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Recipe Writing 101

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Recipe Writing 101

Rob Qualls, OHBS Home Brew Expert

One of the things that I love the most about brewing is writing a recipe-whether it is a recipe for me or for a customer, it’s my favorite aspect of making beer. I, and this is just me personally-not passing judgement, do not get that much excitement about brewing a clone or brewing a recipe that someone else has written. The recipe writing process is important to me. That being said, when I brew a clone or a recipe that someone else has written, and it turns out great, I’m still proud. So if you are new to writing recipes or would like some expert tips on designing a recipe that will help you make the best beer possible, keep reading.

  1. After determining the type of beer you are going to brew, do your research. I always consult Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels. This is a must have if you are looking to write recipes on your own. Each type of beer is broken down to the core. Malt bill, hops, yeast, water, and fermentation tips are all available. And best of all, this book is available at the shop. Using the wisdom in this book can prevent bad recipe formulation and a beer worthy of a drain pour…..remember…..ANYONE can put recipes online…..trust the experts when it comes to recipe formulation.  
  2. Keep it simple (when appropriate): One of the most popular recipes to brew are IPAs, so I’m going to use this style as an example. You need three malts, that’s it. Seriously, that’s all I, and many others, use to make some pretty great IPAs. There are a lot of great malts out there, but when you start throwing 10 different malts together, then the end result is usually a muddled mess. The three malts is all I use to make my IPAs include a base malt (usually 2-row), some victory (or any toasted malt), and carapils. For extract brewers, it’s usually even less than that. Since most extract already has caramel or carapils in it, I usually just add some toasted malt. When you get a chance, come in and take a look at the extracts and see what malts are in there to help you construct your next recipe. That being said, there are styles that are more forgiving (Scottish ales, Imperial Stouts, Barley Wines) with complex malt bills, but remember to do your research on the styles so something wonky doesn’t end up in your glass.
  3. Keep specialty malts in check: 4 pounds of caramel malt, 5 pounds of brown malt, and 3 pounds of carapils, in a 5 gallon batch, is probably a bad idea. A good rule of thumb is to have 10% of your recipe contain specialty malts. When your at the shop, we like to give people the freedom to create and have fun with things, but if we see something really out of sort, we do like to tell you that possible ramifications of adding too much of a particular malt, but we’ll never tell you not to do it. We just want to educate you and have you decide for yourself what you want to do. If you want to add 5 pounds of caramel malt, do it! It’s going to be extremely sweet and cloying, but if that is what you want, go for it. Pushing style boundaries are how some of the most successful breweries came about, so don’t let us stop you.
  4. Research the right hop for your brew: It’s really tempting to throw some of those fancy new hops in everything (I have!), but remember to think of flavors and how they will marry together. Citra is a great hop, however, using it as the lone hop in a Dry Irish Stout may lend to some “interesting” flavors. We have a great handle on which hops work good in certain styles, so just ask us if you didn’t research it before hand and we’ll point you in the right direction. A great way to learn the hop flavors are to only include one hop in your brew. I have been doing this a lot as of late. SMaSH (Single Malt, Single Hop)beers are also a very good way to learn the hop profiles.
  5. Use the correct yeast strain for your beer: Research which yeast is the correct yeast for your application. Different yeast have difference characteristics which can greatly influence the flavor and body of your beer. If you do not know which yeast to use, you can ask us! If in doubt and your making an American style ale, use our house yeast (O’Connor’s West Michigan Ale Yeast). This is a very hardy and forgiving yeast that produces great beer.
  6. BeerSmith:  So now that you have some basic ideas on how to formulate a recipe, it is important to make sure that you are combining the right ingredients for your style.  We use BeerSmith at the shop, and it is a great way to learn recipe formation.  It has all of the tools that you need (style guidelines, hop profiles, water needed, etc).  There are other tools out there for creating a recipe, but BeerSmith is our definite go to.

If you find your self questioning the formulation of your next brew, just follow these tips. If you are still unsure, just ask us! We love to talk beer (obviously) and are more then willing to show you all the options that are out there and what goes good together.