Brewer: Don Gortemiller
Brewery: Pacific Coast Brewing Co., Oakland, Calif.
Years of experience: Nine
Education: BS in physiology from University of California, Berkeley
House Beers: Gray Whale (pale ale), Blue Whale (strong, hoppy amber ale), a rotating dark, usually Imperial Stout
As a rule of thumb, when you want to make a pale beer from extract make sure the extract is as locally produced and as fresh as possible. As extract ages, it has a chemical reaction similar to non-enzymatic browning (called Maillard reaction); it gets darker with age and above-normal (65° F) storage temperatures. Briess Malting Co. says extract can be stored up to six months with minimal browning at the right temperature and in a dark place.
Another concern is the level of concentration. About 80 percent of the water is taken out in the process of extraction. Still, there’s a small percent of water that brewers want to get rid of. To do so you must add heat. If you add heat to a sugar solution, you caramelize it and it gets darker. So you want to get an extract that’s thinner — 80° Brix (80 percent dissolved solids) or less — as opposed to 82° or 84° Brix. (Brix measurements are sometimes listed on the can.) It will tend to give you a paler beer. It affects the color more than the flavor or anything else.
Something else you want to do is watch your boil times. Don’t get too crazy. Briess suggests that in making pale beers you try to boil no more than 20 minutes. One of the risks of such a short boil is lack of hop extraction, so you’ll need to adjust your hopping rates upward.
It’s not going to be a huge adjustment. But if you’re a homebrewer, it will be a little harder. You have to bring it up by 2 percent.
If you were using an ounce before and you need 2 percent more, there’s no way you’re going to have a scale that will be finely tuned and accurate enough. The changes can be very subtle.
Once you’ve adjusted your hopping rates to compensate for the change in extraction, you need to adjust for a shortened boil time.
Say you have hops with a bitterness of 20 IBU and the boil is 45 minutes. If you change it to 20 minutes, the IBU goes down to eight. In that case you need to add double or more hops to stay where you were.
For homebrewers a general rule for a pale extract beer is to double the hopping rate, and that should put you in the ballpark. You also need to factor in whether you are doing a concentrated boil to begin with. A lot of homebrewers do a three-gallon boil for a five-gallon batch, which gives you a less efficient extraction rate than boiling the full five gallons. The more concentrated the wort, the more severe your error is going to be and the more you will have to adjust the hopping rate.
The pH of the wort will affect the paleness. But that depends on your water. Know your water. Hard water tends to give you hoppy and dark beers. Soft water gives you more delicate beers.
The beginner might want to start out with a pale ale, which is a lot easier than a pilsner because of the process. With a pilsner you need temperature control and you need to ferment at cooler temperatures. So unless you have a refrigerator with an adjustment thermostat to adjust fermentation temperature, you won’t be brewing the correct style.
Brewer: Don Gortemiller