Ask a Brewer: Recipe Writing

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Photo Cred: Ian Steele

The world’s oldest known written beer recipe is credited to a 3,900 year old Sumerian poem. Since then, humanity has learned a thing or two.

The origins of beer are often disputed, with some people crediting a chance encounter between yeast and malt sugar. That is ultimately what it all comes down to- the yeast and sugar. The rest is flavor. The magic of beer is that it is really the most beautiful union of science and art, much like music. Blending flavors in proper ratios to produce the total package your picturing on your mind’s tongue takes lots of practice, trial and error. 

Most homebrewers start with your average kit brew, featuring LME (liquid malt extract). Boil this handy stuff into water, add hops over the course of an hour, ferment and bottle, and you’ve got yourself a batch of beer. Moving forward for the tenacious and determined homebrewer, you begin brewing all-grain batches which extracts malt sugar from grain using some other pieces of more advanced equipment. 

In essence, you have two types of grain- base grains and specialty grains. As you learn more about these two classes of grain, the line between the two can become a bit blurred, but your pale malts, pilsner malts, ale malts and others are what contribute the cleanest base flavors for the malt profile of beer. Beyond that, you move into your caramel malts (generally rated by degrees Lovibond, the scale used to measure color rating), your dark malts (chocolate, black patent malt, roasted barley), honey malt for sweetness, rye for spiciness, and many more. In order to help these work together most efficiently to produce your flavors, you have to be comfortable with working with percentages. Then you have to decide what you want your ending ABV to be, work that out with your volumes, and get that sugar concentration high or low enough to achieve the dream. 
Once you’ve got a clear picture of which malts are used at what rates, its time to move on to hopping and flavoring. The length of your boil can produce many different flavors, and the amounts of your hops and adjunct flavorings will change your final product as well. Will you boil in your flavors? Will you dry hop? Will you wet hop? Will you add juice? So many options! All of these considerations make for different characteristics, some subtle, some potent. Adding flavors at the end of primary fermentation directly to your vessel will produce a more clean, authentic flavor. Boiling ingredients into your wort will produce much deeper, blended flavors for a total-package style beer, rather than a highlight of one particular flavor. These are all general rules, but they’re tried and true. THis also barely even scratches the surface on the intricacies of recipe writing, but remember, if you have a question for a brewer, send it over to [email protected]. Happy brewing!