Extract Vs. All Grain - An Unbiased Look

Methods for homebrewing beer typically fall underneath one of two styles, Extract or All-Grain. Whether you are a new brewer choosing the path you’ll take, or an experienced one entertaining a change of pace, we’ll look at both methods with an unbiased approach to help you determine which format fits you best. We'll look at three wort preparation setups. Brew-in-a-Bag (BIAB), which is a single vessel all grain approach. The other two methods are extract brewing and a full-sized (3 vessel) all grain system.

What is Extract? And What is All Grain?

Beer is made from grain, water, yeast, and hops. The difference between all grain and extract brewing lies in how the the sugars are acquired in the brewing process. All grain brewing is the traditional method of making beer and used by just about all professional breweries. The brewer takes crushed malted grains and mashes them to convert starches into fermentable sugar. In the extract process, this work has already been done and the sugars concentrated into a syrup or dry powder format. Malting companies produce the extract that allows homebrewers to skip the conversion process when brewing beer at home. This removes the need for a mash or handling of 10-12 lbs of malted grain. The extract format essentially allows the brewer to start a step ahead of the all grain format.

Where an all grain format requires equipment to mash the grains, the extract format only requires the addition of the extract to water to achieve the wort. Nearly all homebrewers make their first beer using the extract format because of it's relative simplicity.

There’s a lot of debate between the two formats of brewing and the advantages or disadvantages of each, but keep in mind both methods have produced award winning beer and there’s no right answer, just what’s right for you. Now let’s begin.

Start-up Cost of Extract and All Grain Brewing (Hot Side)

Assuming you have no equipment and want to make 3-5 gallon full boil batches, let’s look at the minimum startup cost for both. We’ll only look at hot side equipment for this, which is the equipment needed before it goes into the fermenter (cold side).

All Grain BIAB All Grain 3 Vessel Extract
7.5 Gallon Kettle $70 Ported 7.5 gallon kettle to serve as an HLT $200 7.5 Gallon Kettle $70
50,000 BTU Burner $55 Mash Tun with a BIAB bag or false bottom $140 50,000 BTU Burner $55
Large BIAB Bag $9 7.5 Gallon Boil Kettle 70$ Large Spoon (For stirring in extract) $8
Large Spoon (For stirring mash) $8 2X 50,000 BTU Burner(one for HLT, one for Kettle) $110
Large Spoon (For stirring mash) $8
3 Tier Brew Stand (price will vary widely)
Total: $142 Total: $528 + Cost of Brew Stand Total: $133

The bottom line prices show that the hot-side startup costs for BIAB all grain brewing and extract brewing are very similar, with a 3 tier all grain setup costing significantly more. Cold side equipment will cost the same for all three setups. Now let’s look at the cost of a batch.

all grain vs extract A standard 3 vessel brewstand for all grain brewing. Brew in a Bag (BIAB) only uses one vessel.

The Per Batch Cost of All Grain and Extract Brewing

Extract is the most expensive malt ingredient available to a brewer. Let’s compare the cost between liquid extract, dry extract, and an all grain batch. For this comparison, we’ll use a simple base recipe to reach 1.060 gravity points. For all grain we’ll assume 75% efficiency Note: It’s very possible to have efficiencies into the mid eighties, but 75 serves as a nice middle ground). I won’t include the hops, as those will be the same throughout.

All Grain Liquid Extract Dry Extract
10 Pounds Pale Ale Malt at $1.45 per pound 8 Pounds Light Liquid Extract at $11.95 per 3.3 pounds (must buy 3 cans) 6.6 Pounds of Dry Malt Extract at $4.95 per pound (must buy 7 pounds)
0.8 Pounds of crystal 20 at $1.65 per pound (must buy 1 pound) ... ...
$16.15 grain cost / 5 gallons $37.50 cost / 5 gallons $36.30 cost / 5 gallons

A big win for the all grain format is the ingredient cost. Many established homebrewers are well familiar with the cost of dry and liquid extracts being significantly more expensive for than a comparable amounts of grain. With the extract formats, you may be able to save some small leftover extract not required for the current batch for another recipe in the future, but this is a difficult and messy task. Don’t forget that you must add hops and yeast to that price, so an IPA even with dry yeast can end up costing an extract brewer 50$, and an all grain brewer just 30$.

Using these numbers, It would take one batch to cover the cost difference of BIAB equipment over extract (8$). However, if you were to use a small 3 vessel system, it would take 20 batches to cover the cost difference between an extract system (not including the cost of a brewstand, which could require 10+ more batches).

So if you’d like to “save money” by homebrewing, a modest BIAB system off the bat is the ideal option. The next consideration is the length your brewday.

The Length of Your Brew Day (To the End of the Boil)

An extract batch takes much less time than an all-grain batch. So if you have a newborn in the family, a shorter brew day could be the difference between brewing and not brewing at all, so time is always something to consider with your situation. Let’s look at the times for each.

All Grain BIAB All Grain 3 Vessel Extract
Heat Mash Water - 20 minutes Heat Mash Water - 20 minutes Heat Water -30 Minutes
Mash in - 60 Minutes Mash in - 60 Minutes Dissolve portion of extract with steeping grains - 15 Minutes
Mashout - 10 Minutes Batch Sparge - 30 Minutes Bring to boil - 10 Minutes
Raise wort to boil while grain bag drains - 10 Minutes Raise Wort to Boil - 10 Minutes Boil 60 Minutes
Boil 60 Minutes Boil 60 Minutes Dissolve Rest of extract - 5 Minutes
~2 Hours 45 Minutes ~3 Hours 15 Minutes ~2 Hours

These times are of course estimates, but the fact that there is no mash or sparge of any kind with extract brewing saves you at least an hour. Once all said and done, on a good day, an extract batch can be finished and cleaned up in just a few hours. All grain batches will take around four to four-and-a-half hours when all said and done.

all grain vs extract beer in glass The best thing to do is evaluate your options, choose the best setup for you, and start making some awesome beer.

Final Considerations

One last thing to consider is the ability to create and design recipes. Extract can be limited by the type of base extract available. When brewing all grain, there are many methods and styles of mashing that can take the exact same ingredients and produce widely different final beers. Color (SRM), body, and mouthfeel are all examples of where all grain allows full control, while extract formats are limited to the style of the extract they use.

The Decision is Yours to Brew How You Want. Just Remember These Few Things:

1. Over a longer period of time, extract batches will cost you a lot more.
2. Take into account the time you can allot yourself to a brew day.
3. Lastly, brew what you want, how you want to brew it.

Shop All Grain kits Shop Extract Kits

Once you've made your choice of brewing method, check out Homebrew Supply's all gain or extract recipe kits. Or if you need to purchase a starter kit, check out which one is right for you here!

written by David Doucette

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13 comments on “Extract Vs. All Grain - An Unbiased Look”

  • Why not do both? Extract on Saturday, all grain on Sunday= epic double brew weekend! Seriously though, the best beer I ever made (so far) was an extract recipe, and the second was all grain. I say do both and you'll be a better all around homebrewer.

    Reply
  • Joe From Helll June 25, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    did extracts for about 5 yrs.... if you use quality extracts ...like Mutone...you will be fine... stay away from on sale... out of date or BEER kits...that need NO BOILING.. ..needless to say ...... once I started all grain...15 yrs ago.... I never looked back...... so much more control.... so much MORE FUN!!! and lots of equipment ..weather you make it your self or buy it ...is always GOOD!!!

    Reply
  • Excellent. Good info for new brewers. You might add that extract batch with steeping specialty grains is a step between extract snd all grain.

    Eventually move yo all grain which is more demanding, but very satisfying to try different things and learn from mistakes. Extract is great to start because you will hit the numbers precisely for orig graviity.

    Reply
  • Thank you. This was very useful. There are so many with strong opinions. I can tell you as someone who has only been brewing for a year and has mainly done extract brews that they offer an easy way to enter the wonderful world of home brewing and I've made some really good tasting beer with them. I can also say that the partial grain brews that I have done do have a more varied depth of flavor. I'm sure that full grain also offers additional depth and as you mention control over the taste not available in extract.

    That said, I hope that we can all agree that all grain may offer a wider depth of flavor available that extract offers new brewers or those with limited time a great way to be part of our hobby.

    Personally, even when I move to all grain I still plan on occasional extract brews just for that time saving. Which can actually be quicker than 2hrs using HME kits.

    Reply
  • Many people get in to homebrewing for different reasons.helpfull thoughts. 1. You got to like beer. 2. Making beer isnt nessisary less costly than buying it. There is a startup cost for which ever method you choose. 3. Its best to learn with someone, if there is a homebrew club localy find someone to mentor with homebrewers like to share.4. You got to clean bottles and equipment often. The most time consuming part of brewing. Cheers.

    Reply
  • I have found with BIB that I have to use a bit more grain than is called for in the all grain recipe as I have trouble achieving the proper gravity otherwise... I generally use around 10% more grain... still cheaper than extract, and as the author points out... you have a lot more control over taste. Very good article. I did extract brewing for many years, but after retiring, I could trade off time for the added benefits of all grain brewing... and have my beer take a slightly smaller bite out of the budget.

    Reply
  • Great article. I like the side by side price and time comparisons.

    Reply
  • Just to give some more unbiased opinions, I started all grain with a 10 gallon rubbermaid cooler from the big orange hardware store and used a SS supply line hose for a total assembled cost of about $70 ($45 for cooler plus valve and hardware). My HLT is a 5 gallon round cooler from the big green hardware store assembled for about $40 ($20 for cooler plus valve and hardware). While the mash is going I am heating the water for the HLT and boom, save on a second burner also.

    Reply
  • I love all-grain brewing and have no experience with extract brew days as far as time goes, but that 3 hrs 15 minutes of hot side time is kind of optimistic! 60 minutes is the mash rest; it can take 10 minutes to get the water in there and break up dough balls. Those heating times to strike & boil probably require better than a $50 burner. Vorlauf, lauter, batch sparge, vorlauf and lauter again in 30 minutes? Etc. That's why it's called a "brew DAY."

    Still, making fresh wort from a custom recipe by carefully processing fresh grain, that to me is the fun and really "homemade" part of homebrew. I strongly recommend to people contemplating homebrewing to try starting out as stove-top 1-gallon all grain brewers (or even 2-gallon BIAB) versus 5-gallon extract. It's kind of like learning to drive on a stick-shift, but worth it.

    Bonus: spent grain baking and compost.

    Reply
  • The startup costs for all grain are a bit deceiving I think. In the length of your brew day piece you use batch sparging time requirements yet the equipment you include is more appropriate for fly sparging. You really don't need a ported kettle for batch sparging since you just dump it in, the mash tun is at least $40 cheaper to set up, and since you don't need a ported kettle then the second burner and 3 tier stand are unnecessary. One cost neglected though is a propane tank, preferably 2. That's a net reduction of $255.

    Reply
  • Christopher Davis June 29, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    Once you go All Grain, you'll never go back. I started with DME, tried BIAB, but I have a converted roller cooler for a Mash Tun, 2 kettles with just a 1/2 " 2 way and 3way valve on the boil kettle. I wouldn't have it any other way. Yeah it might take about 6 hrs from A-Z, but you can adjust you brew day schedule anyway you like. I personally like getting up at 3-3:30am to light my strike water, I'm done by 10-10:30 and have the whole day left. Beers come out better and more easily to replicate each time.

    Reply
  • My wife and I are beer brewers. I went from all extract to all grain brewing. I have a number of specialty grains, 5 different types of hops plus what we grow ourselves in our back yard.I have a 15 gallon conical fermenter, 10 gallon stainless mixing tank, 8 gallon bottling tank with bottling pump, 8 gallon insulated stainless mash tun, transfer pumps,lots of piping and a 9 gallon secondary fermenting tank. There is no way I would ever go back to extract brewing. We are able to brew for others as well. We are Sandia Brewing Company of Walsenburg, Colorado. We are a pico brewery.

    Reply
  • Michael J Rodney Sr July 14, 2016 at 9:16 am

    Spent my first several brewing years with extract and I was generally satisfied with the results. Hearing all the benefits of all grain and not wanting to leave this earth before I tried all grain, I put together a 3 vessel system with a Blichmann Boil Coil as the power source. A couple to three years of all grain brewing didn't seem to improve or detract from the extract results. Both are capable of making some fine drinking beer. The difference between the two methods is the time and the work involved with all grain. What used to be a ~2 hour brew day on our kitchen range has morphed into a 6+ hour brew day (when you factor in the clean up involved). Now that I have bridged the 70 years of age mark, that work issue becomes a factor. I made a 5 gallon batch of all grain yesterday. I started at 0610 in the morning, and I put away the last piece of cleaned equipment at 1240 in the afternoon. On its way to me now is an extract kit of the same exact beer that I will make next week. If the extract kit produces the same taste and quality as the all grain version that is now in the fermenter................

    Reply
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