Sometimes when you do something for a while, things become so obvious, it’s hard to remember how tough it was in the beginning. However, some of the best questions come from new brewers because they are trying to figure things out that others just don’t think about.


Brewmaster Jorge,

I’m still pretty new to home brewing and need to catch up on brewing styles. I’m ready to brew my first extract recipe with specialty grains. I don’t know if this is the process to follow, but from what I understand you buy specialty grain and a can of malt extract (These products are different right?) you then lightly boil the grain and add the extract and the hops at specific times. You then cool the wort to your desired pitching temp, add the yeast and sit and wait.

My question is: If I want to brew 5 gallons using an extract recipe, but I only have a 3.5 gallon stockpot, can I boil 3.5 gallons of malt/grain and then add to my fermenter and top it off with water or will this dilute the mixture too much?

Your advice will be much appreciated,

Woodburn, OR


I’m not really a brewmaster, but thanks for the compliment… I’m just an experienced home brewer…


You bring up a couple of points that concern me a bit. First off, your question about specialty grains and extract being different products is correct to a certain extent. The grains are nothing more than malt which has been kilned to give it flavor and color. Because of the process they go through for that, the sugars from the malt become non-fermentable. Malt extract is basically the fermentable sugar that has been extracted from malt.

That’s the main difference…

Now, you wrote in your process that you lightly boil the grains… you don’t want to boil the grain since that will give your beer astringent flavors… and just in case, I will add, make sure that the grain is gently milled so you can extract the sugars from it. Instead of boiling what you want to do is a process called steeping which is basically soaking the grains in hot water around 160 F.

You want to make sure you steep your grains for a good 25 to 30 minutes and then remove the grains from water. Boil the wort before adding the malt extract and then follow your hop addition times.

Now as far as cooling your wort, it’s not so much about bringing it to your desired temperature. You want to bring it to yeast fermenting temperature which should be about 60-70 F for ales. Sometimes you’ll be ok if you pitch the yeast above 70 F as long as it is below 80 F and you plan on fermenting below 70 F. If you pitch or ferment at high temperatures you’ll be entering fusel alcohol city… basically create all kinds of alcohols that gives your beer weird, nasty flavors….

So don’t do it.

Now as far as your boil… the short answer is yes, you can do that. As a matter of fact, it is common practice to boil only 2-4 gallons when making a 5 gallon batch. Reason is that some electric stoves don’t have the power to boil a 5 gallon batch even if you had a 5 gallon pot. Also, when it comes to cooling down the wort and moving it around, 5 gallons of boiling-hot wort can be dangerous to move around.

When you mix the ingredients in less water, all that happens is that you essentially get concentrated wort. Since the density of the wort is higher, we call this high gravity wort boiling. All that happens when you boil a high gravity wort is that your hops bitter just a tad less and the color of your beer darkens a bit. The flavor changes a bit, but not enough to be noticeable.

The only real advantage of boiling a full 5 gallon pot is that it helps keep everything sterilized and it’s easier to calculate your hop bitterness as well as color. Other than that, there is essentially no difference.

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