Originally Posted by beerpoop
I've brewed four beers, all extract kits from austinhomebrew with specialty grains in a muslin bag. For my next beer I want to design my own recipe/attempt at an extract heady topper clone based on advice from this thread:http://beeradvocate.com/community/threads/heady-topper-clone.7489/
Are special grains a necessity? Should I get some Pearl malt to steep in hot water before I add extract? Sorry if this is a stupid question..
First, Pearl is not a specialty malt. It is actually a barley variety that is used to produce much British pale malt. So when they are talking about Pearl, they are referring to general purpose British pale malt. Secondly, adding malted grains to extract brewing recipes is usually done to improve and/or add to the flavors as well as for color adjustments. Adding a base malt like British pale would normally be done by means of a mini-mash. Unlike specialty malts that can be steeped (crystal malts & roasted malts), base malts contain a lot of starch that needs to be converted to sugars by the action of the mash.
Now to answer your original question, specialty grains are not a necessity. However, even though the original all-grain recipe for the beer may not utilize them, a small addition of specialty grain, or even better a mini-mash, can go a long way toward improving the flavor of an extract-only brew. I would consider using British light DME as your base and adding perhaps a small amount of light crystal (~ 1/2 lb) as a steeping grain. This will not change the color very much but will add a touch of extra maltiness to the beer. If you feel up to trying a mini-mash replace a pound of the DME with two pounds of crushed British pale malt and follow the procedures for a mini-mash found here on many old threads or in a book such as Palmer's "How to Brew".