by Brian Dixon (Brewing Techniques)
With a few simple conversion tools, you can brew any recipe you encounter, whether extract or allgrain.
At one time or another every brewer faces the challenge of converting a recipe from allgrain to extract or vice versa. Unfortunately, the flavor and color profile of the converted recipe is often no more than a loose approximation of the original.
While it may be impossible to produce a converted beer that is exactly like the original, a clear understanding of the challenges involved, coupled with a conversion process based on sound principles, can help you achieve a close match even on the first try.
Browse our topselling extract beer brewing kits and allgrain beer recipes!
Wort production: In return for the extra work involved, allgrain brewers gain much more control over their wort composition than do extract brewers. The mashing method used will directly affect the sugar, protein, and flavor composition and overall fermentability of the wort. Allgrain brewers also have the freedom to use starchy grains and adjuncts that must be mashed.
Extract brewers, on the other hand, have no way of controlling these parameters, and often even have difficulty in determining whether nonmalt sources (corn syrup, cane sugar, etc.) were used for a portion of the extract’s sugar content. Similarly, the color of the extract may come from artificial and caramel colorants instead of from specialty grains. Nor is there any way to judge how long a can or tub of extract has been collecting dust in the homebrew store or at the distributor’s warehouse. Age can darken the extract and, worse, reduce the free amino nitrogen (FAN) levels that are so important for healthy yeast metabolism. Diminished yeast nutrients can furthermore alter the chemical pathways involved in fermentation, which can lead to changes in the flavor profile of the beer.
To compensate for the shortcomings of commercial extracts, be careful to purchase only the highest quality, freshest, unhopped pale malt extracts available. Try to get as much information as possible about the production of the extract, including source ingredients, its expected wort color (in degrees Lovibond), and the percent yield by weight or expected yield in terms of points per pound per gallon (pts/lb/gal).* As a further precaution, you can add yeast energizer or yeast nutrients to the cooled wort after the boil. One technique that could be used to boost yeast nutrition is to brew the extract using a partial mash (described below).
Most of the challenges of extract brewing go away after you convert from extract to allgrain. The biggest hurdle for allgrain brewers is matching the color and flavor profile of the original recipe’s base extract. For this reason, the extract recipes that are most easily converted to allgrain are those that are based on namebrand unhopped pale malt extracts. If you do need to approximate the color of an extract, refer to Table I for some guidelines.
Working with specialty grains: In allgrain brewing, specialty malts are mashed along with the base malt; in extract brewing, specialty grains can be added by way of a partial mash, whereby a portion of the total extract required comes from a “quickie” mash of base malt and grain, and the rest is made up by storebought extract.
Combining premade extract with steeped grains is an even easier method, lending the wort much of the character and some of the nutrients of an allgrain mash. Steeping involves cracking or crushing the grains, placing them in a mesh bag, and submerging them in 150–170 °F (66–77 °C) water for 20–30 minutes (specialty grains should never boil because the high temperatures can leach out unwanted astringent flavors into the wort). Steeping yields ate typically less than those achieved by mashing.
One other disadvantage of steeping is that the mesh bag can allow unwanted husk materials to sneak into the wort, potentially adding astringent offflavors; allgrain brewers include a lautering step that clears out these materials before boiling (steeping typically does not include a filtering step). The risk of excess husk material ending up in the brew can be greatly minimized by using an extra large, finemesh grain bag that allows plenty of fluid flow while at the same time preventing all but the finest husk material from escaping into the wort. If you’re really concerned about it, you could steep the specialty grains the night before brew day and let the solution sit overnight (a couple hours might even do the trick), then rack off the clear wort.
Extract yields: Extract brewers do not necessarily have to know anything about extract yields to brew good beer, but if you’re converting allgrain recipes, you’re going to have to learn. Table II shows typical specific gravity points derived from various grains; note that the values for steeping are lower than those for mashing.
The numbers in the table are recommended as guidelines only; it’s best to take the time to determine the values you derive from your own brewing system. Dedicate a pound or two of each specialty grain that you intend to use, do some test steeps, and take specific gravity measurements. (Dedicated allgrain brewers routinely measure and record extraction efficiency to gain more control over recipe design; the box “Extract the Most from Your Grains,” offers more information on yields and efficiency.) Also keep in mind that steeping grain in less water can reduce your yields. Such reduced yields are often obtained when brewing extra high gravity beers with a high percentage of specialty grains, or when the size of your pot limits the maximum amount of water that you can use to perform the steep.
Boiling differences: If you use a partial boil for the extract version of the recipe, the specific gravity of the boil will be much higher than the full boil used for an allgrain recipe. Also, differences in boil times can lead to differences in the hop extraction efficiency and the browning that results from Maillard reactions and caramelization.
Caramelization. Maillard reactions (browning from chemically combining sugars and amino acids) increase with the length of the boil. Another browning reaction, caramelization, occurs when sugars are in contact with the heat at the bottom of the boil pot and it occurs faster with higher gravity boils because more sugars make contact at any given time. One way to prevent excess darkening of the wort is to shorten the boil time. But shortening the boil can create other problems, and it’s generally best to come as close as you can to a fullvolume boil whenever possible. Also, the hop schedule determines the lower limit of the boil time. In other words, if 60minute hops are called for, the boil can be no shorter than 60 minutes.
Hop extraction. The length of the boil affects hop utilization — the longer the boil, the higher the utilization. As is the case with caramelization, wort gravity also plays a role — the higher the specific gravity, the lower the percent hop utilization. When formulating your recipe, you can appropriately adjust the hop charges to compensate for the utilization differences. (Table III shows typical utilization figures depending on boil time and gravity; sample calculations are shown later in the article.)
Once you understand the issues involved in recipe conversion and you have planned to address the differences and risks involved, you can begin the actual process of converting the recipe. The first example we will examine is the conversion of an allgrain recipe to an extract recipe. This conversion illustrates the basic concepts and will prepare you for a second example demonstrating how to convert in the opposite direction.
The process of converting a recipe from allgrain to extract begins with the calculation of the contribution of each individual grain, extract, sugar, or adjunct to specific gravity. We will take the stated original gravity of the allgrain recipe and calculate the number of specific gravity points that existed in the original brew and the original brewer’s extraction efficiency. From here we can calculate the specific gravity points for each component. This information, together with a table of yields, will produce the converted recipe. If you use a different boil volume for the extract brew, you will also want to make some adjustments to boil time and hop additions. Taste tests will be the ultimate means of determining the success of your conversion, and future brews will evolve accordingly.
What follows is a stepbystep demonstration of the conversion process. For the sake of completeness, our example will assume you choose a partial boil and that the hop charges will be adjusted appropriately. The ingredients are outlined in the accompanying recipe box.
Step 1: Determine theoretical yields. First, calculate each ingredient’s contribution to the beer’s specific gravity by using the maximum theoretical yields of the individual grains (see Table II for typical maximum malt yields). Warning: I am rounding mercilessly for the sake of simplicity. Your own calculations can be more precise, or maybe even less, as you wish.

Grain Bill (lb) 
× Max. Avg. Yield (pts/lb/gal) 
Total = Max. Points 
Contribution 
Tworow 
7 lb, 4 oz (7.25 lb) 
37 
268 
87% 
80 °L crystal 
13oz (0.81 lb) 
34 
28 
9% 
Chocolate malt 
4 oz (0.25 lb) 
28 
7 
2% 
Black patent 
4 oz (0.25 lb) 
25 
6 
2% 
Total max. theoretical points for recipe: 
309 

The extract percentages are found by dividing each individual grain’s point contribution by the total points (not as a percentage of weight). Extract percentages are the best way to describe a recipe because they are not dependent upon the source of extract (grain, powder, or liquid) or the size of the recipe (7). You can use the percentages to tweak future brews according to the results of your taste test (more on this later).
Step 2: Find the brewer’s extraction efficiency. Next we need to calculate the original brewer’s extraction efficiency to determine the actual contributions each ingredient made to the real gravity achieved. As determined above, the maximum specific gravity this recipe could produce under laboratory conditions is 309 points divided by 5 gallons, or 1.062. The brewer, however, stated that the original gravity achieved was 1.050, so the overall original extract efficiency was an average of 50 ÷ 62, or 81%. (For simplicity’s sake, we will assume there is little appreciable difference between this postboil efficiency and the preboil extract efficiency, which is the number we really want. You could try to take the preboil volume into account, but these calculations are sufficient to give you a good starting point for your new recipe.) We can then apply this efficiency adjustment to each ingredient to determine the actual amounts of extract and steeped specialty grains to substitute for the original recipe.
If the original recipe included sugars, extracts, or nonstarchy adjuncts, the contribution from these ingredients should be removed from the specific gravity before calculating efficiency. These ingredients do not require the conversion of starches to sugars and are thus considered 100% efficient. Their contribution to the converted recipe will be the same either way. For example, if the original recipe included ¼ lb of Belgian Candi sugar (sucrose), then you would subtract approximately 2 points (0.25 X 46.31 pts/lb/gal [Table II] ÷ 5 gallons) from the brewer’s original gravity before calculating the original brewer’s extraction efficiency. In this example, then, the efficiency would be 50 – 2 = 48 ÷ 62, or 77%.
Step 3: Find actual specific gravity contributions. Now that we know both the maximum theoretically possible point contributions from each ingredient and the original brewer’s extraction efficiency, we can determine the actual specific gravity contributions that occurred when the original beer was brewed. We know that the total number of actual points we need will be 50 (from the O.G. of 1.050) X 5 gallons = 250 points.
Determining the individual specific gravity contributions from each ingredient used in the original recipe is simply a matter of multiplying each maximum theoretical contribution by the brewer’s extract efficiency percentage.

Theoretical Points x Efficiency = Actual Points 

Tworow 
268 
0.81 
217 
80 °L crystal 
28 
0.81 
23 
Chocolate 
7 
0.81 
6 
Black patent 
6 
0.81 
5 
Total actual points = 


251 
Step 4: Convert from mashed grain to extract and steeped grain amounts. The final step in converting the grain (and sugar or adjunct) portion of the recipe is determining the amount of malt extract and steeped grain that should be used to produce the same actual number of specific gravity points as that produced in the original recipe.
Calculate specialty grain contribution. This step involves basically reversing the calculation in Step 1, but we’re now using the actual contributions and probable steeped grain yields (from Table II) to arrive at our new grain bill. Note that yields can vary depending on the steeping method, so once again I advise you to conduct some test steeps and substitute your actual yields. Calculate the specialty grain amounts first; the remainder of the gravity points will be made up by a premade extract.

Actual points 
÷ Anticipated (pts/lb/gal) 
= Grain Bill (lb) 
80 °L crystal 
23 
18 
1.3 lb (approx. 1 lb, 5 oz) 
Chocolate 
6 
15 
0.4 lb (approx. 6 oz) 
Black patent 
5 
21 
0.2 lb (approx. 3 oz) 
Points from specialty grains = 34 
You may wish to round the final amounts up to be on the safe side. Note that unlike the other specialty grains, the calculated amount of black patent to steep is less than the amount originally used in the allgrain recipe. It’s conceivable that the steeping efficiency for the black patent is higher than its mashing efficiency (21 ÷ 25 = 84%, compared to the 80% average mash efficiency figure we calculated in Step 2).
Calculate base malt contribution. The remainder of the gravity points in the final recipe (217) will come from the base malt contribution to be supplied by malt extract (dry or liquid or both). Use the expected yield of the extract to determine the final amount. Whenever possible, you should use the actual pts/lb/gal as provided by the malt extract producer. If this information is not available, you’d be fairly safe in assuming a yield of 37 pts/lb for liquid extract, and a higher number, 45 pts/lb, for dry malt extract. So, 217 ÷ 37 = 5.9 lb of liquid malt extract or 4.8 lb of dry malt extract (217 ÷ 45). A common practice that can help you to avoid using partially used cans of liquid malt is to use whole cans of liquid malt extract for the bulk of the recipe, and make up the difference with dry malt extract (DME). In this case you could use one 3.3 lb (1.5 kg) can of liquid malt for 122 of the points (3.3 X 37) plus 2.1 lb of dry malt extract for the remaining 95 points (95 ÷ 45).
When selecting which type of malt extract to use for the base malt, take the beer style into consideration. For example, a British or Irish malt extract would make the best base malt for Black Jack Porter. A further influence on your decision might be the extract’s fermentability, which you might be able to get from the manufacturer or, if not, from the list of common extracts and fermentabilities in Ray Daniels’ book, Designing Great Beers. If the original recipe’s final gravity is very low, you would probably want a highly fermentable extract. You can calculate the original brewer’s apparent attenuation if you know the recipe’s final gravity: 1– (FG ÷ OG), 70% in this case. You can also use this figure to decide what yeast strain to use (most suppliers can give you attenuation figures for their yeast strains). Further, if you know what type of yeast was originally used, you can look up its attenuation, compare it to the actual (apparent) attenuation you calculated, and decide how fermentable the extract needs to be.
If you plan to proceed with a fullvolume boil, just as you would if you were brewing the allgrain version, then the conversion can be considered complete. If, however, you choose to use a partial boil, then you must complete one further step before you can call yourself done: hop adjustment.
Step 5: Adjust hop charges. As mentioned earlier, partial boils mean higher gravities and thus lower hop utilization. Calculating the new hop charge amounts is easy and can even be skipped for late hop additions if they’re only in the boil for 10 minutes or less. In our Black Jack Porter example, only the first three hop additions need adjustment; the late hop charge can be used asis.
It’s probably safe to assume that the original allgrain version used an average of six gallons in the boil (to allow for evaporation), which would result in a boil gravity of approximately 1.042 (251 ÷ 6 gallons). If the new, extractbased recipe calls for a partial boil with an average of 3.5 gallons, then the new boil gravity would be 1.072!
Table III shows hop utilization figures based on gravity and boil time. We need to compare the utilization figure for the fullboil gravity to that of the partialboil gravity. Even though the hop utilization change over the full range of specific gravities is not linear, it is nearly linear between any two of the columns in Table III. That allows us to interpolate to determine the correct figures for our gravities.
Our fullboil gravity is 1.042. Increasing wort gravity from 1.040 to 1.050 decreases utilization for the 60minute hops by 25.2 – 23.1, or 2.1%. Interpolating to find the perpoint change in hop utilization is as simple as dividing by 10 (2.1% ÷ 10 = 0.21%). Therefore, for a wort of specific gravity 1.042 (2 points above 1.040), utilization decreases by 0.21 X 2 = 0.42%, making the interpolated utilization 25.2 – 0.42 = 24.8%, or 25%.
For the partialboil gravity of 1.072, we can determine the wort’s hop utilization the same way, beginning with the difference between utilization for 1.070 and 1.080 worts. The perpoint change is 19.3 – 17.6 ÷ 10 = 0.17%, and so the change from 1.070 to 1.072 is 19.3 – (0.17% X 2) = 19%.
Now that we know the exact utilization figures for each of the two gravities, we simply find the ratio by dividing 25 by 19. Thus, the amount of 60minute hops for the new recipe will have to be increased by a factor of about 1.3. For the Kent Goldings, 1.25 X 1.3 = 1.625 oz will be required to achieve the same bitterness of the original recipe. The adjustment factor will be the same for all 60minute hops. The adjustment for the 15minute hops is calculated in the same manner.
The recipe is now complete; see the box on page 46 for the final extract version.
Followup Step 6: Tastetest and adjust. You’ll probably want to tweak the recipe for the next batch depending on the results of your taste test. If you want to stay at the same original gravity, you can use the percentages you calculated in Step 1. If you decide to add a bit more black patent, for example, adjust the other percentages accordingly and multiply by the total number of gravity points needed (250). This will give you new “actual points” figures with which to recalculate the grain bill.
You don’t have to read many recipe books to realize quickly how many extractbased recipes are published, and how many have won contests! But what if you prefer allgrain brewing? You can use the same extract percentage–based techniques outlined above to convert your extract recipe to an allgrain version. As an example of converting in this direction, we will convert the Swee’ Baby Brown recipe listed in the accompanying box. The process is really just the reverse of the Black Jack Porter conversion. Here is a walkthrough.
Step 1: Determine theoretical yields. This procedure is the same as for the Black Jack Porter, except that you will be using yields for the specialty grains that have been adjusted to compensate for lower steeping efficiency. If the extract recipe wasn’t yours and you don’t know the actual yields derived from the steeping, don’t worry too much about potential deviations from the point values shown in Table II. Specialty grains make a relatively small contribution to total extract compared with that of the base malt, and any differences between the original and new actual gravities achieved will most likely be due to variations in the base malt yield.
So let’s see how close we can come to the recipe designer’s original gravity. Assuming we don’t know the actual yield figures for any of the grain bill, we’ll calculate the extract percentages for this recipe based on 37 points per pound for the liquid malt extract, 46 points per pound for the brown sugar (which is primarily sucrose, so we’re close enough), and the values shown in Table II for the specialty grains.

Grain Bill (lb) 
× Max. Avg. Yield (pts/lb/gal) 
= Actual Points 
Contribution 
Pale LME 
6 lb, 11 oz (6.79 lb) 
37 
248 
78% 
80 °L crystal 
1 lb 
18 
18 
6% 
Chocolate malt 
8 oz (0.5 lb) 
15 
8 
3% 
Dark brown sugar 
1 lb 
46 
46 
14% 
Total actual points: 320 
These calculations predict an original gravity of 1.064 (320 ÷ 5 gallons), which matches the recipe’s predicted gravity.
Steps 2 and 3: Allgrain extraction efficiency and actual points extracted. Use the figures that you’ve already determined from your own setup. All brewers will achieve a different extraction efficiency based on their methods and equipment; this is something only experience and careful attention can determine. But for the purposes of this article, let’s assume you get an extraction efficiency of 80% when brewing allgrain. Because we don’t need the extra step of determining the original brewer’s extraction efficiency (we’ve already got the actual points, shown in the table in Step 1), we can move on to determining the final amounts of grains and hops to use. Note that, as discussed previously, the amount of the brown sugar in both recipes remains the same.
Step 4: Determine the amount of grains and adjuncts to use. To find the weight of each grain to use, divide the number of points you need by the maximum theoretical yield adjusted for your own system’s extraction efficiency. You calculated above that you want to extract 18 points from the 80 °L crystal. The maximum theoretical yield for this malt is 34 points per pound. Therefore, the number of pounds you need of the 80 °L crystal is 18 ÷ (34 X 0.80), or 0.66 lb — about 10.6 oz. The rest of the grain bill for the converted recipe was calculated in a similar manner:
Points Required ÷ [Theoretical max. x Actual Efficiency] = Grain Amount 


(pts) 
(pts/lb/gal) 

(lb) 
Light liquid malt extract 
248 
37 
0.80 
8.4 lb (8 lb, 6 oz) 
80 °L crystal 
18 
34 
0.80 
0.7lb (11 oz) 
Chocolate malt 
8 
28 
0.80 
0.4 lb (6 oz) 
Dark brown sugar 
46 
46 
1.00 
1.0 lb 
If you want to closely replicate the original extract recipe, including the final gravity, there’s one other thing you have to deal with in the mash — fermentability. Because the mash methods for extracts are rarely known, the allgrain brewer has no way of knowing for sure at what temperature the grain was mashed. Some manufacturers supply fermentability figures; if not, as mentioned earlier, a helpful table of common extracts and fermentabilities is supplied in reference 8. If fermentability is low, you’d mash at a higher temperature, and vice versa. As mentioned in the previous Step 4, you also might be able to judge from the style or from the apparent attenuation of the beer — or you could just wing it at a neutral mash temperature in the low 150s F (65–68 °C) and tweak from there.
Step 5: Adjust hop charges. If the original extract recipe called for a partialvolume boil, as it did in this case, you again have to adjust hop amounts, this time for the increased utilization that will be attained in the fullvolume allgrain boil. Using our predicted original gravity of 1.064, the 6gallon boil will have a gravity of approximately 1.053 (64 X 5 ÷ 6), compared with the extract brew’s 3.5gallon boil gravity of about 1.091 (64 X 5 ÷ 3.5).
Using linear interpolation as before, we can calculate that the hops used in the 60minute charge would have a 16% extraction efficiency in the partial boil, but a 22.5% utilization rate in the full boil. Because the utilization is increasing this time, less hops will be needed to accomplish the same bitterness; dividing the partial boil utilization by that of the full boil gives a multiplication factor of 16 ÷ 22.5, or 0.71 for the 60minute hops. The adjustment for the 30minute hops is calculated the same way (12 ÷ 17), which also results in a multiplication factor of 0.71 (pure coincidence). As before, the final hop charges are determined by multiplying the original hop charges by the appropriate multiplication factor.
If you don’t know whether it was a partial or a full boil, you can try to guess from the style and hopping rate. If your bitterness calculation comes out too high for the style, for example, there’s a good chance they used a partial boil.
Followup Step 6: Tastetest and adjust. The final recipe is shown in the box on page 50. As before, you would use the percentages to tweak the grain bill after taste testing.
As you can see by working through this process, a fair amount of guesswork is involved, no matter how hard you try to do an exact replication. Not all of the information you need to perform an accurate conversion exists. Maybe some fine day in the future all malt extract producers will publish the types and amounts of malts and adjuncts used in their extracts, plus the color and specific gravity contributions that can be expected from the finished beer. And maybe that same day maltsters will make it easier to obtain information about their malts. The general trend is positive.
In the meantime, the basic principles learned here should allow you to come pretty close to replicating your favorite recipe, no matter what form it’s in. Just remember the following general guidelines: Extract brewers should try to choose recipes that do not contain starchy grains or adjuncts that need to be mashed, and allgrain brewers should choose recipes that are based on pale, unhopped namebrand extracts.
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