Working in a retail home beer and wine supply shop gives me the opportunity to talk to thousands of homebrewers and listen to their stories, both good and bad, about their brewing experiments.
Extract brewers sometimes ask me, “Why is my pale ale the darkness of an amber beer? Why is my IPA not as bitter as I want it? Why does my beer have a slightly burnt taste?” I believe that all three problems are related to the same procedure.
Like most extract homebrewers, my customers were boiling their malt syrup in only about 2–2.5 gallons of water when making a standard five-gallon batch of beer. The reasons for boiling the malt in a small amount of water are because most kitchen stoves and boiling pots are limited to about this amount. Some of the water evaporated while they were boiling their beer, so that the wort they were boiling was of a very high specific gravity — as high as 1.130. Boiling the syrup for 60 minutes in this high-sugar environment caused some of the malt sugars to be scorched on the bottom of the boiling pot, causing the “burnt malt extract” flavor in their beers. Boiling the malt sugar in such a thick concentration also increased the darkness of their beers.
The amount of hop bitterness extracted from hops during boiling is affected by both time and the thickness of the wort. The longer you boil hops, the more hop bitterness is extracted. After about 45 minutes, however, you begin to get a diminishing return. The thicker the wort that the hops are boiled in, the less hop bitterness is extracted. In a situation where you are boiling approximately 6.6 pounds of syrup in two gallons of water, your boiling gravity is nearly 1.100. In this situation, your hop extraction is roughly 75 percent of what you would achieve with a full boil, causing your beers to be less bitter than what you were shooting for, especially on beers that you wanted to be highly bittered.
The obvious answer was to ask all my customers to change their method and boil their malt and hops in just over five gallons of water for 60 minutes. After evaporation during the boil, they would end up with five gallons of beer. This “full-wort boil” is just what the commercial brewers do, and it is how they get the desired results in their beers.
Well, this is a great idea in theory, but a poor idea in practice for most homebrewers. This would mean that the brewer would have to obtain a larger boiling pot and a wort chiller (since you need to cool the beer from boiling down to at least 80° F to add the yeast). They may even need a propane burner, since their stovetop may not easily boil five-plus gallons of wort. Another hurdle is that it will take longer to bring this much liquid to a boil, if their stovetop has enough heating power to do this. I tried it once, and found that it took nearly 45 minutes to bring the beer up to a boil.
Some homebrewers are willing to spend the money for more cool brewing gadgets, but most just want to keep brewing simple and fun. So while this method is a great answer, it is not very practical for many homebrewers. Then the idea finally hit me like the hop aroma in a dry-hopped pale ale. Why not boil the hops, but not the malt syrup? By doing this, you extract the necessary bitterness from the hops, but avoid the pitfalls of boiling large amounts of malt extract in small amounts of water.
Begin by steeping a few pounds of crushed grain in about two to three gallons of hot water for about 30 minutes. Remove the grain with a strainer, then boil the grain “tea” and hops for 45 to 60 minutes. Add your finishing hops and malt extract at the end of the boil, immediately after you have turned off the heat source. The wort is at 212° F when the extract is then added, and the wort normally drops to around 170–180° F after the malt extract is added. To ensure pasteurization of the wort, let the wort stand for approximately five minutes. Then proceed as you normally would, adding the wort to cold water and pitching yeast when the wort is around 75–80° F.
One positive effect of this method is that you avoid the natural darkening effect caused by the boiling. You also avoid any carmelization of the malt sugars, and any scorching of the sugars to the bottom of your pot, resulting in a “burnt” flavor.
The specific gravity of the wort you are boiling the hops in is very low (1.005 to 1.025), containing only the sugars that the grains contribute, so you maximize the bitterness extracted from the hops you are using. It is now much easier to achieve bitterness levels above 30 IBUs. This method should allow you to make “lighter” colored beers and minimize any “malt extract” flavors. It also will allow you to make more highly-bittered beers.
There are primarily two negative effects that I am aware of at this time. The first is that, since you are boiling the Irish moss with only the malt sugars from the specialty grains, it is unclear how much the Irish moss will be effective in clearing proteins from your beer and giving you the maximum clarity in your finished product. My experiments seem to lean toward the beers clearing up quite well. I do not know of any negative effects of boiling the Irish moss without the malt, and since it is an inexpensive ingredient, I see no reason to leave it out.
The second negative effect is that you could potentially be missing out on some flavor compounds from the hops being boiled with the entire volume of malt. Since virtually all beer is made with the hops and malt being boiled together, there may be some flavor reactions that you would miss by using this method. Here I believe the effects are hard to determine, since this interaction is difficult to determine to start with. Maybe this is a topic for additional discussion amongst the homebrewing world. One compromise here may be to boil 25% to 50% of your extract with the hops, and the remainder at the end of the boil.
My experiments (and my customers’ experience) with using this method the past 8 to 10 months have been positive. In the local Clark County Fair homebrewing competition, one of my employees (Tom Sedlacek) entered an American Pale Ale he made using this method, and received the 4th highest score out of 64 beers in the competition. The recipe for this beer is in the sidebar on page 41.
This method should help more when you are trying to make lighter-colored beers and beers in which you are trying to achieve higher levels of bitterness. One change you will have to make in your recipes is to adjust the amount of bittering hops you use to about 25 percent less — or the amount normally used in all-grain beers.
Homebrewers thrive on experimentation, so go for it! Let me know how your experiments work out by emailing me your results at [email protected]. I am sure there are those who may not agree with this method, and I would love to hear from them to see if we can make even better homebrew!
Northwest Pale Ale
(5 gallons, partial mash)
OG: 1.050 FG: 1.014
IBU: 65 SRM: 15
(4th place overall, Clark County Fair homebrew competition 2002)
6.6 lbs. Coopers light malt syrup
1 lb. Munich malt (10° L)
1 lb. Great Western two-row pale malt
18 AAU Centennial hops (bittering)(2 oz. of 9% alpha acids)
5 AAU Cascade hops (flavor) (1 oz. of 5% alpha acids)
1 oz. Cascade hops (aroma)
1 tsp. Irish moss
White Labs WLP001 (California Ale) or Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) yeast
3/4 cup corn sugar (for bottling)
Step by step
Steep crushed grains (Munich malt and two-row malt) in two gallons of 150° F water for 30 minutes. Remove the grain from the hot water with a strainer, then bring wort to a boil. When boiling starts, add two ounces of Centennial hops and boil for 60 minutes. Add one ounce of Cascade hops and Irish moss with 15 minutes left in the boil. Add one ounce Cascade hops for last five minutes of the boil. Then turn the heat off and add your malt syrup. Stir to dissolve and let the wort stand for five minutes to sanitize. Cool the wort in your sink (or use a wort chiller) and siphon wort to fermenter. Aerate wort and pitch yeast. Let the beer ferment for four to seven days then rack to secondary fermenter. Let condition for three to seven days, then prime with corn sugar and bottle. Allow one to two weeks for bottle conditioning.
Bohemian (Czech) Pilsner
(5 gallons, partial mash)
OG: 1.049 FG: 1.014
IBU: 32 SRM: 7
6.6 lbs. Muntons light malt syrup
0.5 lb. crystal malt (20° L)
1 lb. Pilsner malt
0.5 lb. dextrin malt
10.5 AAU Saaz hops (45 minutes) (3 oz. of 3.5% alpha acids)
3.5 AAU Saaz hops (30 minutes) (1 oz. of 3.5% alpha acids)
3.5 AAU Saaz hops (15 minutes) (1 oz. of 3.5% alpha acids)
1 tsp. Irish moss
White Labs WLP800 (Pilsner) or Wyeast 2278 (Czech Pils) yeast
3/4 cup corn sugar (for bottling)
Step by step
Steep crushed malted grain in two gallons of 150° F water for 30 minutes. Remove the grain from the hot water with a strainer, then bring water to a boil. When boiling starts, add boiling hops and Irish moss and boil for 60 minutes. Add second addition of hops for last 30 minutes of the boil. Add third addition of hops for last 15 minutes of the boil. Fill your sanitized carboy with two gallons of cold water. Then turn the heat off and add your malt syrup, then stir to dissolve and let stand for five minutes to sanitize. Strain the hot wort into the carboy and top off to the five-gallon mark. Add yeast when beer is less than 75° F, aerate the beer and pitch your yeast. Leave beer at room temperature until fermentation begins (about 24 hours), then cool and ferment at 50–55º F. Cooler temperatures cause fermentation to go slower, about three to four weeks. Bottle as usual and enjoy!