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The New Brewer: Steeping Specialty Grains

2010 March 3
by Mad Alchemist

One of the biggest early improvements in my homebrews came when I started brewing with more than just extract. Extract kits are extremely easy and take very little time to brew. But, for about 10 minutes more effort and 30 total minutes more time, you can steep specialty grains before boiling the extract and make dramatic improvements in your beer, truly crafting something that is your own and plays to your palette. It’s really as easy as making tea!

What You Need
You don’t need much. You probably have everything you need already, except perhaps for an inexpensive grain bag.

  • Grain Bags: Get yourself either a few disposable muslin bags or some reusable grain bags.
  • Thermometer: You’ll also need a thermometer if you don’t have one. If you’re making beer, you should already have one.
  • Crushed Grains: The grains must be crushed. You can almost always find them pre-crushed at your homebrew shop. If they’re not crushed, you can use a rolling pin and crush the grains in the bag–not to a powder, just crack them up.
  • Water: You’ll need brewing-suitable water to steep your grains in. The ideal ratio here is to use less than 1 gallon of water per pound of specialty grain to prevent extracting astringent tannins (I use a ratio of 3 quarts of water per pound of grain).

The Process
Steeping specialty grains is easy! If you read through this twice and try it once, you’re an expert!

  • Bring your water to anywhere between 150 and 170 degrees F. 160 is the sweet spot right in the middle.
  • Put the crushed grains in your bag(s) and tie them off.
  • Put your grain bags into the water and let them steep for 30 minutes.
  • While the grains are steeping, swirl them around about every 5-10 minutes.
  • After 30 minutes have passed, take the grain bag out and let it drip for a minute (then discard the grains).
  • Crank the temperature up on your brew kettle and proceed with your normal extract-style brewing!

Extract Kits with Specialty Grains
Many of the kits from homebrew shops have specialty grains crushed and ready to go for you. You can find them at places like Northern Brewer, MoreBeer, or your local homebrew shop.

Grains That Can Be Steeped
Here are many of the grains that you can steep to provide more complex and delicious flavors in your beer.

  • Cara-Pils/Dextrine
  • Biscuit Malt
  • Black (Patent) Malt
  • Black Barley (Stout)
  • Caraamber
  • Carafoam
  • Caramel/Crystal Malt – 10L
  • Caramel/Crystal Malt – 20L
  • Caramel/Crystal Malt – 30L
  • Caramel/Crystal Malt – 40L
  • Caramel/Crystal Malt – 60L
  • Caramel/Crystal Malt – 80L
  • Caramel/Crystal Malt -120L
  • Caramunich Malt
  • Carared
  • Caravienne Malt
  • Chocolate Malt
  • Roasted Barley

I took this list from the BeerSmith site (I use BeerSmith as my primary tool for formulating recipes as well). It has descriptions of each of the grains listed as well as considerably more information about them: http://www.beersmith.com/GrainList.htm

Any grain listed on that site that has a “No” under the “Must Mash” column can be steeped. Yeah, you can do a lot of experimentation to find the perfect beer without spending the additional effort of partial mash or all-grain brewing.

Summary
Steeping specialty grains before brewing your extract-based beer is quick and easy. It only takes an additional 30 minutes, of which you have to concern yourself with 5-10. And, you’ll be brewing much better, fresher-tasting beer that you’ve crafted yourself and can call your own. Cheers!

One Response leave one →
  1. Luke permalink
    December 9, 2011

    Should the steeped grains then be boiled i.e. to sterilise them? If so, could you also add some hops to the “wort” during the boil?

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