Design Your Own Beer Recipe

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Now it’s time to take off the training wheels and strike out on your own. You have read about many of the various beer styles of the world and you should now have a better idea of the kind of beer you like best and want to brew. Homebrewing is all about brewing your own beer. Recipes are a convenient starting point until you have honed your brewing skills and gained familiarity with the ingredients. Do you need a recipe to make a sandwich? Of course not! You may start out by buying a particular kind of sandwich at a sandwich shop, but soon you will be buying the meat and cheese at the store, cutting back on the mayo a little, giving it a shot of Tabasco, using real mustard instead of that yellow stuff and voila—you have made your own sandwich just the way you like it. Brewing your own beer is the same process.

However, don’t forget to keep a notebook of everything that you do. It would be tragic to brew your best beer ever and then be unable to remember how you made it! This chapter will present more guidelines for using ingredients to attain a desired characteristic. You want more body, more maltiness, a different hop profile, less alcohol? Each of these can be accomplished and this chapter will show you how.

Recipe Basics

Recipe design is easy and can be a lot of fun. Pull together the information on yeast strains, hops, and malts, and start defining the kind of tastes and characters you are looking for in a beer. Do you want it malty, hoppy, big-bodied, or dry? Choose a style that is close to your dream beer and decide what you want to change about it. Change just one or two things at a time so you will better understand the result. Make sure you understand the signature flavors of the style before you start adding or changing lots of things, otherwise you will probably end up with a beer that just tastes weird. You cannot achieve complexity without balance.

To help get your creative juices flowing, here is a rough approximation of basic recipes for the common ale styles assuming a 5 gal. (19 L) batch:

  • pale ale—base malt plus a half-pound (225 g) of caramel malt
  • amber ale—pale ale plus another half-pound (225 g) of dark caramel malt
  • brown ale—pale ale plus a half-pound (225 g) of chocolate malt
  • porter—amber ale plus a half-pound (225 g) of chocolate malt
  • stout—porter plus a half-pound (225 g) of roast barley

Yes, those recipes are crude, but I want you to realize how little effort it takes to produce a different beer. When adding a new malt to a recipe, start out with a half-pound or less (“225 g) for a 5 gal. (19 L) batch. Brew the recipe and then adjust up or down depending on your tastes. Try commercial beers that are available in each style, and use the recipes and guidelines in this book to develop a feel for the flavors the different ingredients contribute.

Read recipes listed in brewing magazines, even if they are all-grain and you are not a grain homebrewer. By reading an all-grain recipe and the descriptions of the malts they are using, you will gain a feel for what that beer would taste like and you will get an idea of the proportions to use. For example, if you look at five different recipes for a regular 5 gal. (19 L) batch of amber ale, you will probably notice that no one uses more than 1 lb. (450 g) of any one crystal malt—all things are good in moderation. If you see an all-grain recipe that sounds good. You may need to use a partial mash for some recipes, but most can be reasonably duplicated without.

The first thing you need to understand when designing your own recipes is that the base malt is the main ingredient, just like the bread in a sandwich. The other ingredients all play a supportive role, and should not overwhelm the main ingredient. Just like you don’t want an unbalanced sandwich, you don’t want one aspect to overwhelm the composition of the beer. The whole should be greater than the sum of its parts.

The second thing to understand is that beer styles are like sandwich styles; if you start making a bologna sandwich but use turkey instead, well, that’s a turkey sandwich, isn’t it? In other words, signature ingredients, such as roasted barley, are associated with specific styles, such as stout. You can use a little roasted barley in another recipe, such as a brown ale, but if you use too much, it’s now a stout. The proportions of the ingredients are very important in a good recipe. The base malt is usually 80%–90% of the grain bill. A signature specialty malt can be 10% of the grain bill, but any other malts should be 5% or less. Now, granted, some porters and stouts will often have five different malts, but simpler is usually better. Too many flavors will start competing with one another and you achieve muddiness instead of complexity. Again, think of a sandwich. A good sandwich will have, at most, three main flavors playing off one another, and one of them is the bread. In beer, you have the base malt, the hop character, and your specialty malts. You can have one specialty malt to provide a signature character for the style, but the other specialty malts should only be complementary accents.

The signature specialty malt in pale styles, such as pale ale and Pilsner, is actually the base malt. You don’t want to crowd it with lots of other specialty malts; instead, you will use specialty malts only as complimentary accents, such as a little bit of Munich for more rich bread character, a little bit of light caramel for enhanced sweetness, or some flaked barley or flaked wheat for more body. As you move into the darker styles, such as brown ales, dunkels, bocks, and porters, the accent specialty malts are used to complement the signature specialty malt, which itself will be a highly toasted malt, a roasted malt, or (rarely) a dark caramel. The complementary malts should share a character of the signature malt, but add a little more variety to the signature flavor, such as adding a bit of smoked malt to the chocolate malt in a porter.

The yeast strain has a big impact on beer flavor. Take any ale recipe and change the ale yeast strain to a lager strain and you have a lager recipe (though not necessarily an example of a particular lager style). Look at information about yeast strains and determine what flavors different strains would give to the recipe. Use calculations to estimate the gravity and IBUs of the beer. Plan the FG for your beer and decide what factors you will manipulate to achieve it, such as ingredients, mash schedule, yeast strain, and fermentation temperature. As the brewer, you have almost infinite control over the end result. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Don’t get hung up on particular hop varieties for recipes; hops are very easy to substitute. If you are trying to brew a recipe to style but can’t find the hop that it calls for, then substitute a similar hop from the same region (see table 5.3). Try to choose a hop that has similar percentages of alpha acids and aromatic oils, and adjust the quantity and boil time to get the same IBU contribution. The results should be very similar to what’s intended in the original recipe.

Lastly, keep in mind the balance between bitterness and maltiness in different styles. Maltiness is a complex term that has several facets. First it means malt flavor, the flavors of bread and bread crust that you can smell and taste in fresh malt. Second, maltiness is directly proportional, at least in part, to the strength of the OG. So maltiness can be represented by OG when plotting a chart of flavor balance. Most of the smaller styles (lower ABV) group very closely in the 1.040–1.060 OG versus 20–40 IBUs range, at a ratio of 2:4 (or 1:2). American IPA and double IPA are the only styles you see exceeding the 4:4 line (or 1:1).

More from How to Brew:

How to Brew: Everything You Need to Know to Brew Great Beer Every Time by John Palmer. Copyright 2017 Brewers Association. Reprinted with permission from the publisher; all rights reserved by the original copyright holder.

Published on Aug 6, 2019


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