R is for Recipes
There is an old saying in brewing - don’t start a brewery because you are good at making beer . Every brewery is good at making beer. That’s because being good at making beer is what makes a brewery a brewery. To be a good brewery you need to be good at making good beer. Or better yet, excellent at making excellent beer. I’m not saying that is us; far from it. The whole point of brewing is that the next one will be better. My point with this blog is that the recipes are a fundamental part of making a good brewery a good brewery, as they are the things that make a good brewery make good beer.
So this introductory paragraph is saying that beer recipes are important to breweries? Well, yes. But there is an important nuance there that it is important to take into account.
Our approach has always been to work back from an endpoint. We discuss and work up what a beer’s final form looks like, smells like, tastes like, reminds us of, etc, and work back from there. Fundamentally, we believe it's good to drink what you like. That’s not to discount trial and error. Oh boy, did we get good at trial-ing and error-ing our brews. We spent a lot of time making a lot of mistakes.
Nor should you discount the brew-with-what-you-have approach. Got some spare wheat lying about? Boom! A frothy ipa for you. Got some hop oils you want to play with? Smash! A quick way to a burst of end-flavour. Got an unwanted backlog of Citra hops lying about? Not possible! It’s sold out worldwide for about two years. Sit down and stop lying.
According to the wags at BYO.com (aka Brew Your Own magazine), starting at the end is called the ‘top-down approach’: Start with how a beer tastes (physically or conceptually) and figure out how to get there. The thought process is pretty simple — what’s the story and how does that work in a gustatory fashion. Here’s how that works for our first commercially available beer - Stowaway. At the heart of it, always the same principle; wanting to make a beer that captured our favourite time together - finishing work on a friday. The recipe we settled on has late addition hops for flavour but not bitterness, a tropical aroma and a grain bill that has some punch but doesn’t have heaviness.
Here are some of the things you need to take into consideration when designing your own recipes.
Beer recipe tracking is meticulous and - shock! - brewing is full of nerds. It’s critical to use good brewing software. It will allow you to enter ingredients, mash schedules, sparging routines, fermentation temperatures and timelines, and priming or kegging volumes. You will see how your beer reacts with changes in malts, hops, yeast changes, and strike temperatures. An image of the beer’s color will be shown along with all of the specifications such as SRM, IBUs, expected Original Gravity, expected final gravity, the beer’s water to grain ratio during the mash, and percentages of each ingredient in the overall recipe.
There are a lot of terms you might not know in there, some of which will be covered / has been covered in previous blogs. I’ll put a link through to each one that isn’t, and I promise it won’t be a link to a video of Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation dancing.
Next up, malts.
What should the base malt be? Although wheat, rye, oats, millet, sorghum, rice and corn have all been used for brewing, barley is the preferred grain for beer. But the starch in a grain of barley isn’t ready to be fermented into alcohol, so the barley is generally converted into malted barley, or “malt.” The process of malting involves soaking the barley, allowing it to germinate, and then stopping germination with heat.
The amount of heating that barley malt receives has profound effects on the sort of beer that will be brewed. All the colour in beer comes from the malted barley. A lightly-roasted malt will produce a very pale beer. Deeply roasted malts produce dark or black beers.
So, take lightly roasted malt and make a beer from it. Use an ale yeast, and the result will be a pale ale, the classic English pub beer, or a bitter or golden ale. Use a lager yeast, and the result will be a style such as pilsner.
Give the malt a little more heat, and the beers become darker, more the colour of root beer. Brown ales—Newcastle Brown is a classic—are the ale variety. In the lagers, the cleaner tasting German dunkels—dark lagers—are the counterparts. Haway the Toon!
Once you have your base malt and the middle malts on paper, it’s time to look at which hops you want in your beer recipes. You probably have an idea of what type of hops you want to use based on the other recipes you have researched. There are times when it is OK to use substitutions, and there are times when only one or two hops will do. Experience is important here. Get it wrong a lot and you will build up that experience. Knowing what aromas and flavours a certain hops will give you is important. If you don’t quite know which hops to use in your beer recipes, read the descriptions. Most beer styles originated using the hops grown in the region.
And now we get to the ingredient that influences flavour the most, but is probably the least understood, the yeast. Look at the yeast strain information in the yeast section and determine which flavours different strains will add to your beer recipes. Try to match the flavours of the yeast with the flavours you developed for your beer.
Crunching numbers is important - it is the ‘good at making beer’ part of the saying at the top part of this blog. But it’s nothing without its partner process - the trying. That’s what makes a good brewery make good beer.