There is a typical progression when learning to home brew beer. Extract brewing is generally the gate way that gets people in to the hobby. Mini mash, the natural middle ground between extract and all-grain, allows the brewer to add variation to the beer they make. All-Grain brewing is the ultimate DIY way to brew, allowing the brewer to manage the flavors and colors at every step of the process. The evolution of a home brewer happens at different rates, but there is a place for everybody on the spectrum of styles. For those who geek out on the science and minutiae of brewing, they may do just a handful of batches before moving to all grain brewing. This article will briefly describe each of the types of brewing.
This is the place where most home brewers start their journey in this wonderfully addictive hobby. Some never leave this way of brewing because it may fit their busy life style or they like the convenience that extract brewing offers. Extract is syrup made up of sugars from barley or other brewing grains. The manufacturer has already converted the starches in the grain to sugars through a process called mashing. The resulting sugar rich liquid is then dehydrated down to a thick syrup called liquid malt extract (LME) or further dehydrated to a powder called dry malt extract (DME). After boiling the extract in water and adding hops, yeast are added which then eats the sugar in the extract and leaves behind alcohol and carbon dioxide. Extract brewing is the equivalent of getting a frozen pizza, it’s all there you just have to cook it.
Mini-Mash / Partial Mash
Often the second step a homebrewer takes; this is a middle ground between the extract and all-grain styles of brewing. Here, the base part of the beer is created using extracts and the color and flavoring is added by soaking or mashing grains in hot water that the brewer would later add extract to. This allows for a greater variation in the brewers creations. The extracts are the same as what was used in the last step, and the grains are the same ones that all grain brewers use albeit in smaller amounts. Mini-mash brewing is the equivalent to making pizza at home with pre-made dough from the store. The base is made for you all you have to do is top it off with some flavorings.
Typically the holy grail of home brewers, all grain brewing is the DIY version of making beer. Grains are crushed and soaked in a vessel called a mash tun, which will hold heat. The warm water activates enzymes in the grain which work to change the starches stored in the grains to sugar. All-grain allows for the widest variation and highest level of control over the brewing process. It also takes the most time, equipment and knowledge to make good beer. This would be the equivalent to making the dough and sauce for the pizza from scratch.
The major difference in these three brewing styles is the amount of control and individuality, as well as, time and equipment required at each level. In the end though it is what you want to get out of the hobby and your comfort level with the process that will determine how far you will go. Good luck and happy brewing.