Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Brewing chemistry: Intro

I am an extract brewer. Not by choice, but by necessity. My 5 year goal is to take the plunge and move to all-grain brewing. My limitations right now are time, space and acclimating my patient and understanding wife to the realities of my hobby.

Extract versus all-grain: The difference between the two is the source of fermentable sugars. In all-grain brewing the sugars are extracted directly from malted barley in a process known as "mashing". In extract brewing, the sugars come in the form of an extract, either dry or liquid. The sugars are extracted from the grains and dried to a powder under vacuum (or thick syrup) in a glorious factory somewhere. A typical extract recipe calls for 5-6 pounds of dry malt extract. In all-grain brewing recipes typically require 5-15 pounds of barley.

All-grain brewing requires more specialized equipment and more time. Is it superior to extract brewing? Well, that depends on who you ask. The result for either is superb beer, but with all-grain brewing there is more control over the final character of the beer. I hope to get into all-grain brewing someday.

I started writing this post and realized there were so many tangents I wanted to go on, that the post would be too long, too cumbersome and probably confusing. So, I am going to write a serial. [One of my favorite books of all time is "The Count of Monte Cristo." It was written as a serial. According to a legend I may have made up in my mind, Dumas started writing it and due to its popularity, he kept adding chapter after chapter without knowing where everything was headed.]

For every entry I am going to pick one aspect of the brewing process and write about the Chemistry involved. Hopefully, it will become a list of interesting and useful tidbits of brewing chemistry.

I must warn you: I am NOT a brewing chemist. I am a chemist who brews. Brewing is a hobby and not my career. Therefore, don't expect me to know everything.


Brendan said...

you are right on track. Brewing extract beers is nothing to be ashamed of, as many extract beers are far better than some all-grain brews.

I brew a bit of both, while I do prefer AG more. once you have a turkey frier, you can brew out side, then the jump to grinding some grains and tossing them into a cooler isn't too far off!


Chemgeek said...


thanks for the note. I've been lurking on your site for a while. I should really post. I've enjoyed reading the info about your brewery.

I lived in Lincoln while going to grad school. I loved Crane River beer. I understand they closed. Oh well, the food was bad, but the beer good. Lazlo's had great food and mediocre beer. I spent many hours reading journal articles while drinking beer there. What great memories.