Choose Your Brews
Read. Read. Then read some more...
Creating original recipes is not for everyone; some brewers prefer to follow recipes that are tried and tested and obviously that’s fine – brewing is whatever you want it to be. For me though, it’s difficult to beat the satisfaction that comes with drinking a great unique beer I designed from scratch. What follows over the next couple of pages is an outline of how I go about it, together with bits and bobs of information you’ll need if you fancy having a go yourself.
When it comes to creating your own recipes the internet is your very best friend. Online is the longest list imaginable of beers for you to choose from; forum discussions, articles and interviews with commercial brewers often giving tips and hints on how to brew that particular style well, and masses of information about the properties of all the ingredients you need and possible substitutes if you can’t find the ingredient you’re looking for. There is also invaluable free software to download. So let’s log on and dive in…
Fairly logically, the first step is to pick the beer style you want to brew. Enter into your search engine ‘Brewers Association Beer Style Guidelines’, and/or ‘BJCP style guidelines’. What you’ll find is a list of different types of beer as long as your arm. Click on any one of these and you’ll see details of the characteristics that beer must have and this obviously gives you a sort of template, showing you what you must include and must omit when designing your recipe.
Having chosen the beer, search the internet for articles and forum discussions that give advice on what is actually entailed; you may have inadvertently chosen a beer style that might not be appropriate for your first one. For example, I have brewed a Baltic Porter that required conditioning at very cold but slightly fluctuating temperatures for seven months before it was ready to drink; and as I type these words I can see a shelf full of bottles of a Belgian style Tripel that needs to mature at room temperature for a whole year before it can be tasted (as I type these words, only eleven months to go!) As this is your first shot at designing a recipe let’s go for a simpler beer, one that’s ready much sooner.
As an example, let’s say you flick through the BJCP style guidelines and your eyes settle on what they call ‘British Golden Ale’. At this point we make a list of the most important points of the guidelines and we see our beer should be:
Anywhere between 3.8 – 5.0% ABV
Containing any variety of hops with a hop aroma that is anywhere from moderately low to moderately high.
The colour should be anything from ‘straw’ to ‘golden’.
The flavour should be anything from medium to medium-high bitterness (IBUs (more about IBUs later) anywhere from 20 to 45) with a light to medium body.
So let’s start at the beginning by choosing our ingredients. But don't worry if your stockist doesn't have an ingredient you've set your heart on, there is almost always an acceptable substitute and again, to find that substitute the internet once again comes to the rescue. For example if you want to use Fuggles hops but can’t buy any anywhere, enter ‘Substitute for Fuggles’ in your search engine; there we’ll see the American Homebrewers Association tell us we can use either Williamette or Styrian Goldings instead.
A ‘base malt’ is simply the name given to the type of grain that makes up most of the ‘grist’ (all the malts and cereals in your brew). A pale malt has a light flavour and is perfect for brewing because it responds very well to a single temperature mash. There are lots and lots of base malts out there. They all have different qualities and characteristics, and can be mixed and matched to produce an incredible amount of flavours. Online we read about the respective qualities of base malts such as Golden Promise, Pearl, Optic and Maris Otter. We decide to use Maris Otter for no other reason than the glowing recommendations we read. We are aiming to brew a beer that is somewhere between 3.8 and 5.0% ABV as per the style guidelines, so let’s use 4.5Kg. (By looking at other recipes we know that 4.5Kg will probably give us the ABV we’re trying to achieve).
While it’s true that there are lots of beers in existence that only use base malt, it can be quite fun to put something a little extra in your recipe just to keep things interesting. We’ve also read that a little Vienna Malt in the mix can beef up the malt profile, give more flavour and more body. Reading online about how other brewers feel about using Vienna Malt we learn that it can be easily overdone and a small addition of approx. 5% of the total grain bill is advised – although some brewers write that they use 20% or more. We decide to err on the side of caution so we decide to throw in just 250gms of Vienna Malt.
Crystal Malts, we read, are barley malts that have been put through a special heating process that turns some of the sugars on the inside of the grain into longer, more complex sugars that are not broken down in the mash or fermented in the beer. Using crystal malts can make the beer more complex, with a fuller body, and will affect the beer’s final colour. However many brewers swear they will never use crystal malts as they don’t like the taste when used in heavily hopped beers. They should be used sparingly, and usually your homebrew supplier will detail, in the product description online, how much you should use in terms of the percentage of your total grain bill. We decide not to use crystal malts this time round but maybe we’ll make a mental note to experiment with them in future brews.
These dark malts can add a complexity to the beer, and flavours such as roasted, burnt toast or coffee. As you’d expect, they darken beer considerably and are used most commonly in stouts and porters. Roasted Barley for example is an important ingredient in Irish stouts. We realise we don’t need roasted malts in a ‘golden’ ale!
Adjuncts is a catch-all decription for anything that is a source of fermentable sugars that doesn’t include malt. Things like unmalted wheat, barley, rye, oats, maize and a whole lot of other grains. It also includes all sugars such as ordinary granulated white sugar and Belgian candi syrups. Again, we’re keeping things fairly simple this time round, so we won’t bother with adjuncts in this brew.
So now we’ve decided on the malts we’re going to use it’s time to consider…
The best way to decide what hops we should use is to go online and read about hops that usually go into the style of beer we will brew. These days there are a great number of different types of hop we can use, far too many to try to list here; it’s down to the homebrewer to go online and read about them hops and what properties they can give to a beer. One classic combination (I find beers are always more interesting if more than one type of hop is used) is Fuggles and East Kent Goldings. Fuggles’ characteristics have been described as ‘earthy and woody’, and East Kent Goldings as a ‘sweet, honey-like’ character with an aroma of ‘lavender, spice, honey and thyme’. Both hops are fiercely British, which does seem very appropriate for a British Golden Ale. So let’s use these two. A quick look at the website of our homebrew supplier tells us that the Alpha Acid (AA) of Fuggles hops is, at the time of writing, 3.68%. East Kent Goldings is 5.49%. A 100gm pack of each will suffice. (More about Alpha Acid later.)
The final piece of the jigsaw is…
Just like hops, the best way to decide which yeast to use is to go online and read about some of the very many yeast types that are out there. Safale S-04 is a good and relatively cheap option; it is used in many styles of beer and is a good neutral yeast that allows malt and hop characteristics to shine through. Alternatively the more expensive yeasts are a more interesting
choice, such as Wyeast or White Labs. We have a fair few options, such as Wyeast 1318 London Ale III, Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire or White Labs WLP022 Essex Ale Yeast. Look them up online and read about their characteristics. Personally I’d be tempted to use Wyeast 1318 London Ale III here, but any one of these would do a good job.
So now, after lots of research, we finally have our list of ingredients. What's more, we've learned a little bit in the process of reading up about them. Software is invaluable when it comes to creating recipes so now we'll take a look at how the ingredients are put together by some old, clunky but free software by clicking on Using ProMash...