4 Tips to Brewing with Leftovers
By Ryan Bailey
(A sample of my leftover ingredients stash)
Like many homebrewers, I started out with one of those brown football-shaped kits you can find in retail stores every Christmas. Those first few batches were… well, they were okay enough for me to keep trying. But after doing a “brew on premises” session at my local homebrew store, I was bitten by the brewing bug big-time.
I bought a couple of fermenters and went to work making batches on the stovetop and devouring books, articles, and podcasts on brewing. I settled on smaller two and a half gallon batches because it would allow me to brew more often and have a larger variety of beers in my fridge. Like most people, I began with pre-designed recipe kits like the ones you can find at Morebeer. This is where I quickly discovered the problem I had inadvertently created for myself: I was a 2.5 gallon brewer living in a world of 5 gallon recipes! What to do???
I started by ordering half quantities of the ingredients from the recipe sheets. But since you can’t really order just a half ounce of Citra or a quarter of an ounce of Caramel 40, I began to accumulate an assortment of leftover ingredients. One day I was perusing some available recipe kits and found a coffee stout kit on sale, and I couldn’t pass up the price. So I bought the 5 gallon kit and decided to split it in half and try to create something else with the other half. I reduced the water for the second half and added some additional dark malts to make a 2 gallon imperial stout, which I then added bourbon soaked oak cubes to. Of course I had to add additional bittering hops to compensate for the bigger beer, so I grabbed some of those leftover hops from my freezer… I may be the only person who’s ever thrown Mosaic into a stout, but it’s what I had! The crazy thing is that beer went on to win its category in my first competition!
This “brewing with leftovers” mentality has ended up becoming an integral part of my recipe design. Every few months I’ll buy some special ingredients for a recipe I’m sure I want to make, usually ending up with some leftover hops and specialty grains. Then there are a few things I try to always keep on hand… some light malt extract, a couple of caramel malts, some sort of darker roasted malt, and some dry yeast, since it has such a long shelf life. Combine these ingredients with the leftovers I accumulate from recipes, sales, or competition prizes, and I can throw together a recipe for a batch almost any time I want! Fridge getting low? Lets see what kind of hops are in the freezer for a quick IPA! Family all has plans for the afternoon? Impromptu brew day! I even keep an ingredients inventory on my phone’s notes app, so I can play around with recipes if I’m doing something boring like waiting in line at the DMV!
I’ve come up with a few tips for anyone who may be interested in moving on from pre-packaged kits and trying this “leftovers” approach to recipe design:
(A couple pounds of hops in my freezer waiting to find their way into a recipe)
Tips to Homebrewing with Leftovers
Tip #1 - Use existing recipes as a guide.
This is a great way to start figuring out what percentages of malts and hops will work together. Also, an online recipe builder is an invaluable tool… It will help you keep your ingredients properly proportioned and allows you to check your ABV, color, and IBUs against the BJCP guidelines for whatever style you’re shooting for.
Tip #2 - If brewing extract, buy DME instead of LME.
Sure, it costs a little more, but you can use less, and its much easier to split amounts and store the leftovers for future batches (Conveniently, Morebeer lets you choose either option for their recipe kits).
Tip #3 - Don’t be afraid to make substitutions.
Don’t have Caramunich 60 but have some Caramel 40? Give it a try! It won’t be exactly the same, but it will probably get you in the ballpark. Don’t have the hops you want to use for that IPA? Do a little google search for substitutions and see what you have that might fit the bill!
Tip #4 - Adjust batch size if needed.
Maybe you don’t have enough malt or hops to fill out an entire batch… simply shrink the recipe! I have an even smaller 1.5 gallon fermenter that is perfect for smaller batches when I just don’t have enough ingredients for a full batch or want to experiment with some new ingredients.
In any case, I highly recommend giving the approach a try. You may find, like me, that the creativity of the approach is one of the most enjoyable parts of the process… and your beers will always end up being uniquely yours!
"One of those experimental batches"
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