I went jogging this morning and was listening to the Brewing Network’s Sunday Session podcast on my iPhone. Let me just say that the cast of the Sunday Session show all sound like total home brewing shock jock dorks. I listen because even though they are idiots, every once in awhile they’ll drop some homebrewing knowledge. Once of the main idiots was talking about how he doesn’t formulate his own recipes. Something about how it was too hard and that there are plenty of tried and true homebrew recipes out there that are formulated by world class brewers. I think it’s just because he’s probably too dumb (ha ha, just kidding, don’t hate me) to come up with his own. However, it did get me thinking about beer recipe formulation.
Like most homebrewers that I know, I started out by brewing “kit” beers. I’d go down to the local homebrew shop, decide what I wanted to brew, and pick out an ingredient kit. A typical ingredient kit contains everything you need to brew beer. In it you will find a can or two of malt extract, hops, priming sugar and maybe a mesh bag and some specialty grains for steeping. They also contain an instruction sheet. It’s pretty simple and straight foward. I became comfortable with brewing beer in this fashion, some of them pretty damn tasty. After awhile, I took the next step and followed some of the recipes from Charlie Papazian’s the Complete Joy Of Home Brewing. I remember fondly making my first batches of Rocky Racoon’s Crystal Honey Lager and his Holiday Cheer recipe. When I took the leap to all grain brewing. I would order the all grain version of recipe kits online. Basically the same thing but with cracked grains instead of malt extract. I would also look up recipes online for certain beers. If there is a commercial beer you love, chances are you can find a “clone” recipe on the internet or in one of the many books published on the subject.
I still use other brewer’s recipes from time to time. If there is a style I haven’t made before, I find myself looking at several recipes to get an idea of what to do. I use them as a template, and make my own changes. A perfect example of this is my fall seasonal, Butternut Squash Ale. Last fall I wanted to brew a spiced pumpkin ale. I looked online and found several recipes. Then I started thinking about the abundance of butternut squash I had grown in my backyard. I wondered if I could adapt a pumpkin ale recipe. After more online research, I decided to go for it.
The last several beers I’ve brewed are recipes I formulated on my own. Coming up with a recipe is a tricky thing. You got to have the right balance of malt, hops, yeast and adjucts for whatever style that you are brewing. It’s a balancing act. I spend a bit of time thinking of the right ingredients. Last weekend, I was walking around the Market Square Farmer’s Market daydreaming about ingredients for a chocolate pepper stout that I want to brew for the winter. I went ahead I got some peppers from one of my farmer buddies. I’m still thinking of the right hops to use, how to make the stout sweet, roasty and smooth while and combining it just right with the heat and flavor of the peppers. I have a recipe written donw, and think that I’ll more then likely continue to make changes right up to brew day.
I think it’s the natural progression of a good homebrewer to formulate his or her own recipes. It’s a great way to learn what works and what doesn’t. Yes mistakes are easy to make and will be made, but as long as you follow the first rule of homebrewing (relax and have a home brew) you’ll be fine. Below is my “work in progress” recipe for chocolate pepper stout.
Chocolate Pepper Imperial Stout (10 gallon batch)
10 pounds pale ale malt
12 pounds Marris Otter
2 pound pale chocolate malt
1 pound wheat malt
1 ½ pound of lactose
2 pounds of dark crystal malt
2 pounds cara pils
3/4th pound roasted barley
½ pound black patent malt
1 pound of cocoa nibs
2 ounces nugget hops (boil)
2 ounces williamette (boil)
2 ounces of Goldings hops (finishing)
8-10 tennessee cherry chilis (last 20 minutes of boil)
6 big red and smoked jalapenos (at flame out, and left in primary)
Wyeast Irish yeast