maltvsgrain2

The holy grail of the homebrewing community is the all-grain batch. From the start, when folks get their first 2-gallon Mr. Beer or 5-gallon beer kit, making it to all-grain brewing is a goal. Plenty of amateur brewers look forward to the day they can ditch the cans of liquid malt extracts (LMEs) or bags of dry malt extracts (DMEs) and go full grain.

Is it necessarily better, though? Sure, the vast majority of professional brewers go all-grain. The big question is why. Today, we’ll look at the major reasons why advanced brewers use all-grain brewing, even though brews of similar quality can result.

Price Point

For advanced brewers, particularly production breweries, it’s a matter of cost. Malt extract eliminates some time as well as some processes, but it ends up costing a bit more. This cost isn’t huge for the advanced home brewer, but for the brewer with an eye towards production, that cost will be multiplied every time they make a batch. However, if the advanced home brewer is consistently using the same grains, and is making beer on a consistent basis, they can see big savings from buying bulk amounts of that grain. Of course, they also then have to store it.

Control

Any brewer will tell you that the best thing about all grain brewing is the sheer amount of control the brewer has over the final product.

  • Color: The biggest area where all-grain brewing shines is in coloring the beer. Extracts will always have some darkness to them, meaning that the super light beer that a brewer may want to make is unreachable. Even the ultralight LMEs are still too dark for some of the really light, clear beer styles such as Belgian wits, pilsners, white ales, and even hefeweizens at times. DMEs manage to stay a little lighter in color than LMEs, but there is still a limit. Extracts also can’t go as dark as some brewers would like, particularly for some stouts or porters. Unlike with light beers, this can be fixed by making the batch as a partial grain batch, and steeping some malt for color while still using the extract for the majority of the base.
  • Built-in Water Quality: Liquid malt extracts have a certain amount of water in them from the plant where they are made. As beer is mostly water, it is key for the brewer to refine and control the water – particularly in regards to alkalinity and pH lelvel. With all-grain batches, the brewer can keep consistency, but with extract batches using LMEs, there is other water that needs to be accounted for. This can be solved using DMEs, or by altering the water used in the batch to account for the water contained in the extract.
  • Fermentability: You need higher amounts of sugar to attain a high amount of alcohol. Extracts come with a set amount of sugar, meaning that the brewer will need to add in extra fermentable sugar, which can throw off the taste depending on what kind of sugar is used. All-grain allows for greater extraction of fermentables from the grains, making for beers with higher ABV potential.
  • Choosing the sparge and mash methods: Using all-grain may take longer, but it also allows for the brewer to choose how they sparge and mash their grains. These methods can let them fine-tune their skills, as well as their beer. Extracts are simply dump and go, and do not help to build the skill level.

Pick a Style

There are an infinite number of styles out there. Unfortunately, using malt extract restricts you from working in some of these style regions. As mentioned previously, there are some things you can’t necessarily control when using LMEs or DMEs. This means that there are certain beer styles that will be difficult or even impossible to attain using the extracts. That being said, there are some beer styles that extracts do work well for – the standard pale, red, and brown ales, as well as porters and stouts, can be achieved with all-extract or partial grain methods.

When it comes down to it, there is little difference in terms of quality between beers that use all-grain versus beers that use extracts. Some folks will tell you they can pick out an extract-brewed beer from an all-grain beer, but that’s highly unlikely. A good brewer can make an award-winning extract beer just as easily as they can make an award-winning all-grain beer. What it comes down to is being close to your brew, being deeply involved in it, and having compete control over the recipe. All-grain allows for this, extract brewing doesn’t, and that’s the core reason why advanced brewers use the all-grain method.

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