How are specialty grains utilized?
For the extract brewer, the grains will be used in proportions generally not exceeding a pound or two for a 5 gallon batch. The grains are first cracked in a mill (we'll do this free for you at Midwest, and all extract kits come with premilled grain), or can be done at home with a rolling pin or a mill, if you have acquired one. The idea is not to over crush the grains. You want to crack open the husks of the grain only. If the grain is over milled, the pulverized husk can find its way into the boiling liquid and impart astringent or grainy flavors to the finished product. If properly milled, with the husks more or less in tact, they will help to form a natural filter bed–especially important if all-grain brewing.
For the extract brewer, once milled, the grains are collected in the steeping bag (or the muslin bag that came with your recipe kit) and cinched shut so they will not disperse into the liquid. This is essentially a large "tea bag", and as such is steeped in the water. The steeping bag of grains is added to the water when the water is still cold, heat is then applied and the temperature is raised to 155°F. Once at 155°F, the temperature is maintained and the grains are steeped for 10-30 minutes (10 minutes only if you're pressed for time; steeping for the full 30 minutes will yield the fullest color and flavor). The grain is then removed and the liquid is brought to a boil. It is very important that the grain is not boiled! To do so can impart astringent flavors in the finished beer. When removing the grain bag from the liquid, only a gentle squeeze is necessary. Try to resist the temptation to squeeze every last drop from the bag. Doing this may seem logical, but it can introduce tannins from the husk of the grain to your liquid in quantities sufficient to impart harsh or astringent flavors to your beer. Better to let it drain out on its own accord than to risk it. The grain is then discarded.
In most of the recipe kits made by Midwest Supplies, specialty grains are included. This is because the specialty grains are what adds color and flavor to your beer. While some flavor is imparted by the malt extract, the specialty grains are what really makes the beer what it is, defining the majority of the color and flavor characteristics that it will have. Without the specialty grains, the beer would taste flat, dull, boring, and just like most large commercial beers out there. In case you were wondering, in most cases, the same amount of specialty grains are used in the extract kits that are used in the all-grain kits. This means that it doesn't make a difference what style of brewing you do, the specialty grain amounts are the same. The reason for this is because you are not using specialty grains for their sugar. You are using these grains for the color and flavor. The sugar comes from either the malt or base grains, which are specifically designed for sugar production.