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While picking up supplies for my 2nd brew yesterday, I noticed that I'm using the same LME for this brew (pale ale) as I did for my last (brown ale). In fact, I only saw the one barrel, so I think this could be the only LME my shop carries.

To me this seems odd. The only differences in ingredients for these 2 brews are the 2ish pounds of grains, and the hops. It seems like 6lbs of extract is by far the major component of each, and I would think it provides the majority of the character. Am I limiting my beer's flavor by using this 'one-size fits all' extract?

follow up:

I have read about all-grain brews, and I would think that mashing a specific combination of malted grains would provide a much more variable flavor than using a standard extract. Is this why all-grain seems to be the preferred method?

Thanks!

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2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Most beer is made from a base malt plus specialty grains. In your case, you're using LME as your base malt instead of whole grains, but the result is largely the same as an all-grain brew. The base malt provides the bulk of the sugar that the yeast eats and the additional malt and grains give it flavor and character. Selecting different malts and grains to add to the base malt changes a beer as much as or more than selecting different hops. The same base malts are used for a variety of beer styles.

There are different types of base malts and they can also be made into extract. That your LHBS only appears to carry one in bulk probably means that's their best seller. (Probably light pale malt, the backbone of many ales.) They likely have cans or packages of LME and DME made from other types of malt.

The advantage of all-grain brewing is control. You can make an excellent beer from extract or a partial mash, but only all-grain brewing allows the brewer total control over the brewing process. Sometimes the results may only be subtly different, but that's the fun in the hobby!

If you haven't already, I recommend picking up a guide to homebrew, like John Palmer's How To Brew, at your LHBS. There's lots of detail in the books about the hows and whys of different malts and hops and yeasts.

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You can make a large range of great brews using the same base malt all the time; regardless of extract or all grain brewing. The variety in appearance and flavors style to style is in the specialty grains. When I extract brewed I always bought the same style of DME (light) and did everything else with specialty grains. (I think golden, amber, brown, dark extracts are a waste if time and create a real lack of understanding of what you're putting into your recipes).

The only advantage all grain gets you over this is mash profile (body and fermentability control) and a slightly better range in base malt choice. But when getting started, using the same extract base over and over is the best way to learn about the speciality grains, focus on good yeast practices and fermentation control.

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+1 for avoiding dark extracts to improve brewing acumen. But I feel you're downplaying the advantage of AG a little...fermentabilty control and tuning the malt/hop balance is a big win! –  mdma Feb 7 '12 at 7:39
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