Chapter 3 - Malt Extract and Beer Kits
3.2 Shopping for Extracts
The freshness of the extract is important, particularly for the syrup. Beer brewed with extract syrup more than a year old will often have a blunt, stale, even soapy flavor to it. This is caused by the oxidation of the fatty acid compounds in the malt. Dry malt extract has a better shelf life than the liquid because the extra de-hydration slows the pertinent chemical reactions.
Another quality of an extract that can have a particularly strong affect on the quality of the final beer is Free Amino Nitrogen (FAN). FAN is a measure of the amount of amino acid nitrogen that is available to the yeast for nutrition during fermentation. Without sufficient FAN, the yeast are less efficient and produce more fermentation byproducts which result in off-flavors in the final beer. This is why it is important to not follow most canned kit instructions to add sugar to the wort. Corn, rice, and cane sugar contain little, if any, FAN. Adding large percentages of these sugars to the wort dilutes what little FAN there is and deprives the yeast of the nutrients they need to grow and function. FAN can be added to the wort in the form of yeast nutrient. See Chapter 7 - Yeast for more information.
Malt Extract is available as either Hopped or Unhopped. Hopped extracts are boiled with hops prior to dehydration and usually contain a mild to moderate level of bitterness. Alexander's?, Coopers?, Edme?, Ireks?, John Bull?, Mountmellick?, and Munton & Fison? are all high quality brands. Read the ingredient list to avoid refined sugar.
Malt extract is commonly available in Pale, Amber, and Dark varieties, and can be mixed depending on the style of beer desired. Wheat malt extract is also available and new extracts tailored to specific beer styles are arriving all the time. The quality of extracts and beer kits has improved greatly in the last 5 years. An all-extract brewer will be quite satisfied brewing entirely from beer kits as long as they ignore the instructions on the can and follow the guidelines in this book. With the variety of extract now available, there are few beer styles that cannot be brewed using extract alone. For more information on which kinds of extracts to use to make different styles of beer, see Section 4 - Formulating Recipes.