Author Topic: Creating recipes  (Read 1664 times)

Offline mbalbritton

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Creating recipes
« on: January 14, 2015, 03:18:46 AM »
So I've been brewing for about a 1.5 year now. Geez, I just realized how new I am at this. I sound like my kids. "I'm not 7! I'm 7.5!"

Anyway, I've been following recipes that my local brew shop has on file or that I find online. My question is, when you guys are creating a recipe, what are you looking at or maybe I should phrase it, how are you looking at your ingredients?

I know it's prettying like cooking food. Knowing that you don't really want to put Bay seasoning on your pancakes, or powdered sugar on your prime rib.

I have yet to really learn the flavors of Maris Otter, or Nottingham yeast, or Goldings hops. To know that this grain plus this grain plus this yeast and hops will give me a... Fill in the blank flavor profile.

Is it simply just years of brewing and testing? Anything that can help me break it down. I know there's endless combinations, just trying to wrap my head around the thought process.


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Offline erockrph

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Re: Creating recipes
« Reply #1 on: January 14, 2015, 03:39:57 AM »
A) Taste your malts. Most malts make beer that tastes similar to how the grain tastes.
B) Experiment with small batches. There are a whole lot of new hops out there without a whole lot of detailed information, so I regularly brew a bunch of 1-gallon batches to test a few of them out.
C) Start with really simple recipes. Brew it a few times changing one thing each time. You'll get a good feel of what does what that way.
D) Listen to more experienced brewers. Even better, drink with them and talk about the beer you're drinking.
E) Train your palate. If you aren't already in the habit of taking detailed tasting notes on beer (both homebrew and commercial), start doing it. If you can't describe the flavors in beer to yourself, then you're going to have a hard time identifying ingredients.
Eric B.

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Offline slats

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Re: Creating recipes
« Reply #2 on: January 14, 2015, 03:42:10 AM »
It's a lot of experimenting. Read the BJCP style guidelines for what you want to brew and work from there. Beersmith is handy for building a recipe. Also when you go to your favorite brewery, they often post the grain bill on the menu board. As you brew more, experiment more, and drink more....you'll learn what you like and what the flavor profiles are of the various ingredients.

You can also try some clone recipes or a smash for additional "research".

Happy Brewing!


Offline majorvices

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Re: Creating recipes
« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2015, 10:34:41 AM »
Aside from studying styles, which is essential, getting a solid understanding of basemalt, yeast and hops is the best way to learn how to build recipes. Find out what a 100% Maris Otter recipe with East Kent Goldings taste like with both an English Ale Yeast and a clean American Ale yeast. Then switch the hops to cascade. Then you might try adding a little crystal malt.

I started my recipe building by brewing two beers over and over again. And English pale and an English brown. I'd throw a stout or a porter in there and even dabbled in lager recipes but I continuously brewed those two recipes for probably almost 5 years until I had brewed them every which way and found the way I decided I liked them best. The key is to keep it simple, start with the minimalist ingredients (one malt, one yeast, one or two hops) and build up from there changing one thing at a time.

After that I moved onto German Helles and Kolsch (pretty close except for yeast) and played with pils, Munich and Vienna and German noble hops. Then added some bock recipes until I had an assortment of German recipes.

Last I moved onto Belgian styles and I started that out with brewing a lot of Belgian Tripels.

The other thing I did was brew a low gravity beer and then used the yeast to brew a higher gravity version of the same beer - mostly keeping the recipe the same just increasing the gravity to make the same grain bill a different style. For instance, go from Helles to Helles Bock or Dunkel to Bock to DoppelBock, Belgian Pale to Tripel or Belgian Dubbel to Quad.

And then it just becomes a constant process. Last few days I have been experimenting with IPA recipe (1.065 grain bill) with all vienna and doing single hops variations (on I used Belama, another Bavaria Mandarina, another Sorachi Ace) then I'm going to go in and brew the same recipes with a saison yeast. I just got done brewing 4 versions of 1.065 OG stout and flavoring in secondary with Cherrie and Vanilla, Coffee and vanilla, Maple Syrup and toasted/charred maple wood and Belgian stout on cacoa nibs (Belgian Chocolate stout).

As far as recipes to study, I started off with Charlie P. recipes (which I still think are fun and creative) but then studied the style guide series by Brewer's Publications. There are probably better sources out there now but I found those extremely helpful.

And then there is this (and other) forums. I still come here to ask questions just to see what other peoples experience sums up too. Just posting your recipe here is a great way to get excellent feedback on other's experience. OTOH it is almost always best to try a recipe for yourself first to actually see what it tastes like.
« Last Edit: January 14, 2015, 10:39:15 AM by majorvices »

Offline Stevie

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Creating recipes
« Reply #4 on: January 14, 2015, 01:21:29 PM »
When brewing a style I have never brewed before, I start with Designing Great Beers, and Brewing Classic Styles to see what has typically been used and why. The BJCP guide is ok. I also just dig around the forums and other brewing related sites.

I'd say I lean more heavily on DGB than any other source and can't wait for an update.

Offline HoosierBrew

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Re: Creating recipes
« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2015, 01:32:38 PM »
Great advice from all.  Keep things simple.  Recipes rarely benefit from being overly complicated, plus a recipe with just a few ingredients lets you understand each one better. I recommend using one of Jamil's recipes from BCS, as they are simple and good,  and following it to the letter - after you brew it, decide what you would do to make it better for your tastes (if anything) . More malty ? Roasty ? Hoppy ? Drier ? Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels, though it's been out for several years, is an excellent book to get you thinking about recipe design also. Read all you can and ask questions here !
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Offline duboman

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Re: Creating recipes
« Reply #6 on: January 14, 2015, 02:58:23 PM »
+1 to Designing Great Beers as well as the BJCP style guide. I use both when creating recipes. In addition I also visit breweries websites to see what information I may find on a particular beer I like such as flavor profile or perhaps ingredients used that might be included My visits to the bottle shop are also considered R&D based upon information I gain.

The BJCP guidelines will usually list certain beers that are representative of a style so I'll usually pick up a couple referenced and sample them for comparison.

Once you get a feeling for what you are looking to brew and have done your research it becomes pretty easy to put together a recipe to start with and then it's note taking and tweaking to refine it.
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Offline pete b

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Re: Creating recipes
« Reply #7 on: January 14, 2015, 02:59:33 PM »
All great advice here. Especially the stuff about keeping it simple. I'm in between you and the people who have posted so far in that I have been coming up with my own recipes for awhile but don't know my ingredients as well as those guys yet. I am encouraged though at the speed I'm learning now that I brew often and listen more to others here. There was a thread recently about music where we talked about how great rock bands were using blues standards that had been around for a long time and really made something completely new, creative, and their own out of it. That's how I'm approaching brewing. I've been brewing styles I like using a good recipe I've found then tasting it and really thinking about what I like and don't like about it. For my style of learning those very specific pieces of info to work with are what really make me curious and motivate me to learn. So I'm not trying to "learn how to make great beer recipes" that would be overwhelming and demoralizing. Now making an ESB and then wanting it to be a "little more malty" and have "a less harsh bitterness" really gets me to learn about hop varieties and the effect on different ways to make hop additions, and the difference between marris otter and british pale malt and how much and what kind of specialty malts do what, mash temps, water chemistry  etc. etc.
Long story short: brew often, listen to others and start with a basic recipe that you can tweak to your own liking little by little.
« Last Edit: January 14, 2015, 03:01:07 PM by pete b »
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Online Joe Sr.

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Re: Creating recipes
« Reply #8 on: January 14, 2015, 04:08:57 PM »
I use Designing Great Beers frequently.  I also think that it's useful to look at a number of recipes for the style you want to brew and see the similarities and differences.  Be careful which on-line recipes you grab, some are crap and some are golden.  Over the years I've relied on published recipes in BYO, Zymurgy, a couple Papazian books, and other books like Brew Like a Monk.

If you're trying to learn a style, start with a successful recipe and then try tweaking it.  If you're trying to learn yeasts, split a batch and ferment with two different yeasts.  Hops?  Split a batch between two single hops.  Malt?  Brew the same recipe but change the malts.

You will learn by doing.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.
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Re: Creating recipes
« Reply #9 on: January 14, 2015, 05:11:45 PM »
I started out in the bad old days when a brewer usually took the long route to all-grain because he/she was more often than not plowing undisturbed ground within his/her community (i.e., kit beer -> extract with steeped specialty grains -> 50% dry or liquid extract/50% extract from freshly mashed grain partial mashing -> all-grain).   I burned through the kit beer and extract plus specialty grains phase in a month.  I spent seven months as a 50/50 partial masher before moving to all-grain. At that point in time, one had to build all of one's brewing gear. Unlike today, one had to learn how to source parts as well as fabricate gear because the commercialization of the Internet was still several years off (I still remember receiving my first McMaster-Carr catalog).  The relative newness of amateur brewing as a non-underground activity (think small and usually poorly stocked home brewing supply stores), lack of well-dispersed knowledge, and there being no such thing as an all-grain kit beer prevented one from starting out as an all-grain brewer.

Anyway, I originally designed a large number of the recipes that I still brew today when I was a 50/50 partial masher, which is probably why I still work in points per pound per gallon instead of weighted extraction efficiencies.  A helpful strategy when designing beer recipes is to look at ingredients as percentages of a total.  A lot of new brewers make the fatal mistake of looking at recipes as collections of dry measures.  Dry measures do not scale with respect to extraction efficiency, percentages do!  Scaling hops is even more difficult to do because hops, like spices, do not scale linearly with respect to batch size. 

If you take the time to analyze the grists found in popular recipes, you will discover that a large number of recipes fall into what I refer to as the 90% pale base malt/10% specialty/darker base malt category.  One can formulate an amazing number of recipes using a grist that is composed of 90% pale base malt and 10% specialty/darker base malts.  The breakdown that I used most frequently in my first year of all-grain brewing was 90% domestic 2-Row, 5% domestic dextrine malt  (a.k.a. carapils malt), and 5% other, which was more often than not 20L or 40L crystal.  I used dextrine malt because my early years as a brewer were dominated by BRY 96 (in my case, slanted yeast that was plated from a bottle of SNPA), and BRY 96 plus domestic 2-row can lead to a dry/thin beer.  Dextrine malt improves the body of a beer.  It also improves mouthfeel.   I still use dextrine malt to this day when working with domestic 2-row.

Like Keith's straightforward approach to mastering ingredients, the basic grist outlined above became the basis for hop and yeast strain experimentation.  Because the base grist remained relatively static, any large difference in the finished product had to be the result of different hops, yeast strains, and/or process modifications.  I was able to leapfrog over my friends who were brewing other people's recipes using this method.

You want to avoid changing too many variables at once when attempting to build a catalog of brewing flavors.  I recommend starting with a simple grist, a clean kettle (bittering) hop such as Galena or Magnum and a clean ale strain such as BRY 96 (a.k.a. Ballantine "beer," "Chico," Wy1056, WLP001, and US-05).  BRY 96 is a good yeast to use when learning how to design beers because it is incredibly forgiving and fairly neutral in flavor.  This grist/yeast/base hop combination will give you a platform for experimenting with finishing hops, which are a big part of modern craft brewing.

After you develop a firm grasp of finishing hops, pick a balanced recipe (i.e., one with a bitterness unit-to-gravity unit ratio of around 1:2) that you developed using the approach outlined above, and start experimenting with different yeast strains.  If you are like most amateur brewers, you will rapidly identify a handful of yeast strains you that you prefer. 

With this new found knowledge, you will be able to start to modify your grist to match that of other styles. While modifications to the grist can and often do change how the yeast and hops affect the flavor of the finished product, the yeast strain and hop varieties employed in a recipe will maintain their basic flavor/aroma envelopes.

In the end, you are going to have to find a way to learn how to formulate recipes that fits your learning style.  While deviating from the basic styles outlined in the BJCP Style Guidelines can be enlightening, more often than not, doing so results in a "What was I thinking?" moment.  Any brewer who has brewed for any length of time has experienced at least one of these moments.  I would also personally avoid brewing a bunch of recipes to find one that you like if you are serious about learning how to build recipes from scratch.  Brewing other people's recipes teaches you how to brew other people's recipes.  Systematic experimentation will teach you more about brewing than copying another brewer's work.  At first, you will more than likely  end up with a lot of not so great beers, but you will quickly learn what to avoid doing, which is often more important than learning what to do (stealing a little of Denny and Drew's experimental work, do not attempt to brew a bratwurst flavored beer by putting bratwurst in the beer  :) ).

One last thing: it's helpful to approach brewing as a life-long marathon, not a sprint. There's always something new to learn.

Offline goschman

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Re: Creating recipes
« Reply #10 on: January 14, 2015, 05:26:30 PM »
One last thing: it's helpful to approach brewing as a life-long marathon, not a sprint. There's always something new to learn.

I have come to this realization recently when trying to perfect my own recipes. For the most part, I don't brew one recipe very often so with little tweaks and changes it seems to take me quite some time to perfect one. Certain recipes are worth development and I realize could take years depending on how often I brew them. Others can be almost perfect after the first attempt.
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Offline HoosierBrew

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Re: Creating recipes
« Reply #11 on: January 14, 2015, 05:34:53 PM »


One last thing: it's helpful to approach brewing as a life-long marathon, not a sprint. There's always something new to learn.

^^^^^^^^^  Yep.
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Offline mbalbritton

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Creating recipes
« Reply #12 on: January 15, 2015, 01:22:54 AM »
So much great info it's difficult to quote everything on my phone. Thanks for all the input and keep it coming. I found something useful in damn near every post. One thing that sticks out to me the most is...
E) Train your palate. If you aren't already in the habit of taking detailed tasting notes on beer (both homebrew and commercial), start doing it. If you can't describe the flavors in beer to yourself, then you're going to have a hard time identifying ingredients.

I think that's the hardest part for me. I don't particularly pick up on the subtle flavors. I'm pretty much a "hey! That's good!" Kinda guy. I can taste the difference in a stout vs a brown vs pale with my eyes closed, but not as much if it has a... Caramel vs a toffee taste.

Something helpful that I'll have to try is splitting a batch. Certainly so now since I have a bigger brew kettle and can do two 5 gallon gallons at once. I can try two different yeasts and taste them side by side. I brew about every 2 weeks currently and that doesn't always let me taste side by side.

Thanks and keep it coming.


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« Last Edit: January 18, 2015, 05:12:50 AM by mbalbritton »

Offline JT

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Re: Creating recipes
« Reply #13 on: January 15, 2015, 03:00:21 AM »
So far I've mainly used Brewing Classic Styles as a base with forum tidbits here and there.  A few recommendations on here for Designing Great Beers makes me want to purchase though.  Good stuff from all, what did we do before the internet anyway?

Offline erockrph

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Re: Creating recipes
« Reply #14 on: January 15, 2015, 04:17:20 PM »
So far I've mainly used Brewing Classic Styles as a base with forum tidbits here and there.  A few recommendations on here for Designing Great Beers makes me want to purchase though.  Good stuff from all, what did we do before the internet anyway?
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