Formulating your own recipe to create what you hope is an unbelievable Homebrew is probably the most difficult part of brewing your own beer. However, it can be the most rewarding as well. Maybe you’ve gathered the equipment needed, books and even talked to veteran brewers. You might even have many partial mash or all-grain batches under your belt. Something is missing though. While you are enjoying the brewing process, getting to know your equipment and honing your techniques, however you want more control over the process, more of a challenge.
I confess, I probably brewed at least 4-5 all-grain batches before I finally felt ready to try my hand at creating my own recipes. I was scared to death. Trying someone else’s proven recipe is safe and if you make a mistake or two, it’s likely to be close enough. Working on your own recipe puts the added stress of not getting the recipe right. That can make or break your beer, even if your brew day is perfect.
There are dozens of books out there that will assist with recipe formulation and getting to know everything that needs to be considered, however there are a few in particular that I keep close at hand: Ray Daniel’s ‘Designing Great Beers’; Randy Mosher’s ‘Radical Brewing’; and the recently published ‘Brewing better Beer’ from Gordon Strong. I suggest looking at these and any others as your resources.
Ok, so where to begin? You first have to decide what you want your beer to be, starting with the style. From there, you need to decide what character your beer will have. If it’s a Porter, will it have more chocolate flavors, or do you desire more roast character? How hoppy do you want your beer? Does the malt character you’re looking for fit the style or do you plan to deviate a bit?
The next step is to determine your grain bill, as well as your mash technique. This is the basis for the character of your beer and determines your total fermentables. These days most malts are heavily modified, so you will be able to use a single infusion mash at a temperature usually between 148 – 154 depending on style. I say this, because each grain produces a different amount of fermentables and the temperature used affects the body of your beer and how much sugar you get from it, which also can affect your yeast attenuation down the road. As such, you will need to consider the fermentables produced by each malt and how they work together to help you decide what base malt you will use, what specialty malts are needed.
Almost as important is your water profile and the amount of water needed. The minerals in the water can add a very distinct flavor to your beer. You’ll want to find out the profile of you local water, what the minerals are in the style your brewing and what will be needed to treat your water. I’ve gone back and forth on this issue and I know many brewers who have as well. If you’re wanting to brew an exact clone of your favorite beer, or match the water to the style, then duplicating the brewing conditions, to include water profile of the area where that beer is brewed, will be important. Although I have treated my water a couple of times, most often I used the local water untreated for my brewing. Using the untreated water in my area, is what helps make my beer…mine.
You’ve decided what you want to brew, selected your grains and thought about your water. Now comes the time to decide what flavor and aromas you want in your beer and the IBU’s (International Bitterness Units). You have a couple of choices. You can set your IBU’s to style or set them based on what you are looking for. Ask yourself if you want more aroma, more bitterness or a balance between the bitterness and the aroma. Take into account your grain bill as well and make sure the hops don’t overpower your malt (unless you’re brewing a double IPA, then it’s game on).
It’s been said, often by me, by many that the yeast chosen is what truly defines your beers identity. You can brew two batches with the same grain bill, water and hops, but if you use different yeast for each batch, you’ll get two similar but very different beers. I’ve brewed a Black Saison and a Rye IPA several times with different yeasts and have turned out great, but different beers. Choosing yeast for the style you’re brewing and what flavors you’re looking for is important. You’ll need to take into account the OG (original gravity) of your beer and estimate what your target FG (final gravity) will be, to ensure the yeast chosen has an attenuation that suits this.
After your yeast has been chosen, take into consideration what you’ll use as a fermentation vessel. Will you use an airlock or blowoff tube? What’s the temperature you’ll need to keep the beer at and how will you control it?
Lastly, look at how you’ll clarify and carbonate your beer. To clarify your beer, there are several ways to accomplish this, Irish moss and Worflock tablets being two. Clarifying your beer can be very important if you’re entering your Homebrew in a competition, but just for yourself, that’s up to you. Personally, I always strive the the best clarification I can get. However, if it’s not quite where it should be once all is done, it still gets consumed. Most often this does not affect flavor.
Once your beer is ready, you have two decisions as to how you want to disperse and carbonate it: kegging or bottling. For many new home brewers, bottling is the easiest and least expensive. You need only to calculate the proper sugar/water mixtures based on your volume of beer and the style, so as to reach the appropriate level of carbonation; a bottling bucket and wand. Another benefit of bottling, is that if you plan to gift some of your Homebrew or send it to a friend, you already have a vessel for this. Bottling can be tedious, often takes several weeks to fully carbonate and often made me dread the process.
Kegging your beer has its pros and cons as well. However in my opinion, the cons appear in the beginning. To keg, you’ll need to buy a keg, CO2 tank, and CO2. The cost can be around $200 to start, but once these are purchased it’s only a matter of refilling your CO2 tank. The cost to refill a standard 5-7.5 gallon tank is around $20 and can last several months. After you’ve purchased these items, simply rack the beer from the fermentor to the keg, shake it around a bit and hook up the CO2. Set your CO2 to about 25psi for a few days and at that point, the beer should have absorbed plenty of the CO2. You can dial it down to about 10psi for everyday serving. This method gets you enjoying your beer sooner.
That’s it in a nutshell. As I was working on a recipe for a pumpkin Porter, I really got to thinking about my approach to formulation and how much I enjoy tinkering with a recipe. This certainly isn’t all encompassing, nor is it meant to be, but can serve as a guide to formulating you own recipes. I want to thank Randy Mosher, Ray Daniels and Gordon Strong for the invaluable information in their books that helps me day to day, as well as with this article.