Beer recipes are as common as brewers, and each recipe you find, if brewed more than once, is probably very tasty to someone. Many homebrewers go through a homebrew career having never created a recipe.
I’m here to tell you – it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
When considering the next beer for my pipeline, I follow a fairly consistent plan. What’s for supper? Brewing is cooking. A recipe is just that – but you can probably handle more than a few meals without the book right? Beer isn’t any different. Let me share my process to building a beer.
I choose a style that has appeal – not just momentary appeal, but enough appeal to justify making a few gallons. I look at the ingredients I have on hand and determine if there is something that needs to be finished off, or used before going stale – and then try to amend the style as needed. Once I’ve settled on a style, I usually turn to the BJCP guidelines, generally accepted as the gold standard for clearly defining a typical beer. When I’m comfortable with the plan – I’ll either look for a recipe to start from or more frequently, I’ll exercise my knowledge and start building a recipe that best represents the goal.
Will it be Chicken or fish tonight? I’m thinking chicken.
Building a beer is much like putting together a meal. You need a base-malt that will form the backbone of your beer. Will your beer be malt forward and biscuity, or will it be light and hoppy?
You’ll need to decide on a Pale malt, simple 2-row, Pilsen, or perhaps something more flavourful – a Maris Otter or Golden Promise. Will you have a lot of adjuncts that need additional help to convert? 6-Row might be the answer for those light rice adjuncts. For us – perhaps a nice Maris Otter as the base of a Porter.
We then look to our specialty grains to set the bigger malt and flavor profile. Caras and Crystals provide that toffee and caramel feel, while amber malt offers a little sharpness and nutty feel. Perhaps you’re going to go darker with your chicken tonight and sauce with a red wine reduction… In our porter, we’ll pull out those roasted malts like a light or dark chocolate malt, or the bitter and roasty patent malt or we can turn to a Special B if you really want to play in those strong dried fruit flavors.
The ‘thickness’ of this sauce is much like the body of the beer. Will it be sweeter? Drier? Planning for this mouthfeel up front will help guide some of those grain choices, and the mash schedule when you reach brew-day.
A lovely Coq au Vin can’t stand on it’s own of course. You’ll need a few vegetables (your sides) to define complimentary and balancing flavors and aromas to push the recipe to new culinary heights!
Your hop choices will provide both flavor and aroma components as well as contributing bitterness that balances the sugars in the malt. You’ll want to look (early addition) hops for their contribution to bittering as well as flavor to a lesser degree. Aroma and flavor notes for your late additions are more likely to make it to the bottle.
Always ensure that you consider the contributions of hops relative to the style you’ve chosen. Many a stout has been made over the years with a citra finish, and while some may find this appealing I’m not sure I’d share it with the world – and there are probably very few chefs standing who roasted cloves and lemons alongside their chicken and red wine.
For English styles like the porter, stout, and brown ales; consider working with style-appropriate hops in your first run at a new recipe. East Kent Goldings, Fuggles, or Sovereign all have a place in a darker malty offering. If you’re heading down the line to the IPA’s or Pales, there are a number of options from Citra, Amarillo, Pacific or Motuka – or staples like Centennial, Cascade, Challenger, or others.
Remember to check the AA% or ‘Alpha Acids’ for your hops. Higher percentages (8+) are well suited to bittering, while low AA% hops are typically found later in the brew giving up their flavour and aroma to the finished product. This doesn’t mean you ‘have’ to follow that guide, as we all know the 11% AA citra hop is a wonderful addition to the whirlpool where we take advantage of it’s beta or ‘aroma’ acids. I’m not going to get into the A-Z of lupulone, colupulone and adlupulone but suffice it to say – they count when designing the aroma and bitterness that follow your finished product into the keg or bottle.
Our Coq au Vin is nestled next to the asparagus and green beans, and a creamy mashed potato rides along to ground those flavors. Along with the right seasoning – a dinner to remember.
Our yeast in this creation serves a big portion to the overall flavor presented by our beer. Yeast provides (generally) subtle but crucial flavors in the form of esters that can blend and play off the malts and hops, and can make or break a beer.
Poor yeast choice or poor control during fermentation is like a heavy hand of salt on our dinner. Done right, a twist of ground black pepper, and a sprinkle of rosemary and parsley compliment the wine, vegetables, and seasoning. For our porter – look to an English Ale yeast that allows the malt profile to sign, or contributes nice notes of roasted nut to finish things off right.
A nicely poured pint of a light but flavorful porter, rich and balanced will do nicely at the table along side our entrée too – so I’d say it’s time to get cooking.
The internet provides access to thousands of articles on yeast characteristics, flavor profiles and suitability – and you’ll find as many articles on grain choices. Hops are no lost art either. Search, read and familiarize yourself, then dive in to a tool like BeerSmith (beersmith.com) or Brewtoad (brewtoad.com) and start building!
My Simplest recipe, and most enjoyable brew day:
Drei Side Light IPA – 5 gallon (~4.2% ABV)
- 4 kg Premium 2-Row, or Pale Ale Malt
- 30g Citra at 30 minutes
- 30g Mandarina Bavaria (Whirlpool addition)
- Mash 1 hour at 142f
- Citra at 30 minutes
Start chilling after 60 minutes, and add the Mandarina when you hit 160f and continue chilling to pitching temp. Ferment with a clean yeast like Safale S-05 for a crisp, light, fruity citrus IPA that you can enjoy more than one of!
Greg is currently filming and releasing (July / Aug 2017) the “Build it, Brew it, Drink it!” series on his YouTube channel. (http://www.youtube.com/ryskca)