Creating your own beer recipes

designing great beers

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.

double and pale

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.

Discussion on brewing software

Keep a journal

brewing journalThere 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.



Crafty Corner – home-made beer tap handles

Kate and I had another fun crafty afternoon this week.  We made fancy tap handles for my beer serving board.

We have the ability to have 4 different kegs of beer at home but were using little plastic “picnic” taps to serve the beer. It worked ok but didn’t look very pretty and definitely lacked the “cool” factor. Especially at parties. So we decided to see if we could come up with a way to make it a bit cooler

We had picked up some taps cheap on eBay, unfortunately though they didn’t come with handles and handles on their own can be quite expensive. So, we decided to make our own. The taps are chrome and have a screw in the top where you would normally screw the handle on which is also chrome. We decided to have some fun with this.

new taps











We got some big sturdy test tube type things on eBay and thought they would be cool tap handles as we could put things in them to customise them a bit. Oh the fun we could have.

empty vial











We started by drilling a hole in the top of the cap so that the bolt on the tap could be fed through it and then we could use a nut on the other side to secure it. Trip to B&Q (an hour of looking at new bathrooms – as you do) and we were home with some washers and nuts.

Unfortunately we weren’t very careful at measuring so the washers were too big but the 3/8th inch nuts were perfect. I will add a washer to this at some point just to add a little more security and strength to the handle, as this is the piece that gets pulled on but for now they are working perfect as they are.












Once we had a way of attaching the handle to the tap it was time to decide on what to put into them. We could just put a piece of paper with the name of the beer, or even paint them but we had a bit more of a fun idea. We have filled them with different types of malted grains.

Malted grains are what beer is made from, well decent beer anyway, and different types of malt have different colours so we were able to make handles which had a mix of dark and light grains in them.  Now we have functioning tap handles but they are also quite fitting showing off the raw ingredients of beer.

Now here is a tip for anyone who fancies trying this, you need to turn the handle full of your grain or other decorations upside down to get it onto the actual tap. I stuffed the top of mine with bubble wrap before doing this to stop the grains from falling out.

grain in tubes











They look pretty cool on the taps I have to say but one thing Kate did to just finish them off perfectly was to spray paint the white plastic caps silver.  Instantly it just looked amazing.

finished taps no labels








So there you go, our finished, fabulous tap handles complete with labels.

tap board finished









An update – making your own bottle labels for your home-brew beer

selection of beer labelsI did a post a few months back about making labels for your home-brew and recently it seems to be the most read post on our blog and I’ve noticed it being passed around on some of the brewing forums for folk who are asking for advice on making their own labels. Since I wrote the original I’ve made a whole heap of new labels so I thought it might be time for a quick update on what I’m doing and maybe some more hints and tips that I didn’t post last time. The blog post I did is still available if you want to have a look –

If you hadn’t read it previously I’d say go read that post and come back as there is some useful information there that will set you up to get started.

You read it? Good then lets look at some new labels and how I did them.


 My labels – how did I choose that design?

Brew dog labelI actually didn’t start off with that design for my bottles. I’ve gone through a whole process of trying out different labels until I found the one that got me most excited and although at the minute I am really pleased with them, they are not perfect but I’ll tell you more about that later.

My first label idea was based on the Brewdog labels. I liked the bold colours and text of the design and I liked the slightly grungy look so I had a play about with how I could recreate that kind of idea.

lager labelMy first attempt was for a coopers lager kit I did, so of course thinking of Australian lager, I made the label yellow. Looking back, it’s not a brilliant label not least because of the poor choice of yellow background with white lettering which wasn’t easy to read. Also it was a bit cluttered. I tried to put a name for the beer, details about what it looked and tasted like, the style, the percentage, a logo for my “brewery” and some information about pouring it since it had yeast in the bottle. An awful lot of info to get onto a little square of paper. Things did continue to evolve though.

I switched colours mostly, so each beer had the same label but with the background as a different colour. Red for Goblin Queen, Purple for Heather Ale etc. But I mostly stuck with this design, just adding a couple of little bits to grunge it up a bit and it worked fine for a while, all our beers had this label on them and together they looked quite cool sitting on a shelf and I was pretty proud.


beer lined up


However the grunginess and the massive amounts of text started to annoy me and I wanted something simple and bold. Something modern. So I scrapped it all and started with a blank, white square and said, “What text actually NEEDS to be there?” And the scary thing is, not as much as you think.

So I went for a very stripped down version, just a square of bold colour and the text I needed in a plain bold font. It worked out great and I am still using this idea although tweaked ever so slightly.

Bottles with new labels


 So how do I make the labels?

Ok, I normally use a piece of software called Fireworks to make my labels but since there are lots of free versions of graphics software out there, I’m going to show you how I would create a simple version of this label using one of the pieces of software you can get for free.

apa label


First download a piece of software called GIMP from this webpage and install it.

 Creating your label

step 1- get started

ok once you have GIMP open on your computer you need to create a new work area. Simply done, click FILE and then NEW. This gives you a choice of sizes to play with. For this label I usually make it around 500 pixel each length so I choose the template from the drop box which nearest fits this size – 640 by 480.

step 2 – draw your label outline

Click on the rectangle tool on the tool box.

step 2


Then drag the rectangle shape to the rough size you want.

To colour the rectangle, double click on the colour box and then choose the colour you want from the pop up window.

colour picker

Now to fill your rectangle with the colour you have chosen, click on the fill tool and then on your rectangle. I chose white but you can choose any colour you like.

fill tool

The next thing we want to do is to create the black outline around the rectangle. To do this we have to choose the background colour. On the graphic above you can see the colour boxes are red and black, red is the foreground colour and black is the background colour. You can either change the foreground colour (as you did previously) or you can switch them around by clicking the little white arrows on the top right of the colour boxes.

However you do it, for this example we want to give our rectangle a black outline so make your colour black.

Then using the menus at the top of the screen, click on EDIT, then STROKE SELECTION. It will now open the window where you can edit the outline.



For this example I am going to change my stroke settings to have a solid line and a line width of 1 px then click STROKE.

step 3 – draw your centre rectangles

You should now have a white rectangle with a black outline on the screen. The next thing we are going to do is add another rectangle in the middle of the first and colour it red. We do this in exactly the same way as before. Click on the rectangle tool, draw your rectangle and then use the colour picker and fill tool to colour it, in this instance red.

red square

Now you are rocking!

Right next we are going to add the white band where you put the name of your brewery. Exactly the same as before choose the rectangle tool, then draw it out where you want it and then use the colour tool and fill tool to colour it white.


step 4 – adding text

Now we have the basic shapes in place, we are going to add the text. Firstly the name of the beer. in the example I am calling my beer APA, for American Pale Ale.

From the toolbox, click on the bold A in the centre, this is your text tool.

text tool

As you did for your rectangles, draw out the area you want your text to go. It’s good to make it much bigger than you need for the minute, you can always make it smaller later.

Inside the space you have just drawn, double click and then type the text you want. A text tool bar will appear which will allow you to change the size or colour. Get everything as you want it by highlighting the text you just written and then using this bar to make changes.

To adjust the font or the position of the text, you can do this from the tool options on the left.

font tools



On my example I have text that looks like it has a dark shadow. I made this by having two pieces of text. One white and one black. Then I moved one on top of the other.

To move an item such as text, click on the moving tool from the tool box and then click on the item and drag it to where you want it to be.

drag tool

The other tool you need to know about is the layers toolbox. It allows you to move layers to have one on top of the other. In this case the white text on top of the black text.

The layer which you want to be on top, will be top of the list. For example, our white rectangle is the back, then next is the red one, then the black text and then the white text as this is the order we want them to appear.


Adjust yours so that your text appears as you want it.

You now use this same set of tools to add your other text elements to your label and in the end you should end up with something similar to this.

simple label



step 5 – saving your graphic

Right, you’ve created a brilliant label that you are super proud of. Now you want to save it so you can print it and use it on your new beer.

The first thing you want to do is get rid of any of the excess white area (or canvas) around your graphic.

From the menu at the top of the screen, click IMAGE. Then click FIT CANVAS TO SELECTION. this will take out all the excess canvas for you.

Lastly we want to save your creation, so to do this, click FILE and then EXPORT. This will open a window where you can choose the type of file to save and give it a name. I’d recommend using the little cross on the bottom left to choose SELECT FILE TYPE and then from the list that appears choose GIF.

Now at the top, give your file a name and then click EXPORT.




Kate’s Springfest Ale

Winterfest has been and now spring has sprung… so… next comes Springfest :0)

Springfest is our celebration of spring and friends and we’ll be hosting a wee shin dig at ours in March. A shindig at ours means a beer for the occasion so Kate got to work creating her first beer recipe based on some of the beers she likes and little tweaks she’d like to make to them. So she came up with a recipe for a pale ale bursting with hoppy goodness.

It’s a bit of an American Pale Ale in style light and refreshing, perfect for a spring party, and we’ll be serving a keg of this to friends.

Kate has previously helped me with some kit brews, but she hasn’t seen much of my all grain brews, except today she helped every step of the way, so this beer is her idea, her recipe and she helped brew it too.

If you want the recipe it’s below.

Amt Name Type # %/IBU
4.20 kg Pale Malt, Maris Otter (5.9 EBC) Grain 2 98.8 %
0.05 kg Crystal Malt (135.0 EBC) Grain 3 1.2 %
10.00 g Perle [9.37 %] – Boil 60.0 min Hop 4 11.3 IBUs
10.00 g Citra [14.40 %] – Boil 30.0 min Hop 5 13.4 IBUs
0.25 tsp Irish Moss (Boil 10.0 mins) Fining 6
10.00 g Cascade [8.20 %] – Boil 10.0 min Hop 7 3.6 IBUs
5.00 g Citra [14.40 %] – Boil 10.0 min Hop 8 3.2 IBUs
10.00 g Cascade [8.20 %] – Boil 5.0 min Hop 9 2.2 IBUs
10.00 g Citra [14.40 %] – Boil 5.0 min Hop 10 3.5 IBUs
10.00 g Cascade [8.20 %] – Boil 0.0 min Hop 11 0.0 IBUs
10.00 g Citra [14.40 %] – Boil 0.0 min Hop 12 0.0 IBUs
1.0 pkg Ringwood Ale (Wyeast Labs #1187) [124.21 ml] Yeast 13
25.00 g Cascade [8.20 %] – Dry Hop 7.0 Days Hop 14 0.0 IBUs
25.00 g Citra [14.40 %] – Dry Hop 7.0 Days Hop 15 0.0 IBUs

So as usual here is a quick blurb of what happened today with some pics.

The Mash

mashThe first thing we did was weigh out our grains and make a porridge out of them with hot water. I looked after the water and temperatures as Kate has less experience of this, but she was right in there mixing it up.

We mashed at 66 degrees Celsius. Once it was all mixed and at the right temperature, we left it for an hour to allow all the sugars to come out of the grain.

As is now the tradition of my brew days, while the mash was going, I made some bread for dinner tonight (we’re having pulled pork – yum! Recipe will be on here soon).


We also had a little bit of unexpected help today, you’ve maybe heard of the Scottish brewers “Brew Dog”? Well we had Brew Cats…



You turn your back for two seconds and these two are in to everything to see what they aren’t involved in.

Shame I can’t actually put them to work!







The Boil

IMAG1131So, mash done, bread made and time to get the boil going, and true to her word, Kate measured out all the hops and added them at the intervals. Lots of citra and cascade, so this should be a nice, fresh, zingy beer.

Once the boil was over and cooled, I had a wee taste, and so far it’s spot on.

It’s a nice pale beer as well, which was Kate’s request – I have a tendency to make copper or ruby beers because that’s my preference. This time we made sure she got her request and this is a nice gold.



fermentor 1So last thing, all chilled, we transferred it to the fermenting bucket and added the yeast. Using Ringwoode yeast again as I was really pleased with this last time. So fingers crossed it doesn’t disappoint me this time round.

So that was Kate’s first all grain brew day :0)

I promise we’ll update you with the beer once it’s finished and also with stories and pictures of Springfest.




The beer is absolutely lovely!!!

sprinfest ale


Kate’s first beer – her own recipe and she helped to make it.




Hello Dolly…

wpid-facebook_288093567-150x150I thought it was about time I told you a bit more about my beer than just that it tastes good so I think it’s time to share some secrets.

I am an extract brewer (or I was at the time of writing this post). Big statement… But what’s that?

Extract brewing is the most popular type of home brewing in the US and it’s quickly picking up popularity in the UK too.

It’s a bit simpler than its big brother “All Grain” where you have to coax all the sugars out of the grains through a variety of processing to make your liquid wort. Wort is the sugary liquid which fermented to become beer.

Extract brewing jumps in after the sugary stuff has been done. You can buy this malt extract already to use. Saving time and the need for equipment. Which leaves you able to add speciality grains to alter the colour or flavour and hops for bitterness and aroma.

Of course if that sounds too involved, you can buy kits where all the hard work is already done, you just add water and yeast and let it ferment.

“Hello Dolly” was the first extract brew I tried and also my first attempt at creating my own recipe. It’s amazing what you can do in a large huge stockpot.

“Hello Dolly” came about because Kate and I are both fans of a particular ale called “Black Sheep”. So my recipe was an attempt to copy it.  When you copy an other beer it’s called a clone beer. Hence Hello Dolly… (Sheep, clone, Dolly the sheep).

Ok so here’s the skinny on “Hello Dolly”


Amount Name Type %
0.30 kg Caramel/Crystal Malt – 40L Grain 11.2 %
0.05 kg Roasted Barley Grain 1.8 %
2.10 kg Light Dry Extract Malt Extract 9.6%
0.26 kg Wheat Dry Extract Malt Extract 9.6%
60.00 g Goldings, East Kent [5.22 %] Hops
35.00 g Fuggles [4.80 %] Hops
1.0 pkg Ringwood Ale (Wyeast Labs #1187)


How to

Step 1 – the steep

I steep the grains to extract the sugars, colours, flavours and aromas they contain— I am not talking about “mashing“, steeping is quicker and easier and temperature is nowhere near as important as with “mashing” .

So I start with three times as much water as grain by weight, e.g. 400g of grain should be mixed with 1.2L of water, 500g grain with 1.5L water so basically I have a watery porridge in my big stock pot. (To help with clean up and to stop unwanted bits and pieces getting into my finished wort, I use a large mesh bag to hold all the grain – nice and easy to lift out again).

For the “Hello Dolly” recipe I steeped  0.30 kg of crystal malt and 0.05kg of roasted barley, the guy at my local brew shop had cracked these for me.

I steep these grains for 45 mins at as constant a temperature as I can get – between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit and keep them moving to make sure all the grain gets wet and I get as much colour and flavour from them as I can. If you go to high in temperature you  get a funny taste in your beer.

Once I have left the grains steeping for the required time, I take the bag out and sit it in a colander which fits nicely on top of the stock pot to let all the good stuff drain out of the grain bag (I help this along with a little warm water pouring it gently over the grains).  I do this with the heat off.

When there is no more run off from the grains, they come out and go in the compost.

Step 2 – Adding the Malt Extract

The malt extract is the bit that makes this type of brewing simpler. I don’t make my own, I buy it from my local brew shop. You can get it as a dry powder or as a thick syrup. I prefer dry powder. It keeps longer and it’s easier to measure but everyone has their preferences.

I let the hot liquid that the grains have been steeping in cool until there is no steam, as any moisture hitting my dry malt extract powder makes it go cloggy. Usually once the grains have released all their excess water and stopped dripping, the water is cool enough so I can then add the malt extract to the pot, stirring like a mad stirry thing to get the lumps out (although as you start to heat and stir these lumps do go away).

So as I said, put the heat back on once you have your dry malt extract in there and keep stirring. You want to get rid of all the lumps but you also want to make sure you don’t get anything stuck to the bottom of the pan where it can burn.

What you are doing now is called the boil, basically all the recipes have a timeframe attached, this one is a 1 hour boil, so once the malt is added, turn up the heat and the timer starts once I bring it to a boil.

Step 3 – The boil and adding your hops

As I’ve said, this recipe is a one hour boil, but as well as just boiling the liquid in the pan, I add hops at various times throughout the boil. The purpose of the hops is to add the bitterness needed in the beer (otherwise it would be sickly sweet) and also to add aroma.

So hops, in the ingredients lists you’ll see that I used two types;

· Goldings, East Kent, and

· Fuggles.

These are both English hops, so you’ see these used frequently in English beers. In this recipe I add them at these intervals and amounts.

1. At the start of the boil – 40 grams – Goldings

2. 40 mins into the boil – 15 grams – Fuggles & 15 grams – Goldings

3. 55 mins into the boil –  – 15 grams – Fuggles & 15 grams – Goldings

Once the 60 minute boil is over, it’s time to cool the wort as quickly as possible. I only boils a small percentage of the finished amount so I can easily cool it by adding the boiled wort to the big fermenting bucket and then topping it up to the desired amount with sterile, cold water. In this case 21 litres.

Make sure you give this a really good stir, you want to get lots of oxygen into the mix for the yeast to live on.

So we’ve added the water and got things up to 21 litres and hopefully cooled the wort down to the temperature that your yeast likes, time to add the yeast then.  Once the yeast is in, you have to put the bucket away out of eye level and be patient for a couple of weeks while it makes beer.

The last thing I did, in this process was dry hop. This means I added some hops to the fermenting bucket after about 4 days to add aroma to my beer. This is where I learned a valuable lesson. I just added the hops straight into the fermenting bucket thinking I’d scoop them out later before I bottled the beer, right? WRONG!

Those things are a nightmare to get out, some sink to the bottom, some float, some break up……. arrrrrrggggggg. I have since learned to add the hops to a mesh bag and add them that way!!!

So the joy of that experience means that our beer is lovely, really enjoyable and every other bottle or so, if you are lucky, you get a free hop flower, or bit of hop flower in your beer – oops!!!






The Goblin Queen has landed

wpid-IMAG0744-1-1-134x300Well we promised you an update on our beer making fun and so, here it is.

Our first attempt at making beer had been an aussie style lager which was “ready” for drinking at the end of June. We tested it at various points along the way and were really happy with it, and so were the friends we asked to test it. It was a really good sunny day beer and we have enjoyed one or two in the garden on a sunny day with a BBQ.

So buoyed with the confidence of that success we decided to try a dark ale (after all I am a big ale fan and Kate doesn’t mind a wee ale either). So our first ale went in the fermenter, with a wee tweak or two to the recipe to add some of the things we like. We substituted some of the sugar for dry malt to give it a bit more of an ale feel.

We let this one sit for a fortnight in the fermenter to make sure the yeast had done it’s work before we bottled it and added more sugar to allow the yeast to carbonate it.

The beer has more of a ruby colour than a brown ale and when we were playing with the idea of a name for it we came up with Goblin Queen as we are both fans of Hobgoblin ruby ale.

We even had a wee taste alongside a Hobgoblin just so that we could have a wee compare and we were really please. It’s a bit warmer than the Hobgoblin, less hoppy and we absolutely love it.

The best thing, although we have tested it, it won’t properly be ready until the end of July, so it is only getting better as it sits and conditions in the bottles.

We’ve already started planning for our next batch, we are going for an amber ale and we are going to play with the idea of “oaking it”. Watch this space.

A new food & drink hobby… Making beer

summer-beer-150x150We’ve taken up a new and exciting hobby and thought it would work well with our blog.

We are making our own beer.

Beer is considered to be one of the oldest fermented drinks possibly dating back to around 9500 BC and is recorded in the written history of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Here in Scotland beer is recorded as early as 4000 years ago with Heather Ale being the preferred brew. My favourite “fact” about heather ale…. did you know that this was the “magic potion” which Asterix spoke of?

Well as I said, Kate and I have started brewing our own beer. Very much on a small scale at the minute, but it’s lots of fun and a great learning experience.

We’ve started off with a simple kit brewing method for just now, but intend one day to go the full hog and be writing and brewing our own recipes.

About us

We are Kate and Eli and we love gardening, growing veggies and cooking. A great combination. We live on the East Coast of Scotland and tend an average sized household garden.

Our house is called Ar Bruidair, which is Scottish Gaelic for “our dream”, the house and garden very much are, our dream. So we thought what better name for our blog. Since then, of course, the blog has grown and now incorporates a youtube channel too. Pop along if you like videos of garden and food nonsense.

We hope you’ll enjoy tagging along on our adventures, and please feel free to drop a comment or two if you want to get in touch. We want this space to feel very much like a community, sharing ideas, lessons and thoughts.

much love,
Eli & Kate