When I first started brewing I was completely by the book. I found a recipe and did exactly what it said making sure I had the very specific malt and hops and yeast mentioned. Pretty much all my beers were clones of other beers;
- Goblin Queen was a clone of hobgoblin
- Heather Ale was a clone of Fraoch
- Kwackers was a clone of Pawel Kwack
and so on.
I don’t know what made me decide to create my own recipe one day, probably just the fact that you always think, “this beer would be better if…”
Take A Beer Recipe And Tweak It
I’d say it’s a pretty sure bet that most recipes are the same in principle.You have a base malt and some specialty malts to add flavour, colour and that “something” a good beer always has. You also have hops, always bittering hops and usually aroma hops and of course you have the yeastie beasties who do the work of turning your wort into beer.
I started out pretty small, I took a recipe I had brewed a few times and I changed just one ingredient. You can do this with any recipe. If the grain bill is 95% pale malt and 5% crystal (low colour), switch out the crystal low colour for extra dark crystal or add some torrifed wheat. Not only will the beer look completely different but there will be subtle changes in the flavour.
Hops are the easiest thing to change up. If you swap say Fuggels (English hop) for a big bold, American hop like Citra. You’ll instantly get a different flavour and aroma in your beer.
This let me test out what different ingredients did, how they changed the beer. Then I did it again and again. I had eventually made 4 or 5 beers, each slightly different from each other and I had learned lots about what ingredients did, but I hadn’t learned to write my own recipe from scratch. I had been making tweaks of an American Pale Ale but it didn’t set me up to be able to make a stout for instance.
So as is always the case when I decide to try something new, to the internet and the books to do some research and somewhere I came across and bought a fantastic book Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels. That moment was like a light bulb turning on. I don’t know why but that book just seemed to speak to me and suddenly I understood what made each beer unique.
Now loads of brewers out there are really clever and can do all sorts of pen and paper maths to create their recipes, knowing how to work out the IBU or ABV etc. Unfortunately maths was never my strong suit so I use brewing software to guide me. I won’t teach you how to use it here as there are plenty of great tutorials out there, just google brewing software but this is something with which you can plug ingredients in and it will work out your figures, so if using Ray’s book and you want to make an American Pale Ale, you can look up the stats for this and plug away at your ingredients to get the colour, IBU, ABV etc to match and use the hints and tips in the book to ensure you are on the right page with flavours and aroma. If you don’t want to buy yet another brewing book, use the BJCP guidelines that are available online.
Keep a journal
There is one other thing I recommend, keep a journal. Write down everything about your brewday. A recipe isn’t just a list of ingredients, the process, the techniques and sometimes the mistakes can make or break your beer. Write it all down so that when you brew that amazing IPA, you know exactly how you did it and a few months or years down the line if you want to recreate that beer or just wonder why beer X had a better flavour than beer Y, then your journal will have the answers.
Useful things to make a note of:
- How much water did I mash with?
- How old were the hops?
- Different malt supplier?
- Did I dry hop, for how long?
- Did I use a bag when I put hops in the kettle or did I throw them in free?
- What was the fermentation temperature?
- Was there anything different I did on the brew day?
I even know of one brewer who notes the music he had playing on his brew days.