We all want to make unique beers that we can call our own. It’s one of the reasons that we began home brewing but recipe creation can seem a daunting task to the beginner. Great beer is as much about process and technique as recipe, so it’s best to concentrate on these to begin with. Always start brewing with a tried and tested recipe. Brewing the same beer over and over again. Only once you are consistently producing great beer move onto creating your own recipes. You will then be safe in the knowledge that your brewing process is sound and your beer will be good.
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. Sure you can experiment but use caution so you can feel you’re 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) style guides. Here you will find most major international beer style guides. These can form a basis for your recipe. Following these parameters will help ensure your beer that is what you expect it to be.
You can get a feel for the character that should be achieved which can then give you a basis for the ingredients and techniques required to achieve this. Using the BJPC style guides is also a must if you wish to enter most home brewing competitions as these are what define the categories for entry.
Next thing to do is to start creating the recipe using some brewing software. Beer Smith and Beer Alchemy are the most popular if you wish to purchase some software. There are also a few online tools like our recipe creator. 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 (SG/FG), bitterness (IBU) and Colour (EBC/SRM).
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.
FG is a little more tricky as there are few factors which will determine how much of the sugars are actually fermented 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. I’ll cover this in more depth in subsequent posts but needless to say, the lower the mash temp the more fermentable the sugars created will be.
The other major influence for FG, whether all grain brewing or extract, is the fermentation. Temperature, yeast strain, pitch rates and starting 02 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 be left and therefore reduced sweetness but too low FG can lead to a beer tasting thin and watery.
Bitterness is measured in IBU (International Bitterness Units). This is the amount of bitterness that you extract from your hop additions. Bitterness to added to beer to balance the alcohol and sweetness. The style will give you some guidance on the appropriate bitterness, then the hop additions will determine how this is achieved. Generally higher the ABV = higher IBU although this is not true for all styles, especially Belgium beers. What type of hops you use, especially in the late hop additions is also an important factor.
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 some 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 idea’s for particular malts, hops or yeast strains to use in yours.
If you ever need any help or assistance in creating recipes please drop us a line via info@brewuk or our live chat facility.