Do I need to boil a malt extract kit can?

Tuesday, February 23, 2021
boil malt brewing kit

Boiling malt extract kits for better beer - should I?

The short answer is that as far as I can really tell, the main reason to boil a wort extract is so that you can keep boiling the wort so you, extra speciality grains and that you can add your hops and thus boil the hops to the timings of your recipe and thus extract the kind of hops bitterness you are going for.

Read on for the long version and in and outs of doing so.... 

Using a beer kit is kind of like doing an all-grain brew without the mashing and steeping of the grains - that's all be done for you with the kit.

For if brewing is not one massive scientific experiment that's quite fun, what is it?

I've made probably just shy of a hundred malt extra kit brews without boiling the wort. The way I see it is that I'm following a pretty simple cake recipe - I just pack everything together, pitch some hops (dry hopping) and let the fermentation begin. 

I'm a simple man, I make simple beer.

Sometimes I go crazy and add some golden syrup...  

Sure, this is a pretty basic position to achieve the most simplest of brews, however, like a pick-a-path book, there are many options which may yet convince you to boil the extract malt and then have a bit it of a play.

If you want a more nuanced beer, one that hits the right flavour notes, then boiling your malt extract and turning it into a hot wort, might be the way to go for you. 

Here's the why:

Adding hops into the wort (unfermented beer) produce a bitterness that is used to balance out the malt's sweetness and of course also to provide the hoppy fruity flavours and smells & aromas that make beers like unique, brilliant and most of all, a genuine drinking experience

At the most basic level, if you don’t boil hops into a kit beer, you’re just making the beer style indicated on the kit. And that beer could be totally drinkable, and chances are it will be. There's nothing wrong with taking a Coopers lager kit, adding some DME, yeast and you're away.

It's the same as if you don’t boil hops into an all-grain beer, you’re not going to like the result.

But what if like Fleetwood Mac, you want to go your own way?

Some choices in a pick-a-path are better than others right?

This is a grand generalisation but here's an excellent guide, especially for noob beginners:

How to boil a malt kit to make great beer

We're going to assume you are down with the basics of brewing beer

You appreciate that your gear and fermentation device need to be cleaned and sanitized. You've got a big enough kettle drum to do the boil in and you've got a gas burner that has the balls to do the job, because when it comes to boiling wort, heat is neat.

In its most basic form, extract brewing involves dissolving your chosen malt extract in about eight litres of hot water to give you wort. In some cases, you'll need to add sugar or dextrose too (or a beer enhancer), depending on the recipe. 

Bring to the boil, add your favourite hops and continue to boil the wort for as long as your recipe specifies to develop the bitterness. You'll need a vigorous boil but try not to let too much liquid boil off -as three things that you do not want to happen can - your wort wort may darken, the sugars could caramalise, and the hops won't deliver the bitterness you want imparted into you beer. 

Once that's all done, you need to cool the wort as fast as you can.

There's all kinds of ways to do that - from putting the kettle into an ice bath through to using a wort chiller. You then transfer to the fermentation drum, top up to about 23L with cold & clean water, pitch the yeast and then continue with normal practices such as storage at a proper fermentation temperature.

Now that above is the most basic guidance, the timing of adding hops to impart bitterness is a bit like that Roy Orbison song, She's a Mystery To Me... 

For the more curious, here's some handy tips to think about: 

Be wary of over boiling the malt

You must remember to stir the wort as you add the malt extract to avoid scorching it on the bottom of the pot. 

Extract is denser than water, so it will naturally sink to the bottom of the kettle and be exposed to that 60 - 70 centigrade heat you've got going. 

A hot kettle will not take long to caramelize and then burn to a sticky, ashy mess. Keep a close eye in it and stir often, at least until the malt has become one with the water. 

You do not need to add the malt extract in all at once. You could do a half and first, wait 10 minutes and then add, or if you wish to be quite cautious you could add a third, add a third and finish with the last third over a 10 - 14 minute period. 

Here's a handy trick, use a wire coat hanger across the kettle and use as a line to hand the malt kits on:

Image credit: Matt Boucher

From wort to boiling hops for bitterness

Most recipes call for a 60 minute boil with several hop additions along the way.

Some brewers advocate a shorter boil to save time and propane, especially if the recipe only calls for late addition hops or whirlpool hopping. That can work out fine, but it’s best to boil for a minimum of 20 minutes to sanitize the wort and get a decent hot break to clear proteins (especially if doing an all grain brew rather than a kit). 

Here's a quick guide on how to boil a malt kit and hop timings.

In general:

  • hops added at the start of the boil will contribute a lot of bitterness but little flavour
  • hops added with 20 – 30 minutes remaining will add a bit of bitterness and a bit of flavour
  • hops added in the last 0 – 10 minutes of the boil will add quite a bit of flavour but little bitterness

Here's the step by step:

  • Prepare and sanitise all equipment as you would with a kit beer.
  • Bring 6-7 litres of water to the boil in a kettle or pot.
  • Add the malt extract, stirring in immediately and taking care not to allow any to sit on the bottom of the pot and burn as discussed above.
  • Get all of this to a gently rolling boil and add 10 grams of your chosen hops. Start a countdown timer for 20 minutes.
  • With 10 minutes remaining, add 15 grams of extra hops
  • With 5 minutes remaining, add 15 grams of extra hops
  • With 1 minute remaining, add the final 10 grams of hops (stick with it, you're on the road to make the best-bittered beer you ever have!)
  • When the time is up, remove the pot from the heat and cool it as fast as possible. On this small scale, it may be possible to do this by placing in a sink or bath of running cold water or using a wort chiller is probably ideal. 
  • When cooled to 25 – 30°C, pour the beer-to-be into your sanitised fermenter or drum.
  • Stir and splash the cooled wort to expose it to as much air as possible. You're trying to add Oxygen - at this point of the process, it's really helpful. 
  • You can now top-up the fermenter with cold water to around the 23 litre mark, if that's what's recommended on the kit instructions. 
  • Pitch yeast and proceed as you would with a kit beer and then expertly store in a place that's warm.
  • Follow out beer brewing guide if you need any further intel.

Adding grains to the extracted wort

If you a feeling really adventurous, it's time to consider adding some grains to your brewing process. 'Specialty grains' as they are known in the parlance will add different flavors and colourings to your beer. It's really easy to incorporate them into your boil - the simple trick is to steep them in your hot water before you do the steps described just above:

Put your grains in a steeping bag and let it sit in your pot of water at about 70 degrees for half an hour. Then pull out the bag, crack open your malt extract and get brewing.

If you're just getting in to rock and roll, you may wish to be circumspect with your first choice of grains. Some grains, especially the paler malts, generally need to be properly to be mashed to get any decent flavour from them. 

Handy grains to try steeping are black malt, caraamber malt, chocolate malt, and roasted barley.

If you do this, you are well on your way to brewing a beer that's worthy of being entered in your local beer brewing competition!

What is the difference between extract brewing and all grain brewing?

The key difference between all-grain and extract brewing is that an all-malt wort made from grains is almost always more fermentable than an all-malt wort made from extract. 

It's just the way it is due to how extract kits are made. 

The early beer kits of thirty years ago solved this problem by combining the malt extract with sugar — which is completely fermentable — to yield reasonably dry beers, and this is why homebrew was often looked down in the 70s and 80s (and beyond) because brews could be so very dry. Back in those days not every town had a brew shop you could run down to for some enhancer or dry malt extract. 

The increased availability of the sugar known as dextrose over the last 20 years has changed the kit game considerably.  

One way to look at it is that an extract kit has had the maker decided the beer style for you already, whereas, with grains, the world is your oyster. You can experiment or have a go with recipes that brewers have found tried and true. 

Those such recipes are often shared between good keen blokes and lasses on forums. Some 'google fu' may help you out! 

If you're interested in a Steinlager clone....


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