4 Simple Steps To Beer Recipe Design
By Ryan Bridge
I first began my brewing journey in my late years of undergrad at UC San Diego. The craft beer scene was exploding and names like Stone, Ballast Point, Karl Strauss, and Green Flash were becoming popular nationwide. Brewery taprooms and arms-full of 22oz bombers from my local liquor store became the go-to Friday night activity, and inevitably I found myself wanting to try my hand at homebrewing.
I started like many others, with a trip to my local homebrew store where I picked up a starter equipment package and a recipe kit after I told an employee that "I like IPAs." From there sparked a passion that has turned into a career, and through good fortune and perseverance I've worked my way to the Head Brewer position at Strike Brewing Company
in San Jose.
Over the years I've collaborated with breweries across the country and have learned that each brewer has their own style and philosophies when it comes to designing beer recipes. Figuring out which grains, hops, and yeast to use has been a learning process that has taken me the better part of a decade. With hundreds (thousands?) of different ingredients out there, how does one pick the right combination to make the perfect beer?
One thing that's always resonated with me is the idea of keeping recipes simple. Some of the best beers I've ever tasted have been a beautiful expression of a single malt, hop, and yeast strain.
Here's an overview on my perspective on recipe building, along with some tips and considerations for keeping your recipes simple and delicious.
1. Malt Selection
You can make incredible Pilsner or IPA with a single malt and you can make world class Porters, Schwarzbiers, and Imperial Stouts with two. Cheaper, domestic grains are perfect for showcasing yeast or hops, while heirloom and regional malts stand on their own. Consider your goal and how much of an impact on flavor and color you'd like your malt to contribute and go from there. Aim for 150F on your mash and don't stress if you're over or under a bit. Yeast health and fermentation have a much bigger impact on attenuation and flavor than mash temperature.
2. Hop Selection and Timing
You can make incredibly delicious and complex beers with a single hop variety. Hops are grown all over the world and like grapes, take on the terroir of their region. Cascade grown in California tastes different than Cascade grown in Washington, Idaho, or New Zealand. Every farm has a different microclimate and soil makeup, and hop flavors vary from year to year. Single-hop beers can be just as complex as those with a dozen hop varieties, and understanding the origin story of your hops can add something special to your beer as well.
We use hops in brewing for two main purposes: bitterness (and the antimicrobial properties) and flavor/aroma. Therefore, in order to maximize bittering and flavor contributions, add your hops appropriately. Bittering hops go in before the boil and flavor/aroma after. Take those 10, 15, and 30 minute hops additions and throw them in the whirlpool or dry hop - they'll be better utilized there.
Conveniently, 1oz of new world hops in the boil for bittering and 7oz in the dry hop is a foolproof way to make incredibly hoppy and delicious IPA.
3. Yeast Quantity and Temperature
More yeast, more better (MoreBeer). Double your pitch rate to ensure a robust fermentation. Ambient temperature should be a big factor in deciding what you're going to brew, unless you have temperature control. Select a yeast strain that is suited to your environment. Lager yeasts can still perform well in the 50s fahrenheit (the colder it is, the more yeast you should use), and more expressive yeasts (Belgian, Kveik, etc) will be fine into the 90s. Oxygenate well, especially when making stronger beers. It is very difficult to over-oxygenate or over-pitch, so go big in these areas.
4. Water, Salts, and pH
This category has the most room for complexity, and brewers are welcome to get in as deep as they are comfortable. For the practical, casual brewer, filtered brewing water with no pH adjustments or brewing salt additions can make incredible beer.
Ultimately, I've learned that simple recipes don't make one dimensional beers. A "rustic" or casual approach can make brewing more accessible and more fun. Just make sure to sanitize well, pitch a bunch of yeast, and drink fresh!
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