Is Starting out with Extracts Really Necessary?

Discussion in 'Homebrewing' started by kempshark, Dec 9, 2012.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. kempshark

    kempshark Initiate (54) Jul 22, 2009 Florida

    I'm sure I know what the majority of the answers will be, but do I really need to start home brewing with extracts? I'm really interested in getting into home brewing, but it seems like cheating to use extract kits. I'm sure this isn't really the case, but I kind of want to just jump into the real deal.
    Am I being too ambitious? starting out with all grain brewing really a stupid move? I haven't bought any equipment yet, because I thought I would figure out which type of brewing I was going to start out with first. I will probably be brewing mainly stouts, porters, other words, the beers that I normally drink.
  2. whereizzy

    whereizzy Initiate (0) Mar 2, 2011 Wisconsin

    I felt the same way but my first batch was extract anyways. I decided it was a good way to get a feel for all the other stuff first. But, in hindsight, mashing isn't at all difficult as I feared and extract isn't really necessary. I don't like even using it for starters.

  3. LostTraveler

    LostTraveler Initiate (0) Oct 28, 2011 Maine

    you can start with partial mash and get used to the other important aspects- cleaning, disinfecting, bottling etc first.That way if something goes wrong (ie infection) you wont be as upset if you lose 2 hrs vs 5 hrs of work. This is what I recommend and started.
  4. Genuine

    Genuine Devotee (460) May 7, 2009 Connecticut

    Doing extract at first is good way to see the process of brewing (not mashing, etc) but the process to brew, cool, pitch yeast, bottle or keg. I did my first batch as extract (got it as a gift) and then I jump immediately into all grain and started to gather equipment to do so.

    My last 4 batches have been all grain and I've loved every single one. The whole process takes me a good 6 hours from beginning to heat strike water to cleaning and putting gear away.
  5. ventura78

    ventura78 Aspirant (267) Nov 22, 2003 Massachusetts

  6. psnydez86

    psnydez86 Disciple (363) Jan 4, 2012 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    With the fresh extracts out there today, you can make fantastic beer with extract and steeping grains. A lot of people who start out in homebrewing probably feel as if extract is kind of cheating and that's not the case at all in my opinion. The more experience in homebrewing you get the more you realize that fermentation temperature control, proper yeast pitching rate, and overall happy healthy yeast as well as good oxygenation will make a superb beer whether it be extract or all grain. Learning all grain will give you more versatility of the range of styles you can brew which is nice. I wish when I started out I would have focused more on yeast health and fermentation temp than upgrading from extract to all grain. That being said I really enjoy the creativity and freedom all grain gives me, but instead of investing the initial hundred or so bucks for an all grain system I would buy a temperature controller for a fermentation fridge, maybe a stir plate, and definitely a erlenmyer flask to make starters.
  7. VikeMan

    VikeMan Meyvn (1,328) Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    I would suggest making an extract batch for your first one, even if you buy equipment (e.g. a larger brewpot) suitable for all grain right off the bat. The reason is that there are fewer variables to worry about. I remember my first batch, and it was plenty nerve-wracking even though it was a pretty simple extract and steeped grains recipe. For my second batch, I did a mini-mash, and went all grain on the third.
    spry, nozferatu46 and GreenKrusty101 like this.
  8. scurvy311

    scurvy311 Disciple (345) Dec 3, 2005 Louisiana

    I don't think it's necessary. But it's no coincidence that many of us still did start with, and continue to make great beers with, extracts. I started with extracts; crappy stale extract, two buckets, and some bottles in my case 10 years ago. I still do extract plus steeping grains for my higher FG beers.

    Your question, to me, assumes that extract is a lesser method, when in fact it is just another equally valid means to the same end. It's not cheating. It's a chance to work on all of the other aspects of brewing first, while having consistent wort every time. I agree that the extracts, yeasts, and methods used today allow you to easily make a really enjoyable beer in any style, with the caveat that some styles would be a little more challenging.
    cavedave and psnydez86 like this.
  9. pointyskull

    pointyskull Disciple (310) Mar 17, 2010 Illinois

    Agree 100%

    I've been an extract/steeping grain brewer for a little over a year - using kits from Northern Brewer primarily - and the quality is excellent. I've learned much about the important elements other than recipe ingredients (like yeast starters, sanitation, fermentation temps) and thoroughly enjoyed the extract process.

    I will be moving to AG soon. I'm building a mash tun, upgrading my brew kettle, getting a burner, etc. But I still enjoy extract kits. The beer is terrific....
  10. marquis

    marquis Crusader (726) Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    It's a good way to begin the hobby. It removes one of the trickier aspects of brewing and allows you to begin brewing with less outlay.You can end up with highly respectable beer though there will be limitations.I also suggest you start with a simple beer of low gravity.This has various advantages-it enables you to connect cause and effect , it enables you to be drinking the beer without waiting too long (very important) and it gives a pointer to further development.If you enjoy brewing and the result then you can justify expanding your equipment. When you do, remember to think it through three times and spend once :slight_smile:
    cavedave likes this.
  11. kjyost

    kjyost Initiate (0) May 4, 2008 Manitoba (Canada)

    I agree fully, I began with wort in a bag kits learned about bottling & sanitizing, doing 2 kits. I then did extract boils from kits for one, then made my own extract recipe then moved to all-grain... Every step I learned something, and my learning curve wasn't very steep.
  12. ipas-for-life

    ipas-for-life Disciple (347) Feb 28, 2012 Virginia
    Beer Trader

    One good thing about extract is you can do two batches in the time it takes for one all grain batch. First time I would only do one batch since it will be a little hectic. I started doing two at a time by my third attempt. Just started in June and I have 10 full cases of beer in my closet and 10 cases have gone to a better place.
  13. oldp0rt

    oldp0rt Initiate (0) Feb 24, 2011 Quebec (Canada)

    Read the right book and take the time to you need as to not skip any steps and you can go straight to all grain.
  14. AlCaponeJunior

    AlCaponeJunior Initiate (0) May 21, 2010 Texas

    Well my brother probably won't see a single extract batch ever made, as I am doing all grain and he's jumping in head first. So for him, I'd say there's no need to do extract.

    For a noob, I'd probably recommend extract and partial mash first, but if you're ambitious and do your homework, it is certainly possible to begin with all grain. It's not really as hard as it seems at first, but your first brewday will likely be long and hectic. Don't drink too much that day! :rolling_eyes:

    I also agree that extracts can make excellent beers. My favorite of my homebrews is still my willamette / cascade IPA.

    BTW for all grain I just love beersmith. I use the timers to help with brewday too.
  15. mrpibb1206

    mrpibb1206 Initiate (0) May 1, 2008 Pennsylvania

    I started right in with all-grain after watching a friend do it. It didn't seem as difficult as I expected. Kind of took the intimidation out of it. My kitchen sucks, so I was going to be outside anyways. I did however do a lot of research before brewing my first batch. By the time my first brew day rolled around, I was more than ready to brew. First beer came out fine.

    I recommend jumping right in.
  16. axeman9182

    axeman9182 Initiate (0) Aug 5, 2009 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    I'd definitely recommend extract as a starting point. The way I see it, there are a lot of potential variables in brewing, and it's better if you can hold some of them constant by brewing extract batches, preferably using a kit or a recipe from a veteran brewer. That way if anything goes wrong with your first few batches, it'll be easier to troubleshoot. Sure, you can jump right in to all grain, but unless you're going to be having another homebrewer brew with you and show you the ropes, I think it'll take longer to get good practices locked in.
  17. WickedSluggy

    WickedSluggy Devotee (400) Nov 21, 2008 Texas
    Beer Trader

    You do not need to start brewing using extracts. The thing you need to understand is that brewing with grain is a matter of integrating two processes, each which require a lot of attention to detail. Taking on both processes while having experience with neither will be more of a challenge than developing the two separately. If you want to do both, on your own, your going to be running into mental fatigue around hour 4 when you are handling fermentable wort, and this is where you have to be really careful about critical issues like sanitation. People usually start by brewing with extract for the simple reason that its the only way to take on one of the two challenges and still end up with beer. If you do try to do both, I suggest finding a brewing partner, preferably one with brewing experience. If you try it all on your own and something goes wrong, you will have experience diagnosing problems neither the skill of mashing or fermenting. It's going to be somewhat harder diagnose and solve the problems.
  18. koopa

    koopa Poo-Bah (1,825) Apr 20, 2008 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    I started with all grain straight out of the gate.
  19. JrGtr

    JrGtr Disciple (397) Apr 13, 2006 Massachusetts

    AS seems to be the consensus, no, it's not necessary. However, it is easier to start that way, being that there is so much else going on to pay attention to, like sanitation, timing, cleaning up, watching recipe for additions and such.
    I started with extract with steeping grains, and this summer finally made the switch to all-grain. IN one way it was almost like starting over, or more so adding another half to the brew process.
  20. brewsader

    brewsader Initiate (0) Dec 7, 2012 New York
    Beer Trader

    you can make the jump right into all grain if you really want to but i'd suggest getting the rest of your process (pitching rate, fermentation temp, sanitation) down first. once you can consistently brew a solid beer with extract, you can focus on your mashing techniques. if you think using extracts is "cheating," i challenge you to make a competition-winning beer with them first. there's a lot more that goes into brewing than mashing your grains.
  21. OddNotion

    OddNotion Devotee (478) Nov 1, 2009 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    I did extract for a while then moved onto all grain. To be honest, all grain isn't that much harder, its one extra step and an extra hour or so. I would really recommend doing a ton of reading on the subject before brewing but I would say do not fear going all grain. There are a lot of variables to brewing which is why I recommend doing a lot of reading to get a good feel for all of them.
  22. rocdoc1

    rocdoc1 Aspirant (268) Jan 13, 2006 New Mexico

    If you have an experienced brewer helping you go all grain from the start. I've taught several people to brew and they've never seen extract. If you don't have somebody to help you I would suggest doing a few extract batches to get an idea if homebrewing is even something you want to commit the rest of your life to.
    All grain is just a little bit more complicated (more fun to me) and gives the brewer better control but doesn't necessarily make better beer. Extract is less time consuming, and I know for a lot of people that matters, but for me brewing time is my therapy time so I'm never in a hurry.
  23. good_gracious

    good_gracious Initiate (0) Aug 19, 2012 Maryland

    Extract first. That way you can feel super awesome when you hit the exact target OG for the recipe. I assure you this will not be the case for your first AG batch.

    Further to that point, when you do not hit the target FG with extract you'll see how important fermentation practices are even at the basic level.
  24. jmw

    jmw Initiate (0) Feb 4, 2009 North Carolina

    Brewing with extract is not 'cheating'. It is the real deal. There are so many new extracts available right now it is a great option. Do you use pre-ground flour to bake with at home or do you have your own grist mill? Milk your own cow for a cheeseburger?
  25. MLucky

    MLucky Aspirant (286) Jul 31, 2010 California

    Well, I suppose I'm probably only adding to the pile of answers that were exactly what you expected, but here goes: no, it is not necessary to start with extract, but I would definitely advise it, for all the reasons others have listed, plus at least one more I'll add below.

    One thing that's helpful about extract for beginners is that you will almost certainly hit your intended OG. With AG brewing your efficiency is probably going to be all over the map the first few times, which can give you a starting gravity much higher or lower than you expected, which in turn affects the final gravity and the finished beer. So you might finish up with a beer that's out of balance, and you won't know if it's because your OG was too low, or your hop utilization wasn't what you expected, or if your attenuation was too much or too little, or what. Best to eliminate that one variable (OG) the first few times through.

    Also, a lot of the reason for going OG is because you realize you want a malt character that's different from the 'standard' for a given style. You might decide that, say, you want your IPA to have a drier malt character than you get with the more less standard single infusion mash at ~152F, so you might mash at ~149, and up the ratio of fermentables to nonfermentables. But you can make an IPA with the 'standard' ratio using extract. My point is, before you decide that you prefer to deviate from the standard, you probably want to make a few standard batches, and you can do that with pale malt extract.

    All that said, everybody's different. Lots of guys here have started off with AG. I don't think I could have done it successfully, but that's me. Follow your passion, brew the beer you want. Cheers.
  26. pweis909

    pweis909 Poo-Bah (1,599) Aug 13, 2005 Wisconsin
    Supporter Subscriber

    No. Just do your research to make sure you know what you are doing. The fact that you are asking this question makes me think you haven't done the research yet.
  27. joshrosborne

    joshrosborne Initiate (0) Jun 14, 2010 Michigan

    I'm going to agree with pretty much everyone in this thread. Not necessary, but in most circumstances, it's probably advisable.

    I'm been brewing for two or so years, more heavily this last year, and I still haven't made the leap and don't see when I will. There is so much to learn in terms of pitching, sanitation, temp controls, etc. that I will keep myself busy learning that stuff for the forseeable future. Secondly, my wife and I have a seven month old daughter and even the couple hours to put aside even for extract brewing is a heavy commitment (just ask my wife).

    Third: I generally brew two types of things; sours and low gravity, every day drinking stuff. In the first case, I find that what wild yeast and the bugs want is fermentables (and unfermentables, of course) and it seems to me that it doesn't really matter what form they come in. In the latter case, I just want good beer I can drink whenever I want. Is what I brew as good or as unique as stuff AG brewers can do? Probably not, but it works for me.

    In short, different strokes for different folks.
  28. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (2,210) Mar 12, 2009 New York
    Beer Trader

    Too bad this isn't a poll, but if it were I would have clicked on start extract with steeping grains. Get the process down with fewer variables to go wrong, and find out that extract makes excellent beer too, something good to know.
    jmw likes this.
  29. angrygrimace

    angrygrimace Initiate (0) Apr 11, 2011 California
    Beer Trader

    All-grain is a fun process, but I would not recommend it for a first timer. One problem with starting with all-grain is that typical all-grain setups that can brew virtually every recipe can be very expensive. You can get a brewing setup going for around $100 with extracts, but even then, the reality is that you will probably need more equipment, like a bigger pot. With all-grain, this problem intensifies because all-grain requires full-wort boils which almost no kitchen stove can do. You need an outdoor propane burner, 8-10 gallon pot + your mash-tun setup.

    The other problem of course, is that mashing doubles both your brew time and the amount of things you need to know/can screw up.

    Now, brew in a bag is a viable all-grain option that is inexpensive. However, brew in a bag somewhat limits the batch and gravity size you can make, and really many stoves cannot truly boil even the 4 gallons of wort you get out of a 3 gallon BIAB session. I'm not sure I consider it worth it to brew batches smaller than 3 gallons. It's fun to brew, but brewing takes 4-6 hours to do and ending up with 2.5 gallons of finished beer for your effort might be a bit much.
  30. epk

    epk Initiate (145) Jun 10, 2008 New Jersey

    I brewed two Mr. Beer kits with little success and than jumped into all grain brewing just as a couple other friends were starting. I actually no less about extract brewing than all grain I feel.

    I'd say it's certainly not a necessary step but it's helpful for people to get a feel if this is really something they want to do along with simply be a nice place to start learning. I agree with Vikeman as far as equipment - if you really know you are gonna step up anyway, might as well get it.
  31. RichardMNixon

    RichardMNixon Zealot (515) Jun 24, 2012 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    Try starting with partial mash; the difference in difficulty between steeping 1 lb of grain or steeping mashing and teabagging sparging 6 lbs of grain is basically nonexistent. You get some of the control of all-grain and save some money on the extract without needing to build a mash tun.
  32. IPAescotch

    IPAescotch Initiate (0) May 8, 2010 Ohio

    You'll need all the equipment for all-grain that you used doing extract or partial mash. I'd recommend having at least one 2 hour extract brewday before you jump right into the 6+ hour epic that is all-grain, not to mention all the extra research and equimpment all grain requires. Extract is not 'cheating,' and i found all grain easier to understand having extract brewing to draw similes from.

    -Happy fermentations.
  33. ipas-for-life

    ipas-for-life Disciple (347) Feb 28, 2012 Virginia
    Beer Trader

    If you do start with extract consider getting a 10 gallon kettle or larger, burner and wort chiller to do full boils. This way you have some of the equipment you will need for all grain.
  34. carteravebrew

    carteravebrew Zealot (503) Jan 21, 2010 Colorado

    My (now) brewing partner has never brewed with extract, but he also hung out with me a few times while I brewed. That's what I would recommend.

    If possible, find someone who brews all grain and help them out a few times and do ALL the cleaning at least once. Then decide what you want to do.
  35. JebediahScooter

    JebediahScooter Initiate (0) Sep 5, 2010 Vermont

    I started with all grain. I'm a teacher, so I have a lot of free time in the summers. I like tinkering, so jumping straight in to all grain immediately opened up a whole different side to the hobby for me in that I got to spend time learning to solder to put together a copper manifold for the mlt, sourcing parts, cobbling together a system, etc. That part is as enjoyable to me as the actual brewing process. You can build a simple AG system for relatively cheap, especially if you are handy and can source parts and repurpose stuff (I was given two decommissioned kegs by a bar owner for free, for example, to build my MLT & BK). Grains are also cheaper than extract.

    That said, if it comes down to having the loot to either build an AG system out of the gate or buy/build some form of fermentation temp control out of the gate, opt for the latter. Get a chest freezer/minifridge with a temp controller and brew on your stove top until you save enough for bigger kettles, outdoor burners, a chiller (or copper coil to build your own), etc. Your yeast will thank you and make better beer in return for the kindness you've shown them.
    pointyskull likes this.
  36. inchrisin

    inchrisin Defender (654) Sep 25, 2008 Indiana

    No, but you should have friends or people you can watch do all grain so you get a good feel for how to do this.
  37. pearljam118

    pearljam118 Aspirant (295) Jul 5, 2008 Pennsylvania

    Necessary? Is it necessary to drink my own urine? No, but it's sterile and I like the taste.

    If you have completely understood the brewing process, show why you all grain will yield you a better beer, can rationalize why you need to spend that extra money for all grain when starting out, then yeah go for it.

    Why not get a good batch of extract under your belt instead of going all out. Brewing isn't complicated but there are plenty of things that can go wrong.
    axeman9182 likes this.
  38. marquis

    marquis Crusader (726) Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    Don't forget though that although the initial outlay is greater for AG that when it comes to the actual brewing it works out cheaper.Extract is far more expensive than malt grain.Particularly if you can find as I did that local breweries are happy to let you a sack or two of malt at around cost.While you're thre ask about hops and yeast :slight_smile:
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  • About Us

    Founded in Boston in 1996, BeerAdvocate (BA) is your go-to resource for beer powered by an independent community of enthusiasts and professionals dedicated to supporting and promoting better beer.

    Learn More
  • Our Community

    Comprised of consumers and industry professionals, many of whom started as members of this site, our community is one of the oldest, largest, and most respected beer communities online.
  • Our Events

    Since 2003 we've hosted over 60 world-class beer festivals to bring awareness to independent brewers and educate attendees.
  • Our Magazine

    Support uncompromising beer advocacy and award-winning, independent journalism with a print subscription to BeerAdvocate magazine.