This idea applies to anyone, but I want to especially recommend it to my fellow nose-in-the-air all-grain brewers: Loosen up, buy a couple of extract kits—or throw together whatever you have lying around—and apply your creative powers to cobbling them together for what will almost certainly be (1) a more relaxed brew day, and (2) a reasonably tasty beer.
I think a lot of us talk about brewing like this—throwing together a bunch of odds and ends to see how it turns out—but it’s not something I’d ever done. I nearly always have a specific idea of what I want to brew, so I make sure I have what I need for it. However, when I see partial bags of malt in my storage bin and a random assortment of leftover hops in my freezer—not to mention a shuffled deck of yeast packets in the fridge—I often think, “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to throw some of this random stuff together some time and see what happens?”
But I never actually did it—not until last year.
This particular brew day was doubly novel for me; I’ve only rarely brewed with extracts. There was that one time in college with my roommates. There was another time years later, on the kitchen stove, when my kids were tiny and I wanted to save time. But that’s it. When I first started brewing more seriously about 12 years ago, I knew I wanted to jump straight into all-grain. I was already writing about beer and interviewing brewers by that time. I wanted to control the mash the way they did.
Later, I also developed an appreciation for spending basically the whole day brewing. I don’t especially want to hurry. So, I didn’t think much about extracts.
But you know what? I’ve been missing out.
Here’s how it happened for me: I found myself looking at two Munton’s extract recipe kits. (Disclosure: The company sent them to us with the idea that we might review them. Here’s my review: They’re great. But I didn’t exactly follow the instructions.)
One kit was for an amber ale, and the other for an American pale lager. Each kit was meant for a five-gallon batch. Part of the problem: My system is better suited for 10- to 12-gallon batches. So, I started thinking … What if I just combined them? What could I make with that?
The first thing I decided: I need all of those fermentables—from that amber liquid malt extract to that extra-pale dry extract, via those rice flakes and crystal malts. All of it. Plugging it into Beersmith showed that the gravity would be pretty low—plus, I was feeling more amber than pale—so I added a pound of my own crystal 60L that I wasn’t using for anything else. That brought the expected gravity to 1.047, and I figured I could get a 5 percent ABV beer out of it.
Meanwhile, I had that random hoard of hops and yeasts, accumulating in the fridge like layers of fallen leaves. The recipe kits came with their own hops and yeast, of course, but I had other notions—such as some lovely whole-leaf Sterling hops that were taking up room in the freezer, plus some nice Willamette for a flameout aroma burst.
I also had a surplus of W-34/70 lager yeast, and another thing I’d been wanting to try: a pouch of Omega’s Lutra Kveik strain. It’s an isolate from the Hornindal kveik that is supposed to ferment with a lager-like cleanliness even at warmer temperatures. So, by doing a split batch, I’d be able to compare them side by side: an amber lager and kveik-fermented amber faux-lager.
How did they turn out? Smoothly. The Lutra beer was ready pretty quickly. That late burst of Willamette was a good choice, adding interest to a balanced, mid-strength beer with a floral-fruity bouquet. Despite that extra pound of crystal and longer boil, it wound up lighter in body than I expected—but let’s call that “crisp” and maybe credit the rice flakes. It’s a fun, highly drinkable beer, and I learned some things. (I do think the lager turned out smoother and cleaner than the faux-lager—but we drank the latter too quickly to compare them side by side.)
So, what did I learn?
- Using the extracts, I nailed my target starting gravity. That was nice for a change.
- Getting those last bits of syrupy liquid malt extract out of the can is not super fun. I used the hot steeping water and only burned myself a little.
- It helps to have a way to suspend the mesh grain bags over the wort to drain and rinse them after steeping. I figured something out last minute, but you brew-in-a-bag folks have my respect.
- It was faster than my usual brew day … but not as fast as I expected. The usual: Look at all that stuff and visualize. Recognize an oversight, then improvise. Change the music. Pour a beer. Try to remember what I was going to do next. Clean. Clean some more.
- That Lutra strain works like a dream.
- In retrospect, my Frankenstein beer is a pretty mainstream drinker and not much of a monster at all. So, I’m wondering whether I should have added a third or fourth recipe kit. Which leads me to the last thing…
- I should buy extract kits more often, especially if I see them on sale. Wouldn’t mind taking another stab at building a more perfect monster.
Recipe: Muntonstein’s Monster
Here’s what I did—a split-batch of amber lager and amber “lager.” It made two nice, smooth-drinking beers—but you brewing this thing exactly would arguably defeat the purpose of brewing a Frankenstein beer. The idea here is to show what’s possible, so you can find out what creatures might be lurking in your own brewing-supply closet.
Batch size: 10 gallons (38 liters)
6.6 lb (3 kg) Muntons Amber Malt Extract (LME)
5.5 lb (2.5 kg) Muntons Extra Light Spray Malt (DME)
2 lb (907 g) flaked rice
1 lb (454 g) Briess caramel 60L
12 oz (340 g) Muntons lager malt
8 oz (227 g) Muntons Crystal 110 (40L)
0.5 oz (14 g) Sterling [8.2% AA] at 60 minutes
0.5 oz (14 g) Sterling [8.2% AA] at 30 minutes
1.5 oz (43 g) Sterling [8.2% AA] at 10 minutes
2.5 oz (71 g) Willamette [3.8% AA] at flameout
Fermentis SafLager W-34/70 & Omega OYL-071 Lutra Kveik (split batch)
In mesh bags, steep crushed grains and flaked rice in 155°F (68°C) water for 30 minutes, then suspend the bags over the kettle to drain and rinse with more hot water. Add all extracts to the kettle and stir to dissolve. Bring to a boil and boil for 90 minutes, adding hops according to the schedule. Chill the wort, rack into two separate fermentors, and aerate well.
For the lager: Cool to about 48°F (9°C) and pitch plenty of healthy lager yeast. Ferment at 50°F (10°C) for a couple of weeks, or until fermentation is complete. Lager at about 34–36°F (1–2°C) for at least 4 weeks, or longer. Then package and carbonate.
For the kveik-fermented faux-lager: Allow the wort to rise to room temperature, or as warm as 90°F (32°C), and pitch the Lutra. When fermentation is complete and gravity has stabilized, crash, package, and carbonate.