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