23/06/2017
by Kenny Campbell

Beer Recipes Design

Starting point

Start by choosing a beer style. The beer style no longer defines the beer in the way it may have done in my early days as a brewer, there is plenty of room for imagination, rather the beer style creates the baseline to build from.

Internet sources (many are American so not always totally reliable from our perspective) will give you a guide to lots of beer styles. They will give suggestions on the range of colour and bitterness as well as strength, OG and PG etc. Another way to start is when you come across a beer that you really like - see if you can reproduce your version. Either by taste and see if you can guess the various ingredients and their proportions or by finding out a little more about the beer. Many publications claim to list the recipes of commercial beers. These are sometimes surprisingly accurate, especially if they have been provided by the brewer. They can also be a little misleading – I have seen published recipes for beers that I was once responsible for which bore no relation to the actual recipe. There are also beer recipe designing books – I have never read any so cannot comment.

The Ingredients

Beer is brewed with water, malt and hops with, occasionally, spices and of course fermented with yeast. All of these ingredients contribute to the final beer taste. It is worth doing a bit of research to determine what ingredients are typically used your target beer style, and in what proportions. At this stage it is easier to work in percentages for the malt grist for example 90% pale ale malt, 7% crystal malt and 3% roast barley etc.. As a rule, traditionally about 90% of the malt is normally the main or base malt there for flavour colour and fermentable sugars with the other 10% of malts there for flavour and colour. You will find a lot of new wave American influenced recipes with lower base malt % and consequently higher coloured malt % but trust me for the most part this is a passing fashion. By all means experiment but too much flavour is not always a good thing.

Having determined the ingredients and proportions that are appropriate to the beer style you are a long way towards producing a recipe which will taste the way it should.

Getting the numbers right

You have selected your list of ingredients and have the proportions roughly correct. It is now time to use a spreadsheet or program such as Brewers Friend or BeerSmith, and see how the numbers look. I still prefer to use an excel spreadsheet that I have been using for the last 20 years. Before that as a young brewer I used a pencil, paper and a calculator and spend many hours adjusting recipes until my Production Director was happy that he had asked me to try every single permutation he could think of. I take issue with some of the results you are given by the above mentioned online calculators but eventually you will have to brew the beer and see what it looks and tastes like and then make any alterations you think are needed. The calculators often try to take account of the equipment you will be using and offer all sorts of different ways of mashing and wort running this may help if you are using a system which affects the extract efficiency etc. I tend to keep to isothermal mashing, continuous sparging and balanced with wort running. However I have the luxury of a miniature scaled down traditional ale brewery which allows me to brew much like a commercial ale brewer.

With the numbers from your calculator now confirming the OG, PG, abv, colour and bitterness that you should expect from the recipe it is time to make any adjustments so that you get closer to what you had intended.

Original Gravity or OG is an indication of the amount of fermentable and unfermentable sugar you will extract. The original gravity along with the PG determines how much potential alcohol the recipe will produce.

Present Gravity or PG (sometimes referred to as the Final Gravity or FG) This figure determines the sweetness or dryness of the beer as well as the alcohol. A higher PG will give you a sweeter beer with less alcohol and vice versa. Lagers and IPAs tend to have a lower PG and full-bodied ales and stouts tend to have a higher PG. You can control this to some extent by adjusting the mash temperature to alter the fermentability. The choice of yeast will also have a big influence The yeast attenuation refers to the percentage of sugars consumed by the yeast, and some styles require high attenuating yeast to achieve a clean flavour, while others require a low attenuating yeasts for a more complex flavour.

Bitterness (IBU in the USA, EBU everywhere else but as far as we are concerned the same) Bitterness from hops balances the malty flavour from the malts and the fruity etc. flavours from the yeast. The alpha acid content of your hops and how your equipment interacts with the hops will allow you to calculate the bitterness. I use a simple bitterness calculation that I have been using for almost 40 years it never agrees with the fancy calculators on the internet but it works for me.

Colour (SRM Lovibond in the USA, EBC everywhere else) – You can calculate the colour of your beer from the grist used. Estimating the colour is important because we drink with our eyes as well as smell and taste.

Bitterness Ratio (IBU/GU) – The bitterness ratio gives you a very rough measurement of the bitterness to malt balance for the recipe.

Carbonation (Vols or g/l) (1 vol = 1.96 g/l) The carbonation of your beer should match the style. Carbonation is commonly measured in volumes, where one volume would essentially be a litre of carbon dioxide gas dissolved into a litre of beer. Fermented beer at room temperature and open to the atmosphere contains about 1.0 volumes of CO2. Traditional English ales are often served with only the benefit of natural carbonation developed in the cask at 1.5 vols while many German beers are highly carbonated (up to 3.0 vols). If you research the style, you can often determine the traditional carbonation level for the beer.

Brewing Techniques

After you have the proper ingredients and have balanced the recipe by the numbers, the final step is to look at the techniques needed to brew this style of beer. Different styles definitely require application of a variety of brewing techniques. Some of the techniques to consider include:

  • Hop Techniques ­– A variety of hop techniques are available. Examples include first wort hopping, dry hopping, late hop additions, bittering hops, and use of a hopback. Different beer styles require different methods to achieve the appropriate balance.
  • Mash Techniques – For all grain and partial mash brewers, adjusting your mash temperature is critical to achieving the appropriate body for your beer. Lower mash temperature during the main conversion step will result in a lower body beer and higher mash temperatures result in more body. In addition, advanced brewers may want to consider advanced techniques like decoction mashing or programme mashing if appropriate to the style.
  • Fermenting, Lagering and Aging – The temperature for fermenting your beer should be appropriate for the yeast and beer you are using. Yeast manufacturers as well as most brewing software publish appropriate temperature ranges for fermentation of each yeast. Aging and lagering should also match your target style.

Beer design is partly art, and partly science, which for me makes it the interesting and enjoyable hobby it is.

If you do your homework, select quality ingredients, run the numbers and follow good brewing techniques you can make fantastic beer at home using your own recipes.


Written by our friend George Thompson ( Master Brewer & Brewing Consultant )