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Using Steeping Grains Effectively

04/18/2013

A Beginner’s Guide to Using Grain in Extract Recipes

Originally Written by John Palmer and published in Brewing Techniques Magazine, Volume 4 Issue 5.

The benefits of specialty malts — enhanced flavor, intriguing colors, and overall complexity — are available to extract brewers through a simple procedure added to the beginning of the brew session.

 

One of the best things that a new brewer can do to get a feel for the use of grain in brewing is to steep specialty grains in hot water and use this wort in an extract-based recipe. Specialty grains allow you to adjust the beer’s flavor to match your tastes, they can add a range of colors to standard extract worts, and they add “freshness” to the overall quality of the beer. They can also add fermentable sugars at a price that’s a fraction of the cost of malt extract.

Sometimes, the extract you buy may be more than a year old, instilling a dull, soapy character to the beer (the result of oxidation of the extract). Creating some new wort simply by steeping crushed grain adds back the fresh malt character that is often missing from all-extract recipes.

Historically, brewers had to settle for a choice of light, amber, or dark extract. Nowadays, a great deal more variety is available in brewing kits, and some extracts incorporate multiple malt types and offer the opportunity to brew beers with real individuality. Generally, however, if you want complexity, you have to achieve it yourself. Steeping is one way to get that complexity. Fortunately, it is very easy.

Just about every beer style can be made by using pale malt extract and steeping the specialty grains described in this article. Brown ales, bitters, India pale ales, stouts, Bocks, and Oktoberfests all can be made using this method. The resulting beer’s flavor will be superior to what can be made using extracts alone. Award-winning beers can be made solely from extract, but the addition of fresh grain can make the difference between a good beer and an outstanding one. Besides, it’s fun to experiment, right?

Understanding Grain

Malted barley is the source of the fermentable sugars, color, and malt flavors that form the foundation of a beer’s character. To get the results you’re looking for through the use of specialty malts, it is essential to understand the various malt types, how they are made, and what characteristics they bring to the brew session.

Malting: Malting is a process in which the grain is germinated and then dried in a kiln to stop the process after the sprout has erupted from the hull. Germination releases enzymes inside the grain. As the seed sprouts, the plant uses these enzymes to break down the seed’s starch reserves into sugars, which it uses until it can create its own food through photosynthesis. The purpose of malting is to initiate the development of these enzymes and then halt the process before the starches are converted and the sugars are used up. All-grain brewers (and malt extract manufacturers) use these enzymes in the mash tun to convert the grain’s starches into sugars (wort). The measure of a malt’s potential to convert starch into fermentable sugar is referred to as its diastatic power.

Base malts and mashing: Malts come in two basic types, those that need to be mashed and those that don’t. Mashing involves soaking grain in hot water, providing the right conditions for the enzymes to break down the grain’s protein–carbohydrate matrix and convert the grain’s starches into fermentable sugars.

Basic malts such as two-row and six-row malted barley and wheat malt need to be mashed to convert the starches. Some basic malts, such as Vienna and Munich malts, are toasted at higher temperatures to lend different taste qualities, and this reduces some of their enzymatic potential. Although reduced, the diastatic potential is still high enough for the grain to fully convert its starch into sugar during the mash. (For a beginner’s look at mashing, refer to Jim Busch’s and Jack Schmidling’s articles in BrewingTechniques [1,2].)

Caramel Malts

Caramel malts undergo a special “heating” process during malting which crystallizes the sugars. The sugars produced in this way are caramelized into longer chains that are unaffected by the enzymes during the mash, resulting in a maltier, caramel-sweet, fuller-tasting beer. These malts are used for almost all ale and high-gravity lager styles. Various caramel malts are often added in ½-lb amounts to a total of 0.5–3 lb for a 5-gal batch.

Following are examples of caramel malts:

Type

Color

Characteristics/Beer Type

Light caramel

10 °L

Adds a light, honey-like sweetness and some body to the final beer.

Pale caramel

40 °L

The higher color rating and light caramel sweetness of this malt is useful for pale ales and amber lagers.

Medium caramel

60 °L

The most commonly used caramel malt, it adds a full, caramel taste and body to the wort. It is well suited for pale ales, English-style bitters, porters, and stouts.

Dark caramel

120 °L

This malt adds a lot of color and bittersweet caramel flavor. It is useful in small amounts to add complexity or in greater amounts for old ales, barleywines, and Doppelbocks.

Special B

220 °L

A unique Belgian malt, it has a roasted, nutty-sweet flavor. Used in moderation, it is very good in brown ales, porters, and Doppelbocks. Larger amounts — more than ½ lb in a 5-gal batch — will lend a raisiny flavor (which may be desired in a barleywine).

Base malts are the basis of all-grain mashing, providing the highest extraction potential of all the malts, but the base malts lack the distinctive flavor and color profiles of specialty malts, and their sugars can be extracted only through mashing. These malts are not useful for steeping with extract-based beers.

Specialty malts: Other malts, often referred to as specialty malts, do not need to be mashed. These malts undergo a special heating process that allows the enzymes to convert the starches into sugars inside the hull. Because these sugars are soluble, the character of these malts can be extracted by steeping rather than by mashing.

Roasted Malts

Highly roasted malts contribute a burnt toast flavor to porters and stouts and should be used in moderation. These malts may be steeped or mashed.

Following are examples of roasted malts:

Type

Color

Characteristics/Beer Type

Chocolate malt

400 °L

Used extensively in porters and stouts, this malt has a pleasant roasted character and contributes a deep ruby-black color. Use about a ½ lb malt in a 5-gal batch.

Roasted barley

550 °L

Not actually a malt but a highly roasted plain barley, it is the signature flavor of stouts. It has less of a charcoal “bite” to it than does black patent. Use about ½ lb malt in a 5-gal batch.

Black patent

580 °L

The blackest of the black, it must be used sparingly, generally less than ½ lb per 5 gal. It contributes a roasted charcoal flavor that can be unpleasant if used in excess. It is useful for contributing color and, with 1–2 oz, to set a “limit” on the sweetness of other beer styles that use a lot of crystal malt.

In addition, specialty malts contain structurally complex sugars, some of which do not completely ferment, leaving a pleasant caramel-like sweetness. These caramel malts are available in various color ratings, and each has a different degree of fermentability and characteristic sweetness. Malts (and beer) are rated on a color scale from 1 to 600 °Lovibond (named for J.W. Lovibond, who invented the color measurement system in 1883).

Also within the specialty malt group are roasted malts. These malts have had their sugars charred by roasting at high temperatures, giving them a deep red/brown or black color. To put these malts’ colors in perspective, most American light lager beers brewed at industrial breweries are less than 5 °L; Guinness Extra Stout, on the other hand, sits comfortably in the 100s °L.

The important thing about specialty malts is that they do not need to be mashed; their character can be released simply by steeping in hot water. These grains are very useful to the extract brewer, increasing the complexity of the wort without much effort.

Extraction of Sugar from Specialty Malts

Many types of malts can be used to produce the sugars that make up wort (malt extract is simply a concentrated or dehydrated wort). As we have seen, base malts are the primary source of fermentable sugars (through mashing), but specialty malts also contribute a certain amount of sugars, and these are available through the steeping process.

Each grain yields a nominal amount of fermentable and nonfermentable sugars, referred to in total as its percent extraction. The percent extraction of a particular grain is the theoretical maximum amount of sugar that the malt will yield. This value typically ranges from 50 to 80% (w/w), with some wheat malts hitting as high as 85%.

To make these percentages useful to us in our brewing, we need to convert them to points (specific gravity). We use pure sugar (sucrose) as the baseline, because it yields 100% of its weight as extract when dissolved in water. One pound of sugar yields a specific gravity of 1.046 when dissolved in 1 gal of water.

Port O’ Palmer Porter

Steeping grain is an excellent way to make porter. A porter is an ale with a dark color and very malty flavor and a bit of a roasted finish. Porters differ from brown ales in that they are fuller bodied and darker but have less of a roasted malt flavor than stouts.

Ingredients

 

Procedure

The brewing procedure is identical to that for extract brewing, except that you steep the specialty grains in the pot before adding the extract. To do this, heat the 3 gal of water in the boiling pot until it reaches 160 °F (71 °C) ±10 °F (±6 °C). Then immerse the grain bag in the pot for 30 minutes. The grain bag may be dunked and swirled like a tea bag during this time to make sure that all of the grain is wetted. Agitation will help to improve the yield. Remove the grain bag from the pot, giving it a squeeze to drain the excess wort (and to avoid dripping on the stove).

Now add the malt extract to this preliminary wort. Bring the wort to a boil and complete the brew session as you would for a regular extract beer.

For this beer, I use liquid American Ale Yeast and ferment at 65 °F (18 °C) for two weeks. A variation is to ferment for one week and then rack off the trub for a secondary fermentation for another two weeks to allow more time for clearing.

 

Malts

Gravity Contribution

6 lb

Pale malt extract (syrup)

72

½ lb

Chocolate malt

3

½ lb

Crystal 60 °L malt

3

¼ lb

Black patent malt

1

 

Preliminary gravity in 3 gal

1.079

 

Original gravity for 5 gal

1.048

 

Hops

IBU Contribution

1 oz

Nugget (10% α-acid) at 60 minutes

26

¾ oz

Willamette (5% α-acid) at 40 minutes

9

½ oz

Willamette (5% α-acid) at 20 minutes

4

 

Total IBUs

39

 

Wyeast #1056 American Ale yeast (liquid)

 

To calculate the theoretical maximum yield for malts (and other adjuncts, as well), simply multiply the percent extraction by the reference number for sucrose (actually 46.31 pts/lb/gal). The nominal maximum yields for the malts are listed in Table I (see next page). For those of you working in metric units (pts/kg/liter), use the following equation to convert units: 1 pts/kg/liter = 8.345 pts/lb/gal.

The theoretical maximum is an optimal value — the most sugar you would get if all the variables for extraction lined up and 100% of the starches were converted to sugars. But most brewers, even commercial brewers, are unable to obtain the maximum. Most brewers achieve extract efficiencies of 80–90% of the maximum yield.

The extract efficiency is highly dependent on the mash conditions and the lautering system. For the purpose of our discussion of extract potential for the various malts and adjuncts, let’s assume an extract efficiency of 85%, which is considered very good for home brewers. (A few points less — 75–80% extraction efficiency — is still considered good. Large commercial breweries would see the 10% reduction as significant because they use thousands of pounds of grain each month, but home brewers can easily add 10% more grain per batch to make up for the difference in extraction without worrying about the bottom line.) The third column in Table I shows more realistic extract values for the various malt types when mashed with 85% efficiency. The fourth column shows how much of that extract can be obtained through steeping.

Table I: Nominal Extraction Yields for Various Malt Types

Malt Type

Yield* (%) (points/lb/gal)

Extract, Max (points/lb/gal)

Extract, at 85% (points/lb/gal)

Extract, Steeped

Standard Pale Malts

 

 

 

 

Two-row base malt

79

37

31

Six-row base malt

76

35

30

Two-row British pale malt

81

38

32

Wheat malt

79

37

31

Rye malt

63

29

25

High-Kilned Malts

 

 

 

 

Vienna malt

75

35

30

Munich malt

75

35

30

Biscuit/Victory malt

75

35

30

Caramel Malts

 

 

 

 

Caramel, light (10–15 °L)

75

35

30

14†

Caramel, pale (25–40 °L)

74

34

29

22

Caramel, medium (60–75 °L)

74

34

29

18

Caramel, dark (120 °L)

72

33

28

16

Dextrin malt

70

32

28

4†

Special B

68

31

27

16

Roasted Malts

 

 

 

 

Brown malt

70

32

28

8†

Chocolate malt

60

28

24

15

Roasted barley

55

25

22

21

Black patent malt

55

25

22

21

Adjuncts

 

 

 

 

Malto-dextrin powder

100

40

(40)

(40)

Sugar (corn, cane)

100

46

(46)

(46)

*Malt %: Data obtained and averaged from several sources. Steeping data is experimental and was obtained by steeping 1 lb in 1 gal at 160 °F for 30 minutes. All malts were crushed in a two-roller mill at the same setting.

†The low extraction from steeping is attributed to unconverted, insoluble starches, as revealed by an iodine test.

The Mechanics of Steeping

Caramel and roasted specialty malts must be crushed to expose the sugars and caramel (or darker) colors to the water. While the grain soaks, the hot water leaches the sugars out of the grain and dissolves them into the wort. Steeping differs from mashing in that no enzyme activity takes place to convert malt or adjunct starches into sugars. Steeping specialty grains is entirely a process of leaching and dissolving sugars into the wort.

The factors that influence how well the sugars are leached into wort are particle size, steeping time, and temperature. The finer you crush the malt, the more completely you can extract the sugars. Most homebrew supply shops set their mills for mashing and lautering purposes, which is also adequate for steeping. Milling at a too-fine grind creates powder or flour, which would be difficult to filter from the wort.

Steeping specialty grain is like making tea. You can buy precrushed grain from homebrew supply shops, many of which sell prepackaged specialty grains in 0.5–1 lb amounts just for this purpose, or you can buy a small bulk quantity and crush it yourself. Soak the crushed grain in 150–170 °F (65–77 °C) water for 30 minutes and then remove it from the water. Even though a color change will be noticeable early on, steep the grain tea for the entire 30 minutes to dissolve as much of the available sugar into the water as possible. This water (now a wort) can then be dissolved into the extract for the boil.

Removing the grain can be easy if you have the right equipment. The best way to steep the crushed grain is to use a grain bag. These bags are made of nylon or muslin and have a drawstring closure. They hold a couple of pounds of crushed grain, making, in essence, a giant tea bag.

The analogy to a tea bag is a good one because if the grain is left to steep too long (hours), astringent tannin compounds (phenols) can be extracted from the grain husks. These compounds give wort a dry, puckering taste, much like black tea that has been steeped too long. The extraction of tannins is especially prevalent if the water is too hot (above 170° F [77 °C]). Brewers used to be taught to put specialty grain in a pot with water and bring it to a boil before removing the grain. This method often resulted in tannin extraction.

Hard and soft water also play a role in tannin extraction. In this case, the terms hard and soft water refers to high (greater than 200 ppm) or low (less than 50 ppm) levels of carbonates (and the resulting degree of alkalinity). Steeping the heavily roasted malts in very soft water will produce highly acidic and harsh flavors. Likewise, steeping the lightest caramel malts in hard water could produce highly alkaline wort, and tannin extraction would again be a problem.

Steeping toward Grain Brewing

Steeping specialty grains can improve your extract brewing in several ways. You can achieve a fresher tasting batch over extract alone. You can experiment and tailor the amounts of the roasted and caramel malts to suit your own tastes for flavor and color. Finally, grain is cheaper than extract, and the availability of sugars through steeping adds inexpensive, high-quality fermentables to your wort.

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