Converting a recipe from all-grain to extract and vice versa

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Are you making the jump to all-grain brewing and you want to try some of your successful extract recipes? Or maybe you’re just starting out and the recipe you want to make is intended for all-grain. Either way, by taking the following approach, pretty much any recipe can be converted from all-grain to extract and back.

The key to doing so is being able to change the malt quantities. You will need to know exactly how many pounds of malt (grain or extract) went into the recipe you are trying to convert.

Extract to Grain

In order to convert your extract recipe to grain, you must know the specific gravity that your extract yields. This gives you the gravity target you need to hit with your grain.

Malt extract is measured in degrees Brix, which equates to the percentage of sugar per weight concentrated. Malt extract is concentrated to a particular density to avoid bacterial spoilage and wild yeast fermentation and to lower the excess water weight and volume. Dry malt contains almost no water by definition and is consequently considered to be 100 percent sugar, equating to 100° Brix. In a single gallon of water, one pound of 100° Brix malt would produce a specific gravity of 1.045. Malt extract syrup is generally around the 80-83° Brix mark. One pound of 80° Brix mixture dissolved in a single gallon of water would produce a specific gravity of 1.036.

Calculating this specific gravity is done through the use of one equation. Simply multiply the maximum gravity, which is 1.045 (from dry malt), by the sugar percentage, which is 80 percent (0.8) in the case of 80° Brix extract. However, if you just plugged this into your calculator you would get 0.836 and not 1.036. To get the correct specific gravity, you need to convert the specific gravity into “points” prior to multiplying. To express specific gravity as points, subtract 1 and multiply your answer by 1,000. Therefore the max specific gravity of 1.045 is the same as 45 points.

Therefore, 1.045 as specific gravity equals 45 points, which can be used in the equation, 45 multiplied by 0.8 gives 36 points. Don’t forget to convert the points back into specific gravity afterwards. The example we used was for an 80° Brix extract. If your extract is a different Brix degree, you’ll have to calculate it accordingly.

Once you have calculated the specific gravity that your extract will yield, you can aim to achieve the same with your grain. However, you need to consider the fact that your brewing system cannot extract the entire 100 percent of sugar from the grains, no matter how good your set up is.

As an example, let’s say you are trying to brew a beer which requires six pounds of light extract. Light extract is usually produced using only one pale “base” malt, generally a two-row variety. To achieve the same effect in your beer, you need to use the same pale malted grain, which has a maximum extraction of 36 points per pound per gallon.

Knowing how efficient you are is impossible if you haven’t brewed all-grain before. Brewing efficiency is influenced by numerous factors such as grain crush, wort viscosity, and lauter tun design. It is advised that unless you know any different, assume that you will achieve 75 percent of the maximum for the relevant grain, 1.036 specific gravity in this case. Next, convert your six pounds of extract to grain:

  1. Calculate how many points per pound you will get from the extract (discussed earlier). In this case it is 36 (specific gravity is 1.036).
  2. Establish the projected number of points per pound you are going to get from one pound of grain. This is 75 percent (or your particular efficiency) of 36 (the maximum yield for pale malt), which in this case gives us 27.
  3. Multiply the weight of extract (six pounds) by the number of points from the extract (36) divided by the points attainable from the grain grain (27).
Therefore, six pounds of two-row malt yields the same as eight pounds of light domestic extract. 
6\times \frac{36}{27}=8 lbs. of grain
Amber, Dark, Wheat Extracts

What if your extract recipe calls for the use of proprietary blends of malt known as “Amber,” “Dark,” or “Wheat”? Can you convert these to all-grain? Yes, by using specialty grains you can replicate pretty much any 100 percent malt extract.

Almost all extracts begin with a large amount of base malt, generally a two-row pilsner-type malt which typically hails from the same country or region as the extract manufacturer. Amber extract is around 90 to 95 percent pale malt, up to 5 percent crystal malt, and around 3 percent chocolate or black malt. Dark extract is generally 90 percent pale, with 5 percent roast and the remaining 5 percent crystal or chocolate. Each extract producer will differ slightly, either to fill a particular market niche, or to provide an extract intended for a certain beer style.

The majority of producers do not divulge their exact percentages; however these numbers can sometimes be inferred from other published information. For example, the pH of pale malt is 5.23. Roasted grain has a lower pH, therefore if you see an extract with a pH of 4.86, you can deduce the fact that roasted grain was used to make it, instead of just crystal malt to add colour. This could be an article in itself, but your best bet would be to speak to your local homebrew shop as they will most likely be very knowledgeable on the subject.

To and From Extract With Grains

In extract recipes that call for the steeping of specialty grains, a good rule is to use the same amount of grain required in the extract recipe when brewing all-grain. This presumes that the steeping process was done correctly and that the same type and amount of water was used during mashing and steeping. For instance, water high in carbonate has been shown to obstruct extraction and cause astringency and/or haze to the final product. You need to be aware of this and match water types.

This pound for pound conversion works well for crystal/caramel malts and malts/barley, however for toasted grains, light crystal malts, and flaked adjuncts this is not always the case. Except in the case that the extract recipe uses a partial mash with some enzymatic grains, any toasted malt which is used as a steeping grain will only provide starch to your beer. This is because toasted malts require the assistance of enzymes from other base malts to convert their starch to sugar. If not, they will only provide haze, starch, toasty flavour, and colour.

Therefore with toasted malts and very light caramel malts (this includes dextrin malt), you should always utilise an enzymatic rest. If you are moving a recipe from extract to all-grain, there is nothing to worry about, but if you’re moving a recipe to extract and it uses one of these toasted malts, you will either have to delete it, or use a partial mash. Alternatively you can find extracts which provide toasty/bready flavours, so you could potentially use one of these.

So it seems easy, right? Well let’s use an example, let’s say your recipe uses 8 lbs of amber extract. 8 lbs. extract syrup gives 1.036 gravity per pound per gallon, which is 36 points. This is the same for the grain, but with lower efficiency. Therefore,

8\times \frac{1}{0.75 (efficiency)}=10.67 lbs. of grain

Amber extract uses approximately 0.08 to 0.1 pound of crystal malt in addition to the pale base malt; using the average of this range gives us 9% crystal. We can calculate how much crystal malt to pale malt we will need. Just multiply the total grain, 6.67 pounds, by 0.09 (the decimal equivalent of 9 percent) to give 0.96 pounds of crystal malt.

The remaining 9.71 pounds will be made up of pale two-row grain.

Once you reach the mashing stage, you will have to decide on a temperature to rest at for saccharification. Extract manufacturers generally rest between 150° to 152° F, this produces a base extract which is not too dextrinous and works for many beer styles. When replacing grains with extract, use an infusion mash temperature around 150°-158° F. Temperatures below this generate worts with less unfermentables compared to worts made at temperatures of 156° to 158° F, which is the suggested range to reproduce a dextrinous extract.

All-Grain to Extract

In terms of equations, the opposite of the above information will work to convert any all-grain recipe to extract. Again, you should keep in mind any toasted malt and the potential issues with it. Light malt extract is ideal for conversion as the specialty grains, except toasted, can stay the same. If Munich malt is involved in the beer you want to brew, understand that there are different strengths of Munich extracts, ranging from 50-100%.

Also bear in mind that you should try to keep the country or region the same when converting, for domestic extract from domestic pale malts that is. If you’re going to use domestic light extract to convert British pale ale malt, you should add a tiny bit of extra crystal (1-2 percent) to ever so slightly modify the colour and compensate for the lack of caramel flavour.

Here’s an example, let’s say you want to convert 9 lbs. of two-row malt into extract (remember to use pale extract from the same region). The specific gravity is 1.036 or 36 points for both the grain and the extract, and the efficiency as usual is 0.75. All you need to do is multiply this all together:

9\times 0.75 (efficiency) \times \frac{36}{36}=6.75 lbs. of grain

Simple, right?

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