Liquid Malt Extract vs Dry Malt Extract: Explained

Learn the differences between liquid and dry malt extract and what you can expect from using with in your homebrewing

Mat Stuckey

9/15/20235 min read

malt extract brewing
malt extract brewing

Liquid Malt Extract vs Dry Malt Extract for Homebrewing: Which is Better?

New homebrewers are quickly faced with the decision between using liquid malt extract (LME) or dry malt extract (DME) as the fermentable sugar base for their beer recipes. Both can produce excellent homebrew, but each has advantages and disadvantages to weigh.

This in-depth guide examines the key differences between liquid and dry malt extracts to help you determine which works best for your particular homebrewing needs.

What Exactly Are Malt Extracts in Brewing?

Malt extracts provide the all-important fermentable sugars that yeast converts into alcohol and carbon dioxide during the fermentation process. In extract brewing, malted barley or other cereal grains are first mashed to convert their starches into sugar.

The resulting sweet wort is then concentrated into a liquid or dried into a powder. This concentrated malt extract is much easier to store and use versus large quantities of grain.

By replacing some or all of the traditional mashing, extracts allow simplifying recipes and reducing brew day time for beginners.

How is Liquid Malt Extract Manufactured?

Liquid malt extract (LME) begins the same as all-grain brewing. The malted barley or other grains are milled and then mashed with hot water to activate enzymes, converting their starches into fermentable sugars. This produces the sweet wort that is drained from the grains.

Next, the wort is boiled vigorously for an extended time, often while adding hops for bitterness. Boiling evaporates water, condensing the wort into a thick, viscous syrup.

This sweet, concentrated liquid malt extract is packaged while still hot to ensure sterility and prevent spoilage. Homebrewers later dilute LME with water for fermentation.

What Beer Styles Use Liquid Malt Extract?

Liquid malt extract comes in multiple styles to match different beer colour and flavour profiles:

  • Pale LME - Made from Pilsner or pale Ale malt. Lightest in colour.

  • Amber LME - Produced from lightly kilned base malts like Vienna or Munich.

  • Dark LME - Made using darker, more roasted base malts for deeper colours.

  • Wheat LME - Generated from malted wheat for enhanced protein and head retention.

  • Other Styles - Some fruit, honey, or specialty LMEs are available.

Pale LME works for pale lagers and ales. Amber suits Amber ales, Oktoberfest, and more. Dark LME provides colour for porters and stouts. Wheat LME brews hazy wheat beers.

What Are the Benefits of Brewing with Liquid Malt Extract?

Compared to dry malt extract, liquid malt extract provides some key advantages:

Richer Flavour

The concentrated sugary syrup retains more malt character and complexity than dried forms. LME replicates the flavour and aroma of all-grain brewing more closely.

Increased Body and Mouthfeel

The residual sugars and dextrins in LME result in a beer with more body and fuller mouthfeel than DME typically produces. This matches commercial beers better.

Darker Color Development

Ounce for ounce, LME produces darker beer hues than dry extract, especially good for styles like porter and stout. The deeper Maillard browning during LME production boosts colour.

Lower Cost

Liquid malt extract provides more fermentable sugars per ounce compared to dry varieties, making it more cost effective on a pure sugar basis.

Teaches Good Habits

The sticky viscosity of LME encourages practices like spray-rinsing containers and avoiding sticking mashes - useful skills later.

How is Dry Malt Extract Made?

Like liquid varieties, dry malt extract (DME) starts by mashing malted grains to release fermentable sugars into wort. This sweet wort is then boiled to sanitise and concentrate it into a thick syrup.

However, an additional drying step follows. The DME syrup is sprayed into a heated chamber, rapidly evaporating moisture and forming a dry powder. The low moisture content prevents spoilage.

Homebrewers later reconstitute dry malt extract in water before fermentation. Maltodextrin may be added as an unfermentable sugar to aid drying.

What Beer Recipes Use Dry Malt Extract?

Dry malt extract comes in these primary varieties:

  • Pale DME - Made from Pilsner or pale malt. Lightest in colour.

  • Amber DME - Produced from lightly kilned base malts. Imparts a biscuit colour.

  • Dark DME - Made from more roasted malts for deeper colour.

  • Wheat DME - Higher wheat content for hazy beers.

  • Diastatic DME - Still contains active enzymes for mashing.

The light colour of pale DME suits pale lagers and ales. Amber DME works for Amber beers and English styles. Dark DME provides colour for porters. Wheat DME aids yeast suspension.

What Are the Advantages of Dry Malt Extract?

Compared to liquid malt extract, dry varieties offer these benefits:

Increased Fermentability

The drying process makes sugars in DME highly fermentable, resulting in lighter, drier, crisper beer styles compared to LME.

Lighter Colour

Dry malt extract produces paler beer hues, good if you want light colours without specialty malts. The drying minimises Maillard reactions.

Longer Shelf Life

When stored properly, unopened DME can keep for 1-2 years without flavour loss. LME lasts around 6 months before declining.

Mixing and Measurement

DME powders dissolve easier in water without clumping or sticking. Volumetric or weight measurements are simpler.

No Mess or Sticking

Unlike sticky LME, dry extract pours cleanly without residue. It avoids potential issues like stuck sparges or burning extracts.

Should Beginner Homebrewers Use LME or DME?

For brand new homebrewers seeking to simplify the process, many experts recommend starting with liquid malt extract. Reasons include:

Richer Flavour

LME better replicates the malt complexity of all-grain brewing, providing future familiarity. DME can taste overly dry and "twangy."

Recipe Flexibility

The viscosity of LME allows easy mini-mash recipes. DME dissolves immediately, making mashing tricky.

Gains Experience

Dealing with sticky LME teaches beginners good practices regarding sanitation, sticking mashes, and extract burns.

Cost Savings

Ounce for ounce, LME provides more fermentable sugar so you use less overall extract.

That said, starting with dry malt extract can work perfectly fine for new brewers who account for its properties.

LME vs DME: How Should You Decide?

Consider these factors when choosing extract types for your homebrew recipes:

  • Desired malt flavour - LME imparts richer maltiness, DME is cleaner and drier.

  • Mouthfeel and body - LME creates fuller-bodied beers. DME ferments lighter and crisper.

  • Yeast attenuation - Highly attenuative yeasts will further dry out beers made with DME.

  • Beer colour - LME typically produces darker hues than equivalent DME.

  • Convenience - DME dissolves faster, is easier to weigh and pour cleanly.

  • Cost - LME provides more fermentable sugars per dollar. But shelf life and waste should be factored.

  • Brewing experience - Beginners may benefit from starting with LME before moving to DME.

There is no right or wrong choice - it depends on your specific brewing goals, methods, and preferences.

Helpful Tips When Using Liquid or Dry Malt Extracts

  • When using LME, thoroughly spray containers with sanitizer and scrape out all remnants to avoid waste.

  • Heat water before adding DME to aid dissolution and prevent clumping.

  • Consider steeping specialty grains with your extracts to add colour, flavour complexity, and body.

  • Try blending LME and DME together in recipes to get benefits of both extracts.

  • Adjust fermentables based on your target alcohol strength, dryness/sweetness, and mouthfeel goals.

  • Refrigerate or freeze opened extract containers to extend shelf life by slowing oxidation and microbial growth during storage.

Conclusion

While dry and liquid malt extracts both provide concentrated wort sugars for homebrewing, their differences in production, shelf stability, flavour, and usage make each better suited for certain beer recipes and brewing preferences.

By understanding the unique advantages of liquid and dry malt extract through hands-on brewing experience, homebrewers can produce amazing beers from extract-based recipes. With proper sanitation and healthy yeast, beautiful homebrew is just a sip away!