Homebrew Recipe Formulation

written equations on brown wooden board

Making it Easy to Make Good Beer at Home

Homebrew School: Recipes and Recipe Formulation

One of the first things new homebrewers are in a hurry to do is to re-create their favorite commercial beer at home. This is often easier said than done. Part of the problem is that new homebrewers typically buy all-inclusive ingredient “kits” that are packaged and sold as a particular beer style. Unfortunately, the companies that package these kits either don’t have a good grasp of the various beer styles or, more likely, they assume the buyer doesn’t –which is also very likely.

The sooner new brewers can wean themselves off these pre-packed kits and start buying their brewing ingredients separately, the greater success they will have in the long run. It all begins with recipe formulation.

A Recipe for Success

It’s important that new brewers not try to reinvent the wheel –at least not right away. There are hundreds, if not thousands of good, proven beer recipes to be found on the internet and in published books and magazines. These tried-and-true recipes not only tell you which ingredients are needed but they typically spell out the procedural uses for the ingredients.

There are also many books devoted to the topic of homebrew recipes, including these two top-selling books, “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing” and “Homebrewing for Dummies

Recipe Formulation

Once you feel you have a good grasp on the various beer styles you are interested in brewing at home, you can start formulating your own recipe. At the core of all beer styles are these three main beer style variables that are scientifically measurable:

  • Color
  • Bitterness
  • Gravity

Color

The color of beer is determined primarily by the grain (or malt syrup) used to make the beer. Light colored grain (and malt syrup) will result in a pale colored beer; conversely, dark roasted grains will produce dark beers. The spectrum of beer color ranges from straw to black and this color range is measurable using something called a spectrophotometer –an instrument used to measure the absorbance of light. This numerical measurement of beer color is expressed as “SRM” (Standard Reference Method) in beer recipes.

Bitterness

Bitterness in beer is primarily the result of the extraction of alpha acids from hops during the boiling process. A range of hop varieties are grown in a number of locations throughout the world, resulting in various alpha acid contents –not only from region to region, but from one growing year to the next. Hop bitterness in beer can be controlled by the brewer in three different ways- by using hops with lower alpha acids, using smaller quantities of higher acid hops, or boiling them for less time, thus extracting less of the available acid. This numerical measurement of hop bitterness is expressed in “IBU” (International Bittering Units) in beer recipes.

Gravity

The term “gravity” refers to the density of beer -or any liquid. Gravity in beer is determined by the amount of soluble sugars in the beer and it can be raised or lowered simply by increasing or decreasing the amount of dissolved sugars. The primary soluble sugar in beer is derived from the malted grain, which is called maltose sugar. Beer gravity can be measured by using an instrument called a hydrometer. The gravity reading in a fermented beverage will lower as the yeast consumes the available sugar in solution and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide in return (also known as fermentation).

Yeast: The Final Factor

Color, bitterness and gravity are beer style parameters that are established by the recipe and achieved in the brewing process. A fourth variable in beer style determination is in the yeast used for fermentation. Yeast varieties are either top-fermenting (ale) or bottom-fermenting (lager). Therefore, a single beer brewed according to a single recipe, using the same ingredients, producing identical color, bitterness and gravity, can be made into two entirely different beer styles by simply changing the yeast type and fermentation temperature.

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