Recipe Formulation

George Washington's Small Beer Recipe If George Washington can write his own beer recipes, so can you.[/caption] I have been brewing beer since 1992. At first I brewed other peoples recipes, giving me confidence and knowledge about the ingredients and brewing process. But after a while everyone wants to try their hand at writing a recipe on their own. I write 99% of all the recipes at Bitter & Esters, both the ones in our recipe books and everything for the Brew on Premises. Quite often I am asked how do I go about coming up with a recipe. My first step of course is to determine what kind of beer do I want to write a recipe for? If I am brewing for myself I take the season into account. Not just what styles taste good for the season but what temperature I have for fermentation. There are ways to manipulate fermentation temperature but if your closet is at a steady 60˚F during the winter, it's a good time to make a Kolsch. If it is at 95˚F during the summer it is a good time to make a Saison. I don't necessarily let that determine the beer I am making as I drink all beer all the time. If I want to make a Saison in the winter, I will make it work. Sometimes it is easier to work with what you have. Next I will think,what do I want to drink in the next 4 to 8 weeks? That's pretty easy because again I like to drink everything. I usually like to make something new every time I brew or at least a variation of a style that I have brewed before. Once I know what style I want to make I will then do some research on the style, especially if I have never brewed it before. This is particularly important for the beers I write for the store, because you all are brewing it and I want you to love what you make. The very best way to research a beer is to drink other brewers versions of it. I will go to a beer bar or bottle shop and try the beer style I am attempting and try to determine the different aromas and flavors and take notes on what I like and what I would change. Our monthly beer swap is great for this because I can try other homebrewers takes on beer styles, adjunct/spice additions etc. Brewers are constantly asking each other about the ingredients in each others beer to gain and share knowledge. Research is a great excuse to try lots of beer! If I am trying to clone a specific brewery's beer I will look that brewery and beer up on the internet. Many of the craft breweries today will list their ingredients and numbers in the beer description on their site. I have even wrote breweries and had them send me their recipe! Not all breweries will do this but it's worth a shot. Zymurgy magazine also publishes brewery recipes both in the magazine and online. You can only access this if you are a member of the American Homebrewers Association, so join today! Sometimes I will look up the style in the BJCP guidelines. This will give me an idea of the parameters that are considered right for the style. OG, FG, alcohol content, beer color, aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel. They also give you history of the beer and what ingredients are traditionally used. If I still need some inspiration I will search forums like Homebrewtalk and see what other people have tried. And last but certainly not least I will refer to Brewing Classic Styles by John Palmer and Jamil Zainasheff. This book has tips and recipes for over 80 styles. They seem to have deliberately wrote these recipes for modification, it is an incredibly handy tool when formulating your recipe. Once I have a good idea of what I am making, I personally use Brewtoad, which is a free online recipe formulation calculator. You can choose the style you are creating and they will let you know if your recipe falls within BJCP parameters. If you are not brewing for competition it is okay to go outside the box as it were. They are guidelines and it is your beer, but it is nice to see if you are hitting the marks. I will enter my grain bill, my hop additions and my yeast strain. Yeast choice is very important and kind of fun. Sometimes I will split my wort into two fermenters and pitch two different yeasts, or maybe try a blend. Wyeast's website is great for giving you yeast properties and flavors and what styles work best with what strains. I will tweak around with my recipe until I get something that looks like the beer I am envisioning. I'll do the mash calculations and I will also run my water numbers through John Palmer's water calculator and adjust my mash and/or boil with salts according to style. New York City water is great because it gives you a pretty blank canvas to start from. Once I am happy with the recipe there is only one more thing to do, and that is brew the beer. Brewing the beer is the only way to know exactly how that beer will come out. This is why taking notes during brewing is so important. There are so many variables that can affect your beer and if you are completely happy with how it came out you will want to do it again. Or maybe you want to change something but at least you now have a place to start from. That is the beauty of being a homebrewer, we can do whatever we want and then do it again or do something completely different. The more you research and the more you brew the easier it will be to formulate recipes according to your desires. Good luck and keep brewing! John LaPolla Headshot
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