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Tips on Designing a Recipe

Even if you have made the move to all grain brewing, designing your own recipes can be daunting. There is so much information available to the new brewer that it’s easy to panic about what is relevant and how much you really need to consider when creating your first recipe.

As with most things, the best advice is to just keep it simple. We caught up with Dave from our UK office who talked us through his method for designing a recipe;

The first thing that happens when I come up with any new beer recipe is that I have an idea for what kind of beer I want. Usually this is inspired by a commercial beer I have tried or an interesting flavour combination that I’ve come across. This has led to all kinds of weird and wonderful brews such as my white chocolate stout (referred to by my homebrew club as a ‘dessert beer’ because it was so cloyingly sweet), my whisky scotch ale and my Stone and Wood inspired ‘Grapefruit Juice’ recipe. The key is, know what you want to achieve as it’s rare that you’ll just throw together whatever you’ve got and come up with something good (though it does happen!)

Whiskey infused, scotch ale
Whiskey infused, scotch ale

Once I’ve got some kind of abstract idea I’ll start to develop parameters for the beer such as what ABV I want it to be, what style of beer I think will work for the flavour I have in mind. Often at this point I’ll start researching recipes on the internet and picking bits that I think will work. Obviously knowing what will work and what won’t is something that comes with experience but making other recipes your starting point is a great way to get started and experiment.

In something like my white chocolate stout, the effect I was going for was a creamy mouthfeel, with a strong vanilla chocolate flavour. I knew a stout would carry chocolate flavour well and vanilla is a tried and tested adjunct in stouts so I was fairly set on that as a style. After doing a bit of reading it was obvious that my biggest concern was fat content in the chocolate, providing unwanted lipids that could have a negative effect on head retention.

To counteract this I used the lowest fat chocolate I could find and included wheat malt in the recipe to help with head retention. This is just one example of how you need to consider the adjuncts that you plan on using and how they will affect your end beer and is always something I consider early on in the recipe.

Now I’ll have a very rough idea of a flavour or style, a base beer style that will work with that flavour and a fairly good idea of the malts and hops that I want to use to brew that base style plus any adjuncts. It’s at this point I’ll start to use brewing software to fully develop my recipe.

Using brewing software is a great planning tool and something I would recommend every brewer do. There are things such as efficiency which you will only be able to work out after a few brews but there are things like target OG, target ABV, SRM (Standard Reference Method, is the colour system used by brewers to specify finished beer and malt colour) and BU:GU ratio (IBUs divided by gravity units) that are all important to a brewer which the software will calculate for you.

When I come to pick my hops for a recipe I will look at what BU:GU ratio is recommended for the style and work backwards, using my target gravity to decide the IBUs (International Bittering Units) that I need to produce a balanced beer. To put this simply, if I want to make an American IPA I know that it should have a BU:GU ratio of 0.84 according to this handy chart. If I know that my original gravity for the IPA is 1.062 then to work out my IBUs I do;

BU:GU X (OG x 1000) = IBU

0.84 x (0.062 x 1000)

0.84 x 62 = 52.08 IBUs

Now that I know the IBUs I want I can workout the split between my start of boil hops and my hop stand hops (a hop stand is a technique where the majority of your hops go into the beer immediately after the boil but before chilling, allowing the beer to cool naturally for 15-20 minutes. This imparts a small amount of bitterness – I usually calculate utilisation at 3% – and a huge amount of flavour and is the best technique I’ve been shown for getting the most out of your hops).

In terms of varieties of hops, unless I’m playing about with a new variety I tend to stick to high alpha, oily hops and usually varieties from a similar region (Ella and Galaxy or Citra, Centennial and Chinook or Motueka, Nelson Sauvin and Riwaka, for example). I’m also influenced by adjuncts I use in the beer – for example, in my honey and orange wheat beer I used Mandarina Bavaria to compliment the citrus of the oranges.

Malt and hops
Malt and hops

With malts, hops, adjuncts and parameters all decided I will look at the water profile next. Water chemistry is, for many, one of the most confusing aspects of brewing and I know many homebrewers who deliberately steer away from adjusting their water – but taking the time to understand the basics will really help you see a marked improvement in your end beer.

At it’s most basic, you should use a brewing calculator to make sure your mash pH is around 5.2 (this can vary from beer to beer but 5.2 is a good aim when you’re starting out) and use salts to adjust to this figure. Once you’ve hit a pH of 5.2 you can start to consider things like;

Calcium should be in the range of 50 – 150 mg/L
Magnesium should be in the range of 10 – 30 mg/L
Sodium should be in the range of 0 – 150 mg/L
Sulfates should be in the range of 0 – 350 mg/L
Chlorides should be in the range of 0 – 250 mg/L

As you get more comfortable with the brewing process you will be able to see the effect of adding salts to the water and be able to more accurately calculate what additions to make to achieve your desired effect but these ranges serve as a good rule of thumb for most beers.

The last thing to consider is your mash schedule. Mostly a single infusion saccharification rest will be enough for most brews so this just leaves deciding what temperature to brew at. Aiming at the lower end of a saccharification rest targets beta amylase. Beta amylase breaks long sugar chains down from the end into single, highly fermentable units of maltose. What this means for your beer is that your conversion will take longer but your wort will be more fermentable, resulting in higher ABV but thinner body and mouthfeel. To target this aim for a mash temperature of around 63-66°C (145-151°F).

Conversely, alpha amylase is an enzyme which can break sugar chains at longer points resulting in a less fermentable wort and more residual sweetness (targeted between 68-69°C (154-156°F)). Many brewers will use alpha amylase to break the sugar up into smaller chains that beta amylase will then further break into the individual maltose units, resulting in a faster conversion. To do this, utilise a mash temperature between 65-67°C (149-153°F).

And that’s the basics of how I develop a recipe. There’s a lot to consider but it is much simpler than it initially seems. One thing I would definitely recommend is keeping notes on every beer you brew – you’ll find you go back to it again and again to see what worked and what didn’t and if you ever want to brew a beer again it’s great to have detailed notes of how the brewing went. This is definitely the fastest way to improve when it comes to brewing your own beers!”

Fermentation notes
Notes on fermentation and observations throughout
Writing a recipe
A developed recipe

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