great site. I am a total newbie at brewing (used a Mr. Beer kit a few times with success), and recently got a 2 tier homebrewing system for Christmas. I got a prepackaged "American Amber Ale" kit as well as I didn't want to run straight to my own recipes, I wanted to walk slowly and learn the process.

But I am confused. The kit came with Dry Caramel malts (you have to steep in a bag first), then it came with a liquid malt extract, and a dry malt extract. You have to use all three of these, plus two types of hops to create the wort. My question is, why all three types of malt? Is that for flavor/color/etc? In basic brewing isnt it true that you simply need a grain, hops, and yeast? obviously that would be the simplest of simple.

Sorry if this is too easy of a question, I am just starting out. Thanks!

3 Answers 3


Brewing is a lot like cooking. Sometimes your recipe calls for a very simple collection of ingredients (think good Italian food). These types of recipes can call for just 1 or 2 malts, and can be quite delicious. Pilsners, Munich Dunkels, Scotch Ales, some British Ales, simple Belgians, Wheats and more are all styles that can be made with a single type of malt each.

But sometimes in cooking, and brewing, you need to pull together multiple ingredients to make a unique flavor. Think a fancy French dish with a rich sauce. Ambers, Brown Ales, Belgian Dubbels, Stouts, Porters, Red Ales and more are all styles that require a combination of malts to achieve their taste. It is impossible to create winning examples of these styles with just a single type of malt.

In your specific example, an "American Amber" beer will require a few types of malts. You have both liquid and dry extract (you didn't specify the color) probably just used in combination to achieve the proper gravity required. This is pretty common in extract recipes. Also, you have some caramel malt to steep, mainly because Amber beers are best described as having a "caramel sweetness," which is best achieved thru the use of Caramel, or "Crystal" malt, in addition to the base malt used to provide the base beer.

Keep in mind that extract, especially "Amber" or darker, is a mix of several types of malts anyway. A "base" malt used to derive most of the fermentables and the basic flavor, plus a Dextrin malt for body and some crystal malts for body/sweetness/flavor.


Typically, dry malt extract is included to make up for liquid malt extract that isn't included. In other words, LME (liquid malt extract) generally comes prepackaged in 3.3 lb. containers. That's great if the amount of malt you need is in multiples of 3.3 lb., but that generally doesn't happen. The DME (dry malt extract) is included to provide the additional malt fermentables needed for the recipe. Both the LME and DME can b e thought of as the "base" of your beer. You then add flavors to that with the caramel (or other "specialty" malts) to create the beer you're going for. For more info, please see John Palmer's excellent online book "How to Brew". www.howtobrew.com

  • That's fantastic, thanks! So if you had enough of either, you could use all LME or DME. Gotcha. Its a convienence for the craft brew kit makers. Makes sense.
    – Steve M.
    Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 19:24
  • The thing to remember is that LME and DME have different contributions to the OG of your beer. LME has around 36 ppg (points/pound/gal.) while DME averages about 45 ppg. So, that means for instance that 1 lb. of DME in 1 gal. of water will give you an OG of 1.045. In 5 gal. of water, it adds about 9 points (45 points/5 gal.).
    – Denny Conn
    Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 19:32
  • Often you'll find DME is used to push the beer to a higher specific gravity without relying on more expensive grain or liquid malts. It keeps costs down, but at a potential cost to the flavor of the beer, depending on the quality of your malts, and how clean your brew process is.
    – S.Robins
    Commented Jan 3, 2012 at 4:52

The liquid and dry malt extracts are your main sources of sugar for the yeast to eat and turn into alcohol. They're made from grain (the way all-grain brewers do it), then deyhdrated/concentrated into a liquid or powder form. They can also add flavor and color, which may be why you have both dry and liquid forms. The liquid may be an amber extract, and the dry just for sugar content (a guess).

The caramel malt is considered a specialty grain. By steeping the grain in hot water, you release starches from the grain (assuming the grain is crushed to release the endosperm from the husk), as well as extract flavor and color from them.

In a full all-grain mash, these starches are converted to sugars by enzymes. However when steeping just your crystal malt, it lacks the "diastatic power" (the ability of the grain's enzymes to convert starches to fermentable sugars) to fully convert the starch.

The temperature of the mash also affects this conversion, and a steep will not usually hold optimum temperatures like an all-grain mash would. Most steeping instructions I've seen call for bringing the water to a boil, shutting off the heat and dropping the grain bag in to steep.

So those factors, combined with the fact that the kit probably only has a small amount of grain, is why I originally said the crystal malt would add no fermentable sugars. I should have said they would not contribute significantly to the fermentable sugar content, to be more precise.

re-edit for clarity, with thanks to Denny and baka for good info and links in the comments: caramel malts undergo a process that converts some of its starches into sugars, so even during a steep without any other grains, those sugars will be dissolved into the wort, and some of those sugars are fermentable. My text above stands for other specialty grains that don't have the diastatic power to convert their own starches, so I will leave the answer as-is.

  • Ok, that all makes sense. One quick question though. If Malt extract is "grain" and the main source of sugar for yeast, and speciality grain is "grain", then why doesnt the specialty grain add sugar content to the wort?
    – Steve M.
    Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 19:30
  • The specialty grains usually do add sugar...I'm afraid the poster was incorrect. The sugars added by specialty grains may not be as fermentable and may leave you with a higher FG, but they may not. Generally they're used for body and flavor.
    – Denny Conn
    Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 19:34
  • Not trying to be a pain, just trying to learn, lol. But why isnt the sugars from speciality grains as fermentable? is it because they are in raw form and not processed like LME and DME?
    – Steve M.
    Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 20:19
  • Asking questions to educate yourself will never make you a pain! It depends on the type of specialty grains. Things like crystal have essentially been "mashed" in the husk so the fermentability is set by how the maltster mashed them. Take a look at this...howtobrew.com/section2/chapter12-1.html
    – Denny Conn
    Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 20:46
  • @DennyConn, caramel malts will have enough diastatic power to convert when steeped by themselves in an extract batch? I'd be very surprised if steeping most specialty grains will add significantly to the fermentable sugars in wort. I guess that's the wording I wanted in the first place.
    – JoeFish
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 4:55

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