Add Base Malts to Your Extract Beers


Adding some base malt, such as this Munich malt, to your extract beer will help improve it’s aroma.

A common way to make beer using malt extract is to rely on light or pale malt extract as the base of the recipe. To add additional malt color, flavor and aroma, specialty grains are steeped. For example, the grain bill for a pale ale recipe may consist of several pounds of dried malt extract and a pound or so of crystal malt. In a recipe like this, the specialty grains supply their flavors, aromas and a small amount of carbohydrates (that add to the specific gravity of the wort).

The light malt extract base supplies most of the carbohydrates (fermentable or  otherwise) to the wort, as well as some flavor and aroma. However, given the way malt extract is processed, much of the aroma associated with the base malt is lost. (For example, Pilsner malt extract (liquid or powder) is made from Pilsner malt (a malted grain). During it’s manufacture, some of the aroma of the Pilsner malt (the grain) is lost while the extract is condensed via evaporation.) If you are formulating an extract beer, there is an easy way to add base malt aroma back to your beer — add some base malt to your steeped malts. Common base malts include 2-row pale malt, 2-row pale ale malt, Pilsner malt, Vienna malt, Munich malt, wheat malt and 6-row pale malt.

Although specialty grains add malt aroma to a beer, the aroma they add is different from the aroma of base grains. You can easily verify this by smelling a handful of 2-row pale malt vs. a handful of crystal malt.

Some extract brewers may be reluctant to add base grains to their steeping grains because they have heard that base grains need to be mashed, not just steeped. Steeping base grains at the wrong temperature or volume can lead to starch haze in your beer. While this is true, mashing is similar to steeping. If you “steep” base grains in the right temperature range and with the right amount of water, you are mashing and do not have to worry about starch haze.

Adding base grains to most extract beers is easy. First decide how much base grains you can steep. This will depend on how much space you have in the vessel you steep in. Adding even 1.0 pound (0.45 kg) of base malt to a 5.0-gallon (19-L) recipe can make a noticeable difference. Two pounds of combined base and specialty malt can be steeped (mashed) in a standard 3-qt. (~3 L) soup pot. The “grain tea” from this can be added to your brewpot when it is ready, and you can be heating water in your brewpot during the steep (mash).

Once you have decided how much base grain to add, calculate how much light malt extract to remove from the recipe to compensate. If you use dried malt extract, multiply the weight of the base malt added by 0.53 and subtract that amount of malt extract from the recipe. If you use liquid malt extract, multiply the weight of the base malts by 0.65.

For example, let’s say your recipe contained 7.0 lbs. (3.2 kg) of dried malt extract and 0.75 lbs. (0.34 kg) of crystal malt. Additionally, lets says the all-grain equivalent recipe specified 12 lbs. (5.4 kg) British 2-row pale ale malt (Maris Otter) and the same amount of crystal malt. You decide to add 1.25 lbs. (0.57 kg) of base malt (the Maris Otter) to make 2.0 lbs. (0.91 kg) of malt total. To make room for the added base malt, subtract 1.25 X 0.53 = 0.66 lbs. of dried malt extract from your initial amount (7.0 lbs). Your grain bill is then 6.33 lbs. (2.9 kg) dried malt extract, 1.25 lbs. (0.57 kg) British 2-row pale ale malt (Maris Otter) and 0.75 lbs. (0.34 kg) crystal malt).

When you brew, just multiply the total weight of your grains (base plus specialty, in pounds) times 1.4 and add this volume of water (in quarts). (Alternately, multiply the weight in kilograms by 2.6 and add this volume of water in liters.) For example, if you have 2.0 lbs. (0.91 kg) of combined grains, “steep” them in 2.0 X 1.4 = 2.8 qts. of water.

“Steep” (mash) the grains at 148–162 °F for around 45 minutes. If you have the equivalent all-grain recipe, steep at the temperature of the saccharification rest (usually the longest rest if there are more than one, and in the temperature range given above).

Adding base grains to an extract beer recipe is simple and will definitely improve the malt aroma of that beer.


Related articles

Mashing vs. Steeping

Partial Mash Methods (Brewpot and Colander)

Partial Mash Methods (Countertop Partial Mashing)



  1. I can definitely see the value of this method for beers with distinctive base grain flavors, particularly Pilsner. For me, Pilsner is the most distinctive base grain flavor out there. I can see how this could make an extract beer taste even better.

  2. Tyson Schindler says:

    Great info here! For reasons relating to the added time and equipment, I’ve decided to stay an extract brewer (for now) and not make the jump to all-grain. I’m just getting into formulating my own recipes, and this info about adding base grains to the specialty grains for steeping/mini-mashing is very helpful and will open up the flavor/style ranges that extract-only limits. In regard to the volume of water used for the steeping/mashing, are you using any of this (or any extra amount) for sparging (that I’ve done in other mini-mashes), or is it just more of the “lift, drip, discard” method (that I’ve done in just steeping)? Since this seems to be a bit of a hybrid between the two methods, I’m just wondering if it makes much of a difference.
    Also, what kind of extract efficiency does this method typically produce (just wondering for my recipe formulation software). I’ve only done a couple of mini-mashes so far, but never measured a pre-boil SG to compare to the potential extract of the grains to get an actual efficiency number.
    Thanks for the great articles and info on this site… Cheers!

    • Chris Colby says:

      Mashing at about 1.25 to 1.5 quarts of water per pound of grain works well for small mashes. For rinsing the grains, I usually use somewhere between the same volume used for mashing and half that volume of sparge water. [I pull the grain bag out, let it drip, then place it in a colander over the brewpot. I sometimes pour the “grain tea” wort through the bag before rinsing it. That strains out any “floaties” (bits of grain).]

      For smaller scale mashing (for example, in a partial mash brew), I really don’t worry about extract efficiency too much. It’s really just a distraction at that scale, IMHO. For recipe formulation, assuming about 65% efficiency should work.

      • Tyson Schindler says:

        Thanks, Chris – I appreciate the reply and info. The recipe site I’m using defaults to 35% for steeping and recommends 50-60% for mini-mash, so 65% sounds about right. You are probably right in it just being a distraction at this level… But I’m just anal enough to want to try to stay within style guidelines and get everything calculated “just right” – even though I know that on brew day I’ll be lucky if I can even get close to the planned numbers!

        • Hello all,
          After 20 batches of all-grain “classical” brewing (50 Liters/ 13 Gal batches), I’m glad to read this thread advocating for a hybrid extract+steeping process.
          My reasons for doing it are – trying something new and, room temperature here on summer time is not so good for Ale fermentation but proved harmless for a small scale test I did with a simple 5 Gal liquid extract kit.
          Since this is my first, I’m asking your comments and advise for my following plan for a 50 Liter yield (I have 66 L /17.5 Gal stainless steel pot);

          Amber Ale liquid extract 3 kg / 6.6 Lbs
          Pale Ale malted barley, crushed 4 kg / 8.8 Lbs
          Crystal malted barley, crushed 0.5 kg /1.1 Lbs
          Cascade 6.2% or Northern 7% Hop (2 packs) 60 Gr/ 2.1 Ounce
          Safale S-04 Yeast (2 packs) 22 Gr/ 0.8 Ounce

          Steeping planned to use 80% = 40 L/ 10.5 Gal, 67-70° C water for 30 minutes, before adding the liquid extract. The other 20% will be used for cooling after boiling.
          a) Is it reasonable??
          b) Any similar process recipe for UK/US Bitter ??

          Thank you all,
          Western Galilee

          • Chris Colby says:

            It would be best to mash in 12–13 L of water, then add more water when it’s time to dissolved the extract. Otherwise, this should yield a ~3.6% ABV bitter-like beer.

  3. Kurt Kramer says:

    Great info Chris. I’m looking forward to trying this.

    Are there any considerations if adding specialty malts like Munich or Vienna? Can we treat these the same as vase malts, or do we need to add 2row to help the conversion.


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  3. […] malt extract brewers, your best bet is to add some base grains to your recipe formulation. This will enhance the malt aroma of your beer, and likely the haze. Do […]

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  6. […] Another way to raise the fermentability of your wort is to degrade some of the unfermentable carbohydrates in the malt extract. The best way to do this is to add a partial mash to your extract recipe. The partial mash will help somewhat by simply replacing extract wort with all-grain wort, but you can also employ the enzymes in the base malt to act on the malt extract. To do this, you can run off your partial mash wort into your brewpot and dissolve some or all of your malt extract in it. Hold the mixture of extract and all-grain wort at 148–152 °F (64–67 °C) for about 5 minutes and then proceed as normal. (For a drier beer, you could extend this hold, up to a couple hours if you want a bone dry beer.) For a 5.0-gallon (19-L) batch of beer, making a partial mash with your specialty grains and enough base malt to make 3 or 4 pounds (1.4–1.8 kg) of grist would give you enough enzymatic power to do this, and would also benefit the aroma of your extract beer. […]

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  8. […] On Monday, I’ll discuss a couple alternate ways to handle the dark grains in a porter and explain an excellent way to formulate an extract porter. (Hint: add base malts.) […]

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  10. […] is made, some of the volatiles that contribute to malt aroma are lost in the process. Making a partial mash compensates for this. At a minimum, for a 5.0-gallon (19-L) batch, a 3.0-b (1.4-kg) partial mash should be made — and […]

  11. […] have a more narrow range of temperatures and grain-to-water ratios to work within. Converting extract recipes to partial mash is simple therefore almost always worth your while.  Almost all of the extract recipes presented […]

  12. […] Compared to a pale ale made with a straight extract-with-steeping-grains formulation, this beer has more aroma from the pale malt. Compared to some other partial mash methods, this uses more grains and less extract. Over 70% of […]

  13. […] option). Compared to a bitter made with an extract-with-steeping-grains formulation, this beer has more aroma from the pale malt. Compared to some other partial mash methods, this uses more grains and less extract. Roughly 70% […]

  14. […] mashing 6.0 lbs. (2.7 kg) of grain in a 3-gallon (11-L) cooler. Partial mashing gives your beer more base malt aroma compared to an extract-with-steeping-grains formulation.  This particular method of partial […]

  15. […] a series of recipes formulated as partial mashes because I feel that partial mash homebrews have more base malt aroma than recipes in which only specialty grains are steeped. If you’re an extract beer thinking […]

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