Nick JD said:
I'm actually thinking about going back to extract brewing for my Ales - APA and IPAs especially.
Recently tasted some "if you hadn't told me, I would not have guessed it was extract" beers, adn sure, they weren't delicate lagers, but in an IPA with eight metric bucketloads of C hops and a quick steep of some spec malt and you'd be hard-pressed to notice it's not AG.
Thing is: you have to buy the extract in bulk, or it breaks your brewing heart when you add up the cost compared to AG.
Most people enter extract brewing having realised that adding hops and boiling a bit, and ditching the cans can really improve their beer. But have they got temp control yet? Maybe. Have they explored the world of liquid yeasts? Probably not.
See, I reckon all AG brewers should flick the chips off their shoulder occasionally and step down a peg or two and do a simple extract IPA, or an extract Saison, or Dubbel - just to go, "Fark, it's not the grain mashing that's made my beers wicked ... it's the body of brewing knowledge I've forgotten I now know."
Absolutely...the minute control AG gives you over the final product is unmatchable with extract, both in the types of grain used and of course amounts of each. I currently have 3 types of extract on hand...Briess' CBW Golden Light LME, Bavarian Wheat LME (both 15kg) and Sparkling Amber DME (5kg). I almost always use at least two of those in my ales...the majority being the Light LME, with a little of the wheat, amber if I'm needing some more colour. Except when making my hefe, where it's nothing but the Bavarian Wheat (Briess wheat extract is 65/35 wheat/barley...yes, I like it that high...YMMV).
So a combo of extracts is the only control I have over my 'base malt'. Spec grain gives you some ability to jazz that up, like I did in a dunkel recently where I used 2.2kg wheat lme and 500gm amber dme which gave only 13 EBC of colour....but added another 45 EBC via 150gm Carafa Special 1, 250gm Caramunich 3, and 500gm of dark wheat malt. So even though it's a dunkel made from extract, I believe it has a fantastic depth of flavour and aroma you'd likely never get out of a kit brew. Of course the yeast has a lot to do with that too.
You've nailed a couple of issues in price and freshness too. Compared to grain, it's exxy to buy 3kg of LME every time you want to make a beer...depending where you get it, likely around $25. That makes a batch nearly $40 when you add spec grain, hops and yeast (assuming you're buying hops and yeast...not too many extract brewers will be growing their own hops and re-culturing their yeast). While that works out to around $16 a slab (~8 litres) compared to the $60 you would pay for a slab of craft brew at the bottlo, it's still significantly more than an all grain brew...which I'm guessing would be closer to what, $8 a slab?
I personally worked around that price issue by buying bulk LME from G&G, but that's where the freshness issue comes in. I now have 30kg of LME that lets me make beer for around $11 a slab...but I need to get through it within 6 months, unless I'm going to split it into smaller containers and refrigerate it (or even freeze it as many yanks do). So bulk LME may not be suitable for anyone brewing less than say 20 batches a year. Bulk DME (G&G sell 50 pound bags, i.e. 22 odd kilos) can be stored much longer than LME, but can be hard to find, and is not actually all that much cheaper in large volumes for some reason...G&G's prices have 5kg of the CBW brand (Condensed Brewers Wort for anyone wondering) for $9 per kg, whereas the 22kg bag only drops to $8 per kg. Given you need 2.5kg of DME to add the same amount of fermentable sugars as 3kg of LME, it still works out to $20 for the malt....or $14 per slab.