Making Your Own Recipe

November 15, 2011 at 3:27 pm Leave a comment

Designing and brewing your own beers is very rewarding. But creating a home brew from scratch that makes an impression isn’t easy. The toughest part is fine-tuning your own recipes over time. You can tweak the hop addition schedule of your IPA half a dozen ways before you get the right balance of bitterness, flavor, and aroma. You might want to change the yeast strain to make your wheat beer a little drier. All of this takes time and patience, plus copious note-taking. Be prepared to wait.

Building Beer

To get started, let’s think about the components of a recipe: batch size, steeping grains, malt, hops, yeast, and adjuncts. How much wheat malt do you need for a wheat beer? What kind of hop profile is typical for a porter? Along with those items you have to think about the characteristics of your beer. Those are your acronyms: OG, FG, ABV, SRM, and IBU. Do you want a bitter beer? A coppery red ale? A high alcohol head smasher or a fruity session beer?

I found the best way to start is to get a crash course on the characteristics of the major beer styles. The best print resource I’ve seen for that is Designing Great Beers, by Ray Daniels. If you want to design a stout, for example, this book will show you the typical grain bill, hop profile, and yeast strains for various stouts from American sweet to dry Irish.

When you have an idea in mind and are ready to play with the numbers, check out this fancy tool called The Recipator. This web site can make all of the calculations you need and present them in an easy-to-read format. You can select various grains, hops, and other sugars, then manipulate the numbers and see the results instantly. It even makes a little color image of what your beer should look like based on the Lovibond number of the malt and amount you’ve chosen. It’s an indispensable tool for the home brewer who loves to experiment.


Once you’ve designed the recipe it’s time to document it. You can easily print your recipe from the Recipator site. (However, it doesn’t list yeast strains; that’s a major omission, I think.) In my experience the best thing to do is create a recipe template and fill it out for each beer you design. Remember to design the template with plenty of room for “brewer’s notes” you might write by hand as you brew. I have a section in my recipe template called “lessons learned” in case I make mistakes or discover a better technique during the brewing process.

Another benefit to having a recipe template is that it makes searching through your recipes a lot easier. You know, for example, that the target OG and FG numbers are always on the same spot in each recipe page. The nerdliest of you might even go so far as to build a recipe database. I’m not quite there yet.

Hop To It

Ok, you’ve done some research, put together a recipe and documented it. Now it’s time to get brewing, Hop Dad! If you have a recipe you like send it to me and I’ll add it to the growing collection.

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