How to Design a Beer Recipe With Images

Today’s article is how to design a beer recipe. I’m not sure how I haven’t written this article before. It really should have been one of the first I wrote for the site.

I guess it’s a case of better late than never. I’ve been thinking about the subject a lot recently because as brewing consultant I get asked about various aspects of recipe building almost daily now.

Man with beer making OK sign
China’s Craft Beer Market Is Growing

What I’ve noticed when asked about recipe design is people have different approaches. However, there are some points that are true whatever you’re approach.

1. Have a Goal in Mind – Building Off a Solid Base

It’s easy to get carried away when making beer. You run with ideas and it can lead to a muddled beer that lacks focus.

It’s best to start with a solid base; be it a beer that has inspired you, a certain beer style you want to replicate or a particular ingredient you want to highlight in a beer.

Having a goal in mind will allow you focus when building a recipe. So, when it comes to color, bitterness, original plus final gravity and ABV they’re already mapped out.

In formulating a recipe one or two parameters can change but as much as possible stick to your original plan.

2. Don’t Go Crazy with Ingredients

When it comes to brewing in most cases less is more. When you’ve built a recipe look at the number of ingredients used and see if you can pare it down. Go back to our first tip, look at what your goal is and see if you can achieve it with less ingredients.

For example, if you’re brewing a beer to style, they are usually a list of malts, hops, yeast as well as water profiles that are common to the style.

If you are unsure which ingredients are to style; then there are number of resources available to help you.

Beer Recipe Design Mind Map

For example, a couple of malt suppliers have resources to help such as Gladfields Malt and Weyermanns. You may not have access to their malts; but there are online malt substitute charts to help you.

By researching ingredients; it’ll give you an appreciation of how they contribute to a beers profile.  I’ve been brewing for 25 years and I am still learning about ingredients all the time.

3. How to Design a Beer Recipe – Adapt Recipes to Your System

Every brewing system is different and has its kinks. A brewhouse might not have the ability to step mash (heating up your mash to different temperatures). This can affect how you approach recipe building.

If you want some residual sweetness but can raise the temperature of the mash for an alpha amylase rest then using some dextrin malt can help. In most cases with brewing there is always a workaround.

How to design a beer recipe
Mash Temperature Steps and Processes

4. Use a Recipe Calculator

A recipe calculator will allow you to calculate the important criteria of your brew such as:

  • Bitterness (the amount of IBU’s in your beer)
  • Color of the beer (SRM)
  • The start and final gravity of your beer
  • The strength of your beer (ABV)
  • If the beer fits the guidelines of the style you intend to make

Using a recipe calculator, it will allow you to add items such as:

  • Grain bill
  • Mash temperature
  • Batch Size
  • Hops amounts and addition times
  • Yeast used
  • The style being made

When you’ve inputted all the data the recipe calculator will show you what beer you have. You can then tweak the recipe to make it fit the correct parameters. Yes, you can do this by hand but these calculators are extremely accurate and takes out the chance of human error.

I use them and have done throughout my career. There are some good free ones out there such as Brewers Friend (although you have to pay to be able to save it). There is also Brewgr and Beersmith too.

Please note that Brewers Friend also has some handy beer calculators too!

5. Do a Recipe Again

I know there is a temptation after brewing one recipe to go onto another one. However, to make great beer repeat a recipe and dial it in.

It’s rare that you’ll get a brew right first time. It often takes me several iterations in commercial breweries to dial in a recipe till I am happy.

With this in mind; meticulous record keeping is a must. You want as much data as possible; to be able to make the tweaks to get the beer you want. Write down parameters such as:

  • Mash temperature and times
  • Hop amounts and times
  • Water treatment
  • pH
  • Fermentation temperatures and gravities

These records will allow you to see where improvement can be made. Get feedback from other people too. Be confident in your abilities however, it’s always nice to get reactions from other people for your beer.

How to Design a Beer Recipe – A Conclusion

There are many ways to design a beer recipe. However, following the above points will allow you a greater chance of succeeding out of the gate.

One pro-tip I’d like to add though; which I briefly mentioned above, is concentrate on the process.

Beer Recipe Development

The process you follow can make or break a beer. You could have the world’s best recipe but; if the process isn’t right, your beer will be poorer for it. When approaching a recipe think about “how” and “why” not so much as “what” and “how much”.

I have been a brewer for 25 years as I have said before; and I still critic my recipes; questioning why am I using this ingredient and does it help me achieve the beer I want. Making beer is fun but researching, data collection and critiquing will help your beer shine.

For more information on beer check out free resources page!

Neil Playfoot

Neil is a brewer with 25 years international brewing experience. Based out of China (first came in 2010) he works as a brewing consultant helping brewers with their projects and brewing processes. To find out what services Neil can provide your brewery please click here. If you'd like to contact Neil you can email at [email protected].
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