If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen someone puff up his chest and slag extract brewing, I’d be able to afford a whole carload of hazy IPA 4-packs. If you close your eyes, I guarantee you can hear the crabby old brewer complaining that “extract brewing is cheating,” “extract brewing isn’t real brewing,” etc. Please pass me a few more nickels.
Here’s the thing: The majority of homebrewers—even in this day and age of brew-in-a-bag, astonishing and endless varieties of grain, and easy mashing techniques—use extract. Why? Because not everyone has the time, the energy, or the inclination to spend hours on a brew day mashing grain, but they still want to make beer. So who are we to turn up our noses at their happy passion for creating?
The reason most of our experiences with extract beers have been “dodgy” is that many of those brewers are on their first attempts. Just think how many things you got wrong in your first batches. In truth, I’ve known veteran brewers who continue after decades to use extract because it fits their lifestyle better. You know I’m not telling you about them if their beer isn’t great.
The truth of brewing still comes largely down to our ability to be clever, accurate, and on point during fermentation. There’s very little you can’t do with extract... including make a hazy IPA.
However, extract brewing has its limitations—namely, without mashing, you’re somewhat hamstrung in terms of additional ingredients you can use. Anything that requires mashing is a no-go for extract brewers. This is a problem in the world of hazy IPA brewing because a common ingredient in many of these beers is the wonderful oat.
The breakfast-champion grain has a long history in brewing, but the common forms—flaked and cut oats—aren’t useful to a non-mashing brewer. The problem is a lack of enzymes to convert the oaty starch into oaty sugar. For all-grain brewers, this isn’t a problem—they have more than enough enzymatic power in a regular mash to chop the oat starch into component sugars.
Extract brewers don’t have the enzymes available because the concentration step has killed all the goods. So we’ve got to get you, the extract fiend, a way to convert oat starch into fermentable oat sugar and allow you to take advantage of the protein and body-building properties of Avena sativa.
The easiest, hackiest solution is to use oat milk, a dairy alternative made from soaked oats and enzymes. Remember, liquid starch is highly undesirable in a shelf-stable foodstuff. Manufacturers will soak oats with amylase to convert starch into sugar and then blend and strain the gruel into a milk-like product. Several breweries and homebrewers have added oat milk straight to the kettle post boil. The result is an outstanding murk with plenty of sugar for fermentation.
But for my money, the best way isn’t any harder, except finding the needed grain. We think of malt as being barley, but malt is the name we apply to any cereal that’s been sprouted and dried. We use wheat malt all the time. If you search hard enough, you can find malts of a number of grains, including oat malt.
Largely used in the past in the United Kingdom for stouts, oat malt has been barely hanging on until now. For years only Thomas Fawcett & Sons made oat malt, but now others are in on the game, including Canada Malting Company and Simpsons Malt. The nifty bit about oat malt is that it comes packed with enough enzymatic power to convert itself.
In other words, if you’re steeping grains (and as much as I believe in the power of extract, you really should be steeping fresh-cracked grains), you can steep your cracked oat malt and get adequate conversion. Just watch your crush. Oat malt is remarkably skinny and can slip through a lot of mill gaps unharmed. For that reason, I like to mix in pale malt to aid in crushing and add some more heft to the steeping liquid. If you’re feeling cheeky, throw in some Golden Naked Oats for sweet oat character as well.
Just keep in mind that you want your gruel to land in the 150–165°F (66–74°C) range for 20 minutes.
Surprisingly, that’s the toughest nut for an extract brewer to crack in the arena of hazy brewing. Beyond this point, it’s just being sensible. When shopping for extract, choose the freshest palest liquid extract you can find. Look for extracts that call out a Pilsner character.
Choose a strong haze-helping yeast—Wyeast 1318 London Ale III is a solid go-to. Look also for Imperial A38 Juice and White Labs WLP066 London Fog, among others. Get a starter going to make some healthy sugar eaters.
On brew day, steep your grains and watch the odd swirling character of the oat malt come out. After you strain and rinse the grains and bring your grain tea to a boil, take your pot off the heat and stir in 1/4 to 1/3 of the extract. This small addition helps adjust the pH of the wort, which will make the hops chemistry work more efficiently.
Once the wort is back to the boil, I like a small addition of bittering hops such as Warrior, but I’m a bitter West Coaster.
Since we’re not extracting bitterness, a short boil suffices. I go for 20 minutes, remove the kettle from the heat, and add the rest of the extract. I bring it back to the boil for 10 minutes, then cool the wort to 170°F (77°C).
And now, this is where the true fun of the style comes in—it’s time for your hops to take a bath. Stir the kettle vigorously and add your hops for 20 minutes. Your hops steep, unleashing goodness.
Chill your wort down with dilution water (if doing a concentrated boil) or any process that works for you. Pitch your healthy yeast and wait three days. After three days, hit the fermentor with more hops and let the final bit of magic happen. Interactions between the yeast, the hops oils, and the proteins in the wort will cause a stable haze to form. If you’re lucky, you’ve got a beautiful golden orangey glow to look forward to.
After seven days on the hops (ten days total fermentation), you should be ready to bottle. At this point, your IPA is on a ticking time clock toward oxidized hops characters that will make you blue. So work carefully and quickly—bottle or keg with the minimum amount of oxygen exposure possible. Let your beer carb and enjoy. These beers are best within a month, so get to it! You need to make room to make more!
Let’s stop and back up for a second—what changes if I’m brewing all-grain? Not much. I’m replacing the liquid malt extract with 12 lb (5.4 kg) of pale malt and mashing that at 152°F (67°C) for 60 minutes with my other grains and then sparging. All told I’m adding more time (while saving money on the grain), but all the boil, fermentation, and packaging steps? Exactly the same.
And best of all, there’s nothing stopping any of us time-strapped brewers from throwing one of these together right now. Step out of your extract-hating haze and make the beer. You’ll be high on hops in no time!