Building a Recipe

Photo1 I’ve designed, brewed, and served over 30 different beers at Crooked Run.  Brewing on a small system gives me the flexibility and freedom to experiment with many different styles and ingredients, and this is my favorite part of the job.  Sometimes people ask me if I have ever made a beer that didn’t turn out well and could not be served.  My answer is that, aside from infection, I have not.  In fact, I’ve only made minor tweaks to subsequent re-brews a few times–mostly raising or lowering the IBU’s by a couple points.

At this point, recipe formulation is second nature to me, and designing recipes is what I love. This did not happen overnight.  Rather, it took me many years of homebrewing and many batches to become familiar with the different malts available.  You can read about ingredients, but only by using them over and over can you learn exactly what flavors they contribute in varying amounts and how they interact with one another.

So, if you’re interested in developing your own recipes, where do you begin?  A great place to start is the book Brewing Classic Styles by Jamil Zainasheff.  I believe this is the greatest homebrewing book ever written.  Free from fluff, it contains 80 award-winning recipes from one of the most venerable home (and now pro) brewers.  Five years ago I purchased this book and began working my way through different recipes.  Even if you don’t brew every recipe therein, Brewing Classic Styles is a great visual aid, since you can flip from style to style and take note of what ingredients they have in common and what sets them apart. After you’ve brewed some proven recipes, you can start to notice the flavors that malts contribute, and you can start to play around with them.  For example, let’s take Jamil’s best bitter recipe:

1.047 OG
30 IBU
9.5 lbs Maris Otter
0.5 lbs Aromatic
0.5 lbs C-120
0.25 lbs Victory
 

A great beer.  But let’s say I want to make a bitter that emphasizes caramel malt a bit more.  So I lower the IBU’s, increase the caramel malt, and cut the aromatic and victory.

1.044 OG
25 IBU
9 lbs Maris Otter
0.75 lbs C-60
0.25 lbs C-120 
 

There’s my English pale ale recipe, called Logan’s Song. After you’ve been tweaking recipes for a while, you can start to venture into completely uncharted territory and create beers that are blends of styles or don’t fit into any category at all.  You can also start to use non-traditional ingredients, such as fruits, vegetables, and spices.

When creating a recipe, I like to explain things in terms of direction and dimensions.  The direction of the beer is sort of like the beer mission statement.  For example, let’s work on a Belgian single recipe.  This beer will be called Hopsail.  It’s direction is:

A malt-forward, easy-drinking Belgian ale finished with extra Saaz hops.

The dimensions of the beer help define it and help it accomplish this direction.  I am all about complexity through simplicity, so I use the term “dimensions” because it helps set limits for the beer.  You don’t want a beer that is one-dimensional, but you don’t a five-dimensional beer either.  By focusing on a few flavors, you will accomplish more by letting your ingredients shine, and avoid muddling flavors. For Hopsail, I choose to work with three dimensions: pilsner malt flavor, Saaz hops, and Belgian yeast.  So I create a recipe that looks like this:

1.042 OG
18 IBU
8 lbs pilsner malt
0.25 lbs aromatic malt
3 ounces Saaz hops at flameout
WLP 530/Wyeast 3787
 

Low bitterness and a touch of aromatic helps emphasize the pilsner malt.  A bit more finishing hops than a traditional single helps give it a little kick of spicy Saaz flavor.  Trappist yeast fermented at 70 degrees gives a low-to-moderate touch of esters. There you go. After you brew your recipe, taste it.  Ask yourself, did it go in the direction you wanted?  If not, what can you change to get it right?  For Hopsail, I lowered the IBU’s until I hit a point where the pilsner malt flavor really came through, from 22 to 18. Here is a list of tested recipes.  If you would like a copy of any recipe, please feel free to comment or email me.

 
Session Ales:
 
Hopsail Belgian single
Logan’s Song English pale ale
Thunder American pale ale
Jake o’ Lantern pumpkin amber ale
Wishing Well dry stout
Roganbier roggenbier
Red Kolsch Irish red/kolsch
 
IPA:
 
Storm American IPA
Logan’s Bite English IPA
True Vision Belgian IPA
Force of Nature fresh hop double IPA
Nature’s Wrath brett trois triple IPA
Summer Storm raspberry dark IPA
Hellfire black IPA
 
Saison:
 
Summer Dawn blackberry saison
Endless Summer basil rye saison
Summer Night raspberry dark saison
 
Abbey-style:
 
Heartsong Belgian dubbel
Seek Truth cherrywood-aged tripel
Shadow of Truth black Belgian tripel
Realize Truth elderberry quad
Stoicism coffee quad
 
Sour/Brett
 
Pure Fiction sour tripel
Provisionale sour raspberry brown
Cardinal Jake Flanders red
Free Yourself brett brux pale
Weisse City sweet orange peel Berliner weisse
Nature’s Wrath brett trois triple IPA
 
Lager:
 
Carrera Torcida Vienna lager
Commando imperial American pilsner
 
Oddballs:
 
Bad Boy black ESB
Coconut Boy coconut ESB
You’re Cool cucumber mint wheat
Stovepipe smoked pumpkin imperial porter
 
 
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About crookedrunbrewing

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6 Responses to Building a Recipe

  1. Pingback: Building a Recipe - The Virginia Beer Trail

  2. This is a really helpful blog post. I’m not sure who it’s targeted to- but as a homebrewer who is getting into tweaking recipes it was interesting to see your explanation of “dimensions”. It’s kinda like a philosophy for that particular beer.

  3. Ryan says:

    Hi Jake,

    We visited Crooked Run last spring and really enjoyed it – your Storm IPA particularly stood out to me and I was wondering if you would be willing to share any details and/or stats for that recipe?

    It sounds like you are using only Galaxy hops but I was curious if you ever used something like Warrior for the bittering charge and then Galaxy for all remaining additions? I have been using Warrior as the first wort hop for IPAs recently, but have been trying to dial in the correct quantity for the bittering addition.

    Again, awesome job with the beers and I look forward to hearing from you.

    Ryan
    rylo1984@gmail.com

    • Ryan, we actually use Warrior for all bittering additions. Here’s a 5.5 gallon recipe for Storm:

      1.065 OG
      63 IBU
      12 lbs two row
      1 lb c-15
      3 oz Galaxy @ 2 minutes
      3 oz Galaxy dry hop 5 days
      US-05 yeast

      Throw in however much Warrior to hit the IBU number. Thanks for the kind words, hope that helps!

      • Ryan says:

        Awesome!! Thank you, Jake.

        Have you ever experimented with a hop stand/hop steeping for ~30-45 minutes after the wort has cooled below 200F for an IPA? I’ve been reading up on this technique, but not sure what, if anything, it does for increased flavor and aroma.

      • I have not. Our brew days are long enough! Go for it if you feel like it, though!

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