Crafting your own recipe can seem like an insurmountable task as a beginning brewer. Without a lot of experience, it can still be unsettling as a regular brewer. As a professional brewer, it’s your favorite thing about the industry – crafting beers that people enjoy and seeing the glee in their eyes as they taste a new brew. If you’re a professional, you may not find this so useful, but I still think a community sharing within itself is wonderful and think it’s a good read for you too.
Cover Your Bases
The start of crafting a new recipe for me looks a lot like studying the greats that have created masterpieces of the specific style I’m wanting to brew. I start by picking what style I want to brew – be that an amber ale, a porter, or some wild new lager with elderberries. I collect some basic recipes and see what their bases consist of. Mainly, I’m looking for the grain bill to get my bearings, and the hop varieties that are common in these recipes. For the grain bill, 80-90% will be base malts and the final 10-20% will be the specialty malts that transform your beer to the specific style you’re trying to achieve. The hops are straightforward, and I try not to stray too far from the top recommended hops for that style – why fix something if it’s not broken. If I do change hops, I do so carefully and gently. Over-hopping or over-complicating the hop bill has never turned out great for me, but you can certainly do some cool things if you mind the online calculators for IBUs and other hop-related affects.
Speaking of online calculators, the next thing I do after I have my malt and hop bases covered is look next at what I want to do with this beer. Do I want to make a cool fruity take on a traditional style? Do I want to add some spices to hint at the current weather I love? Or do I just want to tweak some things so I can truly call this recipe mine, though it’s a traditional take on a specific style of beer? This is where calculators come in handy. If you’ve done recipe creation often, you can get away with not using them, but I like them because if I’m adding fruits pre-primary fermentation, I can account for those extra, easily fermentable sugars. Same goes for sugar considerations if I’m using oat malt or different hops if I want to add an extra twinge of bitterness.
Adding fruits or other adjuncts and spices (a chai stout sounds great right now) is quite easy, though it sounds intimidating. The first rule for fruits is to buy frozen. Doing this mitigates the risk of microorganisms on the skin of the fruit that could spoil the brew. It also helps a little by breaking down cell walls (especially if you thaw then re-freeze then thaw again before adding to your brew) which helps get as much juice and flavor from the fruit as possible. The second rule I always follow is to add the fruit after primary fermentation has finished, mainly in a secondary. This way I don’t have to worry too much about the extra sugars spiking the ABV, among some other benefits.
When it comes to other adjuncts, like coffee (yum!) or chocolate, for example, this is easily done as well. I add espresso only after primary fermentation because I love the straight coffee taste to be there. I add it hot, and I usually add about 2.5 shots of espresso per gallon to my porters. A lot of people use a little less and depending on the beer you can certainly add more. This is the easiest way to add coffee to your beer, in my opinion. You can also “dry bean” your beer with 2 days left in secondary, much like steeping cold brew. Adding coffee grinds to your mash is perfectly fine as well as you are essentially brewing coffee while brewing beer, but within your beer…Brew-Ception!!
Chocolate, used most often in stouts, can be a marvelous addition to slightly sweeten and add a dark, bitter flavor to your brew. My favorite method is using ground cocoa and adding it to the mash, sprinkling my desired amount (experimentation is great here, but start conservatively) right on top of the grain bed during sparging. I also sometimes add it at the beginning of the mash with the grains if I want more of the bitter and less of the sweet. It’s super easy to add to add a little complexity to any beer.
Spice it Up!
When adding spices, just like in cooking, mind the amount as it could really ruin your dish. Just a little bit can get your brew where you want it, and something that is helpful for me is simply taste-testing. Spices and the likes can be added during the boil, in secondary fermentation, or even during bottling (in the bottling bucket). You can find some resources on this where people have already experimented with different spices, and you can follow that advice or experiment yourself – just be conservative and work your way up. Tasting wort is always a must, and with spices the taste in the wort will be very close to the taste in the final beer, so don’t be afraid to sample! This is a crash course in recipe building, focusing mainly on how to make it your own – my favorite aspect of brewing. Hopefully this makes you feel more comfortable with brewing because everyone should be able to get the full benefits of the craft beer world, be that professional or first-time brewer!