fine to save most of your extract until about 15 minutes left in the boil.
Why You Withhold the Malt Extract
What is the purpose of withholding this malt addition? Well, if you have all of your malt extract in your boil for the full 60 minutes, then you run a higher risk of caramelizing some of the extract and causing a Maillard reaction. These can both affect both the color and the flavor of your finished beer.
A Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction that happens between amino acids and sugars in the wort, and it is more likely to be caused by the use of extract in a concentrated boil. Carmelization happens when liquid extract or excess sugars collect in the bottom of the brew kettle during the boil and the sugars harden in the bottom of the pot. Despite what you may have heard, the Maillard reaction actually accounts for most of the color darkening.
This is more often an issue when brewing very light colored beers, but can also have an affect on high gravity brews because of the higher proportion of sugar/extract to water.
You should still add some of the malt extract for the full 60 minutes, as the enzymes and sugars present do help extract the bitterness from the hops. I would recommend adding about 1/4 of your total amount of malt extract for the full 60 minutes. The remaining 3/4 can wait until about 15 minutes left in the boil. You will want to make sure it is boiled for 15 minutes to ensure proper sterilization.
One thing to be careful about is that this late malt addition can actually cause an increase in the overall bitterness of the finished beer. I will spare you the complicated formulas used to calculate why this happens. The simple way to avoid overly-bitter beer is to just reduce your total hop bill by about 20%. But as with all things brewing, you can learn a lot by trial and error, so try varying the amount of hops and finding the perfect balance for your brew.
This technique is becoming more popular and has been featured in BYO magazine, John Palmer’s book “How to Brew,” and on the Beer Smith blog. Also note that if using Beer Smith, it can help you accurate calculate your IBUs (bitterness) when adding a late malt extract addition.
Unfortunately, I did not come across this great advice until long after I gave up on extract brewing and moved to all-grain. However, it makes great sense and lots of people have experienced success using this method. If you try this out, let us know by leaving a comment. And let us know if it works out well and what differences you notice!