Perfecting Your Beer Recipes

by Brad Smith on October 6, 2022 · 0 comments

This week I take a look at how to perfect a single beer recipe, and why this is important for brewers.

When I first started brewing back in 1987, I wanted to brew everything. The Craft Beer revolution had not happened yet, so there were few examples of most styles, and we often learned about a beer by trying to make one. I would brew a Stout one month, and perhaps a Honey Ale the next, and then a German wheat beer the month after that. We had no reference point for many styles, so we often just brewed them and dumped the really bad ones.

One unfortunate consequence of moving from style to style was that my beer never really got any better. While I might randomly brew a good beer, the next month I was on to create more bad ones, rarely revisiting the one that happened to work out well.

It was not until the 1990’s that I became obsessed with perfecting a single beer. In this case, my target was Bass Ale, the famous ale from Burton-on-Trent, England. I tried a wide variety of yeasts, malt combinations and English hops in pursuit of my singular goal.

And then something amazing happened…my beer got better! Each time I tried, I got just a bit closer to the real Bass Ale, but also each brew got just a little bit better. Later I found that not only did my Bass Ale Clone get better, but many of my other beers started to improve.

Why Recipe Iteration Matters

This brings me to my main point – brewing a recipe to perfection by iterating it is a very important skill for a brewer to master. It is a much more effective strategy than hopping from style to style. By iterating a recipe you get familiar with the ingredients, flavors and processes. Making subtle changes in each drives small changes in the finished beer.

The best way to accomplish this is to follow a simple formula. Brew your beer. Once it has fully matured, sit down with your beer and honestly judge it. I find it helpful to have the BJCP score sheet (Scoring guide here) handy so I can evaluate the beer objectively and note any off flavors that I pick up. If you are cloning a commercial beer, compare them side by side. If you have some friends and family who can help, get them involved as they may pick up flaws you missed.

Once you have honestly evaluated the beer, identify one or two things you want to correct. Then do some research on the best way to correct your beer which may involve adjusting ingredients, amounts or changing your process. Then brew the beer again with the modifications and repeat!

Over time you will gain experience in judging, troubleshooting and correcting your beer. It’s an axiom in homebrewing that “Beer judges make some of the best brewers” precisely because they are able to identify small flaws, off-flavors and imbalances in the beer and know how to correct them.

The knowledge gained in brewing, judging and correcting a single beer to perfection will spill over to your other beers. You’ll have a better understanding of water, hops, malt and yeast as well as how the brewing process drives flavor.

Thanks for joining me on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter or my podcast for more great tips on homebrewing.

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