Above: the author, working on a commercial beer
At a recent homebrew club meeting I was speaking with a member about one of his beers and the ingredients that went into it. After a long list of ingredients that didn’t sound like they would get along very well, it became clear why the beer tasted a bit odd. There were many ingredients added that didn’t sound to me like there was any consideration given to what the final product may taste like. Let’s talk about new recipe formulation and design.
Lately I have been making some pilot batches at home for a commercial brewery that I work for. I have been making some styles that I have never made before, and yet the recipes are coming out very close to what I imagined. Some of that will come from experience and getting to know what certain ingredients will bring to the table, but part of it comes from understanding styles and knowing how to properly use brewing software. Software can help save time and guesswork by giving you a pretty good idea of the important stats while creating a new recipe.
There are two popular software solutions being used by most homebrewers, Beer Smith and Brewers Friend. I have used both and prefer Brewers Friend. I found the interface slightly easier to understand. I also like that it is cloud based and I can access my recipes from any device connected to the internet. Best part is that you can use Brewers Friend FOR FREE. The main limitation to the free platform is you can only save three recipes. No problem, print and delete the older recipe before creating a new one. I eventually paid for an annual membership as I wanted to save many recipes.
When creating a new recipe I start by thinking about what I want the final product to taste like. What style would be closest to how I want the beer to look and taste? Once I have a style to go on then I get some classic recipe ideas. Many times I will start with a classic recipe from a book, such as ones published John Palmer. I start by entering that recipe into Brewers Friend with my efficiency set to 65%. This number can be adjusted as you take measurements and learn your actual efficiency. Now you can adjust malt weights to get the desired original gravity. I generally adjust the yeast attenuation to 75 or 80% as I have found that gives me better idea of where the final gravity will end up.
Remember to select the style from the drop down list. If you expand the top section by clicking the ‘more’ button you will see how well your recipe is fitting within the style guidelines and you can adjust to adhere to those guidelines.
Next up is the hop additions. I enter the weight as per the recipe and then adjust until the software indicates the IBU that I want to achieve. At that point I start thinking about ways that I want to adjust the recipe to make it fit the flavour profile I have in mind. That could mean adding or subtracting specialty malts to change the malt sweetness, nutty or bready character, roasty, etc. I may change out the hop varieties to something more citrussy or spicy. And finally yeast selection. Yeast selection can have a huge impact on the final beer.
To experiment with yeast I would highly recommend making a simple SMASH or pale ale recipe and brewing it identical every time but trying out a different yeast. This will give you a great idea of how that particular yeast affects the flavour. It took me a while to discover yeast strains that I prefer.
A new feature on Brewers Friend that I like is slider buttons for the malts. You can simply slide the button back and forth to increase or decrease the percentage of that malt within the recipe. Very helpful when you have a recipe that is only given in percentages.
Once you have measured and determined your efficiency you can adjust the recipe accordingly. Simply ‘edit’ the recipe and then ‘scale’ the efficiency. I will quite often use Brewers Friend to scale up a recipe for commercial purposes. To do this I scale the efficiency first, from 65% to 80%, and then scale for size secondly. You may need to slightly adjust malt to match the original gravity or hops to match the desired IBU, but generally it will scale up quite well.
Brewers Friend also has a recipe database that you can access. Suppose you are looking for a clone recipe of your favourite beer, search the database and you will likely find many recipes to use as reference. You can also share your recipes so that they show up in the database.
Another feature the Brewers Friend has is a brew day log with a step by step checklist so you don’t miss any steps. Entering the pre-boil gravity and post boil gravity will help you figure out your kettle losses which can be adjusted for your equipment set up. Efficiency will be calculated for you based on measurements you enter at various steps.
Now go make some recipes and then make some beer!