Steeping specialty grain is one of the easiest ways to improve kit beer. Let’s cover the easy way to steep out color, flavor and aroma.
How to steep specialty malt
You would typically steep 0.5-1 pound (220-440 g) of specialty malt for a six gallon (23 L) batch.
Pot and lid (1 gal/4 L or larger).
Grain bag – shop bought or you can make your own with cheesecloth or muslin.
Steeping specialty malt in eight steps
Heat two quarts (liters) of water in your pot.
While this is heating up, weigh and crush your specialty malt of choice.
Fill your bag with the malt and tie off.
When your water is 171°F (77°C), gently lower the grain bag into the pot and seal.
Cover the pot with a couple of towels to insulate and leave it for 15-30 minutes.
Gently remove the bag and boil the malt tea liquid for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat.
Dissolve in your homebrew tin and malt extract.
Seal and cool.
Now you have an ultra-flavorsome beer extract, ready to be diluted and fermented.
Pour into a fermenter filled with five gallons (19 L) of cold water. Mix, pitch your yeast and seal.
Tips on steeping specialty malt
Use a neutral kit beer and malt extract
When brewing with specialty malts, use a neutral base homebrew tin and malt extract. The tin will be called something like lager, pilsner or blonde ale.
All we want from the kit is the base bitterness and the fermentable malt extract. We’ll add the character.
For say a stout, we’ll add a fresh roasted malt profile with roasted barley. The crude and blunt profile of a stout kit will detract from this.
Avoid the terrible tannins
Tannins are found in the husk of grains and can taste astringent and mouth puckering. The popular comparison is sucking a tea bag.
To avoid tannins:
Don’t use too much water. If you use over three quarts of water per pound of grain (6 L per kg), you can extract tannins. For a typical half pound (220 g) amount, use no more than two quarts (liters).
Don’t get too hot. If your steep gets over 171°F (77°C) you will extract tannins. Never boil grains.
Don’t use very soft water to steep dark grains. Very soft water will extract bad tasting things from heavily roasted grains such as patent, black or dark crystal malt.
Don’t squeeze the tea bag. Resist the urge to squeeze the last drops out the wet grain. You’ll also squeeze out tannins and other baddies.
The temperature shouldn’t drop too much over the half hour. But if it is a problem, try moving to an oven on very low heat.
Occasionally, the inner homebrewer in all of us will think ‘...a little is good, so a lot must be great’.
Not so with specialty malt. This is malt that has been super-charged with flavor, so use sparingly.
Follow recipes and start small. Too much will create undrinkable beers.
No beer was ever ruined by using too little specialty malt.
Crush at home
Crushed specialty grain will lose its flavor and aroma over a short time, particularly if exposed to oxygen.
You are better to buy whole grain and crush at home. You can use a coffee grinder, blender, food processor, etc. Just make sure you don’t over process it.
Shoot for mostly chunks and the grain husk mostly in one piece. Some flour is inevitable, but don’t pulverize it.
Chunks, some flour and grain husk mostly intact.
You might be tempted to use the whole arsenal – a bit of everything.
But this can lead to beers that are out of harmony and don’t work. Simplicity is a beautiful thing, especially with recipe design. Use fresh, high-quality ingredients and follow basic recipes.
At least at the start, use a single variety of specialty grain appropriate for the beer you are making.
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