Hello brewers! I was recently prompted to consider my own approach to beer recipe design. I was responding to a query by a fellow home brewer who was frustrated that their final beer always had a little something getting in the way of it being the perfect brew. Before I knew it I’d taken the plunge down an endless rabbit hole of questions and considerations that anyone designing a beer might need to consider. I’m not so much concerned with the technical aspects of designing a recipe and how to calculate your quantities, this is more about decisions that you need to make and questions that you need to ask yourself throughout your process. So, if you want to make better beer I’ve got some points for you to consider that might just help you out!
Most of these points are questions that you need to ask yourself when you’re designing a beer, try not to be put off by the enormity of it all. Persevere and your beer will benefit!
The Grain Bill
This is where your beer gets all of its malt based flavours, so naturally, you need to spend some time considering this thoroughly. Selecting the right malts and in the correct quantities is important. Here are some points to consider;
- What malt flavours in particular, if any, characterise the style that you are trying to make?
- What are the common proportions of base malt, speciality malt and adjuncts?
- Will chosen speciality malts add unfermentable or harder to ferment sugars? If so how will this alter your final gravity and yeast selection?
- Will any of the grains/ adjuncts in the grist contribute to haze? Is haze style appropriate?
This is where you are getting all of your fermentable’s and many qualities of the beer are determined, like mouthfeel, body, flavour, astringency and even appearance! Are you thinking it through thoroughly?
- What mash schedule would suit the target style? Are you aiming for a light, medium or full body?
- Are any additional rests necessary for under-modified grains or unmalted grain?
- Is your mash going to be the appropriate pH? (see water treatment)
- Do I need to Mash out?
- Can you actually maintain the necessary rest temperatures?
We all love hops and whilst just chucking them in at an interval that you saw in another recipe may seem like a good idea, it really is worth considering how they work. Good recipe design relies on your understanding of hop utilisation.
- What IBU: OG ratio is common for the style?
- Are the hop additions arranged in a way that will produce a style appropriate flavour?
- Are the hop flavours appropriate for the style?
You’ve swapped Saaz for Sterling, but do you know which addition times produce which flavours? Dry hopping with one hop may produce delightful notes, notes which can only be achieved by a late boil addition of a similar hop. You may swap out that dry hop and end up with unsuitable woody or grassy notes when you wanted fruit or spice. Not all hops are created equal.
Yeast is so often overlooked as a primary contributor to flavour. If your water is the canvas, the malt and hops are your paint, then yeast is the artist that brings it all together.
- Is the yeast strain suitable for the target style?
- Does the yeast emphasise or mute hop or malt flavours?
- What is the attenuation range of the strain and how will this work with my prospective final gravity and grain bill?
- What flavour profile does it produce? Estery, Phenolic, Clean, Balanced?
- What are its ideal operating temperatures? Can I maintain them?
- Is it flocculant or is it going to take an age to settle out?
- Is it dried or liquid? This will dictate whether or not you need to make a starter.
Yeast Pitching Rate
Yep, it’s all about the yeast right now. This adds another degree of control over flavours.So if you have a particularly fruity strain, but want to rain in the fruitiness a little try pitching 1.5 times your normal amount. Coupling this with fermentation temperature control gives you access to a much bigger set of flavours. Tactically underpitching (by a little) will give you more ester production.
Always research how your chosen strain responds to these variables and try to work within the limits of the yeast. If there is no data, get experimenting! Make sure you consider this during recipe design!
- Typical ale yeasts tend to get fruity as they get warmer. Belgian strains range from clove like flavours on the cooler side, to banana as they get warmer( as well as other fruits).Which is appropriate for your chosen style?
- Are you able to control this to emphasise certain qualities?
Different styles and original gravities should be aged accordingly. In general, lower OG beer matures faster and needs less primary time and less conditioning. Lagers are another story altogether. The bottom line is, know when your beer is at its best!
- Is the style best enjoyed young or well aged?
- Do I have a lot of hop flavour and aroma or other delicate flavours that will fade with age?
- Some brewers suggest that maturing/conditioning times vary based on volumes, larger volumes are thought to mature more quickly.
- Is my fermentation timescale suitable for my system? There’s no point conditioning for weeks on end if you are able to manage a good clean fermentation. Everyone’s mileage will vary!
It’s one of those things that seems like witchcraft until you start learning how to apply it. If you’re struggling, I urge you to persevere. Look for a book on it and get reading!
- Is my water chlorinated?
- What are the ion concentrations? How will this affect bitterness and malt sweetness?
- Is my water profile suitable for the style?
- What is my residual alkalinity? Am I going to need to adjust mash pH?
Water adjustment isn’t necessarily essential and you can compensate to some degree. If you have higher sulphate, you could reduce your hop additions to compensate. The opposite would then be true for water with a higher proportion of chloride to sulphate.
If you’re not keen on making adjustments it’s still vital to know your water! You can then brew based on your residual alkalinity. You might be better off only brewing darker beer styles if it’s high. If it’s low, then lighter beer styles like Pilsner may be more appropriate.
For me, this makes or breaks a style.If you’re about to tuck into a bitter and it’s like champagne then you know that it’s not going to taste right. Likewise, if you open up a wheat beer and you’re greeted with a pathetic hiss, then it’s not going to taste right or feel right in your mouth.
- Check what the volumes of CO2 should be in your target style.
- How much CO2 is left in your beer after fermentation?
- How long do you intend to condition for?
- When you’re kegging, spend some time getting your pressures nailed down for every style!
If you’re improvising or creating a new style then consider how the carbonation will affect the mouthfeel of your beer. Are you going for refreshing? smooth? slight tingle? champagne like?
You know all those questions that you just answered, I hope you wrote the answers down! It’s probably what most would consider as being the boring bit, but it’s a vital part of the learning process. You wouldn’t turn up to a class without a notebook and then expect to be able to remember everything that you did, so why try doing this with your precious beer? Don’t waste the opportunity to learn. After all, you’re paying for it. It’s really helpful for identifying problems in your process, especially if you are having a persistent issue.
- Take notes at every stage in the process!!!
Make rough notes first and tidy them up for future reference. There’s nothing worse than going back to some old notes and trying to decipher hieroglyphics!
Okay, that’s it for now. I’m sure that it’s not everything that you need to consider but it’ll give you enough to think about for the time being. Have fun and Happy Brewing!!!