We all want to make unique beers that we can call our own. It’s one of the reasons that we began home brewing in the first place but recipe creation can seem a daunting task.
So where do you start?
Although it’s very tempting to go wild and create the next undiscovered beer style, it’s more likely to end in disaster. Sticking to tried and tested styles is the best way to start. You can put your own twist on it but use caution so you can feel your way without ruining your beer.
Start by picking a beer style that you like and look at its overall characteristics. A great place to find this information is the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) which are available online. You will find most major international beer style guides. These will form a basis for your recipe. Working within these parameters will help ensure your beer that is what you expect it to be. Most of the major home brew competitions also work to these guidelines so it’s essential if you wish to enter your beer.
Next thing to do is to start creating the recipe using some brewing software. There are lots of choices but Beer Smith and Beer Alchemy are the most popular. The software will do all the calculations for you and will also serve as a record of your batches.
The main parameters for recipes are gravity, bitterness and colour.
Gravity is simply defined by the starting gravity (SG) and the final gravity (FG). The difference between them will determine the final ABV of your beer.
SG is fairly easy to estimate as it will be driven by the volume of beer produced and the amount of fermentable ingredients (Grain/Malt extract/sugar) in the recipe.
Predicting FG is a little more complicated as there are few factors which will determine how much of the sugars are actually fermented by the yeast into alcohol. If you are all grain brewing then the grain type, mash temperature, pH and grain/water ratio will influence what type of sugars are created and ultimately how fermentable the wort is.
The other major influence for FG, whether all grain brewing or extract, is the fermentation. Temperature, yeast strain, pitch rates and starting oxygen levels will also determine what FG is obtained.
The difference between the starting SG and FG is measured as attenuation. This is measured as a % and most yeast strains will give you an indicator of what range of attenuation you are likely to achieve. Based on this you can gauge your starting gravity so you should hit the required ABV and then use the fermentable section of the software to add the appropriate ingredients.
What fermentable ingredients you decide to use will really be determined by the style guide and this should give you a good starting point. FG will also determine the mouthfeel and sweetness/dryness balance of the beer. The lower the FG the less residual sugar will remain and therefore reduce the impression of sweetness. Too low FG can lead to a beer tasting thin, bland and watery, especially at lower ABV’s.
Bitterness is measured in IBU (International Bitterness Units). This is the amount of bitterness that you extract from your hop additions. This is determined by the alpha acid percentage of the hop variety and the length of time it’s boiled for. Bitterness to added to beer to balance the alcohol and sweetness. The style guide will give you some guidance on the appropriate bitterness, then the hop additions will determine how this is achieved.
Hops added at the end of the boil and in dry hop generally add very little IBU’s but they will have a major influence on the flavour and aromas added to the beer. Again the style guides should point you in the right direction.
Colour is the last main parameter used in recipes. This is measured in EBC (European Brewing Convention) and is the scale that European brewers generally use. American brewers tend to use SRM (standard reference method) or Lovibond. EBC = 2 x SRM and SRM and Lovibond are pretty much the same. The darker the malt the higher the EBC value it will have. The more EBC’s that malt will add to the recipe and the darker the beer will be. You can then use these malts to achieve the desired beer colour. Malt will also have a major influence on the flavour and also the FG as crystal malts will contain more complex sugars which yeast will find more difficult to ferment.
Once these parameters are all set and your calculating the correct ABV, colour and bitterness using ingredients true to style you should be good to go.
One last useful thing can be to have a look at other people recipes for that given beer style. Evaluating other recipes can also give you ideas for particular malts, hops or yeast strains to use in yours.
Follow these simple guidelines and you won’t go too wrong.
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