« on: January 09, 2014, 07:07:01 PM »
The first time I brew a style, I generally brew one of the recipes in Brewing Classic Styles. It is one of the best references out there for brewers who are starting to dabble in the recipe design process.
Basically, the key to designing good recipes is to know your ingredients. It's hard to get from your initial idea to your endpoint if you don't know how to get there. The best place to start is by taking a known recipe and making small tweaks to start. Look at some recipes you like and try to understand what each ingredient is doing, then adjust by changing amounts or swapping out/adding/subtracting an ingredient.
Once you have built up a decent toolkit of ingredients you feel comfortable with, then you can start to get a bit more adventurous and start working from scratch. Don't be afraid to make mistakes or take chances - it's just beer. Don't be discouraged if a good percentage of your ideas don't work out as well as you had hoped. There is a reason why there are so many established styles - those styles/recipes have been proven to work well. There is definitely a lot of great beer to be made in between and outside the styles, but there's a lot more mediocre beer to be made out there as well.
Having said that, there are ways to approach beer outside of styles to increase your odds of brewing something tasty. Have a concrete goal for what you're shooting for. Make sure it makes sense within the framework of beer (i.e., pickle beer, garlic beer, carpaccio beer are all probably real bad ideas). Then approach it with restraint, and using what you know about similar styles to your target as a guide.
A quick example. While I've had my share of misses, I really nailed one beer dead on a while ago. I had tried Caliente hops for the first time and I got an awesome fresh red plum aroma. I decided to take a bunch of ingredients that produce varying degrees of plumminess and use them together. I used Unibroue yeast, D-180 Candi Syrup, Special B and Caliente hops. The resulting brew was kind of in between a Dubbel and an ESB, but the sum of the ingredients was so much more than that. Everything just meshed perfectly. If only all my other experiments worked out so well.