Answering The Question, “Which Is Better Dry Malt Extract Or Liquid Malt Extract?”

“What malt extract is better, dry or liquid?”  This is a pretty common question that homebrewers ask when deciding which one to use.  I unfortunately don’t have an answer in this post about which one is, “better” only because I don’t believe that there is one which is better.  At the end its preference.  I’ll break the two down though and hopefully at the end you’ll be able to figure out which one works best for your situation.

First Thing First, What Is Malt Extract?

For this whole time you have been adding malt extract to your beer and you didn’t know what you were adding?  This will no longer be the case.  Malt extracts are the fermentable sugars in your beer.  Essentially what you are doing is skipping a step, a shortcut if you will.  All-grain brewers make the fermentable sugars by mashing grains then rinsing the grains with water extracting all of the sugars.  This technique is called, “mashing”.  If you were to take that mash at its simplest form of base malts then boil it down, that is malt extract.  We have a conversion chart to kinda show that.

Dry malt extract is more concentrated than the liquid.  So for a recipe, if you were going to substitute 6 lbs of dry malt extract for liquid you can’t really use 6 lbs of liquid.  It would be more on the lines of 7.5lbs of liquid.

About Liquid Malt Extract

Liquid malt extract has its upsides, one is that it is generally cheaper when comparing pound to pound.   At the end you are not going to cut your recipe price in half but it is a way to shave some dollars off your brew day.  Another thing that is nice about malt extract is when you buy it from a homebrew shop that sells in bulk (we do) generally they can break it down to fractional pounds.  An example is at our shop we can break it down to .25 lbs.  This is a nice feature because you can buy for the recipe.  You find sometimes for recipes that it might say, 4.25 lbs LME.  What’s nice is you can buy exactly what you need for that recipe.

What I see as one of biggest downsides to liquid malt extract is it sinks to the bottom.   Now the reason why I say that this is disadvantage is, unless you have an extra set of hands normally you have a pretty high chance of burning the malt extract.  If you burn it bad enough, it can be the only thing you taste.   Now the ways to prevent this is 1) Have an extra set of hands 2)Take it off the burner and stir like crazy when adding it in 3) Don’t add all of your malt extract in the beginning of the boil.  By not adding all of your extract in the beginning of the boil you will also lighten your beer.  So problem solved.

(A Burning Sensation Usually  A Bad Thing)

About Dry Malt Extract

While a bit more expensive, you don’t have to buy as much.  The biggest upside to the dry malt extract is one thing, when you add the dry malt extract it ends up floating to the top.  I personally like this because your chances of burning it go down significantly.  There is a problem though, when you add the dry malt extract you end up having to stir like crazy still.  A lot of times also it will clump up into these dough ball looking things of malt.  Matza balls of malt extract is really what they look like.

I’ve also heard that people don’t like that it doesn’t sink to the bottom.  I can oddly understand their point as well.  The problem with dry malt extract is that when adding it to a boil, or even a steamy pot for that matter – steam will rush up into the bag and harden the malt extract to the bag.  Kinda a pain.  Honestly I’m not to sure of a way to prevent it either.

Wrapping It Up

I guess you can look at it a dozen different ways but at the end malt extract is definitely two different things, sticky and messy.  It’s really preference which one you prefer to work with.  I personally use both, I think that they both have their place in the homebrewing world.  If you have different or interesting insights into the extract world, please leave it in the space provided below.


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How To Design Your Own Beer Recipe – Step 4 – Malt Extract

If you are at this point hopefully you have a basic understanding of specialty grains and the hops, now time to get the gist of malt extract.  Malt extract comes in dry (dme) and liquid (lme) form.

For ease of this conversation I will be using LME as examples but we do have a conversion chart that might help some if you like the dry.

How Much Malt Extract Do I Need?

This one has a general rule to follow for when you are creating a recipe.  Use 1 lb of LME per gallon or 1.5 lbs per gallon for a richer brew.

For a 5 gallon recipe, that would mean that you will start with about 5 lbs LME or up to 7.5 lbs of LME.

Doing this will get you in the ball park of 5% ABV with consideration of grains used.

When Does That Rule Not Apply?

Depending on the recipe you may want more or less.  When a brew is heavily hopped you will want to add more malt extract and if a brew is not that hopped then you will want add less – in general.   If you want more alcohol go heavier, if you want it lighter add less.  Pretty simple stuff.

How Will I Know What The OG Is Gonna Be?

There are calculators out there like beertools or this free one which help.

Do I Chose Amber, Pilsen, Golden Light, Wheat, or Dark Malt Extract?

When I make my own recipes, I use only Pilsen light or Golden light malt extract (exceptions are wheat beers which I use wheat lme).  The way that I change the color as well as the taste of the beer is by specialty grains.

Now if you weren’t planning on using that many or any specialty grains, the colored types of malt extract (dark or amber) might be a better choice for you.

All malt extracts were made from grains.  Below shows how these different malt extracts were made.

Golden Light is made from – 2 row

Pilsen light is made from – pilsner malt

Amber malt is made from – 90% 2 row and 10% crystal malt (or 95% 2 row 5% crystal malt depending on manufacturer)

Dark malt is made from – 90% 2 row 5% Chocolate 5% Roasted Barley

To go full circle, you don’t want to add to many specialty grains with amber malt extract or dark malt extract because in my opinion it can get carried away pretty fast since they already included specialty grains in the making.

In my opinion, if you wanted to really add complexity with specialty grains I would  advise to  stick with pilsen light or golden light malt extract.


Both have there advantages and disadvantages.

LME is nice to work with in the fact that when you put it in the pot it doesn’t turn into a dust cloud of stickyness when it hits the steam.  The problem with it is sometimes it can burn on the bottom of the pot if you add it without heating it up.

The, “correct” way to work with it is, take a tea kettle of hot water and soak the packaging of the LME so it becomes loose.  That way when you add it to the water it doesn’t sink to the bottom and burn immediately.

DME has an advantage that when you add it, it will not burn to the bottom of the pot because it will float to the top of the water.  The problem with it is that sometimes it is hard to break up once it floats to the top of the pot.

A Quick Shout Out For All-Grain Brewers…

Don’t think I forgot about you guys.  When you are making recipes all-grain you  have a little more wiggle room because of the fact that there are so many base malts.  We have a post about flavor profiles of the base malts.

A general rule of thumb for all-grain brewers is you want to use somewhere around 7.5lbs of base malt up to 10 lbs of base malt.  Using that amount of malts will again get you in a 5% range for beer.

Note: If you use M.O you really don’t need to add too much more victory or biscuit malt because it already carries that flavor with it. 

Is 5% ABV Beer Important?

The only reason is that it is what I consider a, “standard” ABV for beer.  With 5% ABV you follow fermentation as normal.  If you go much higher you might need to do secondary or keep it in bottles longer to condition otherwise it will taste, “hot”.

If you go to much lower it will be light and if you are not going for a session beer then you will probably think that your beer is weak.

At 5% though you can do a lot to the beer and is a fairly easy beer to drink.


See not too bad for this time around.  Next is water treatment, if you chose to go down that road or not it is something that you might consider.

Leave your comments or questions in the space below, and have a happy valentine’s day!


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