Crafting the Beer of your Dreams: An Adjective Based Guide to Craft Beer Recipe Design

Crafting the Beer of your Dreams: An Adjective Based Guide to Craft Beer Recipe Design

Beer, one of the oldest and most beloved beverages in the world, is a product of careful craftsmanship and a dash of creativity. Craft beer has surged in popularity in recent years, with many different styles, flavors, and ingredients. If you're a brewer and are looking to create new and innovative beers, understanding the fundamentals of beer recipe design is crucial. In this guide, we'll explore the key elements that contribute to a successful beer recipe.

 

Choose Your Style: Selecting a Beer Style

Before diving into the specifics of your recipe, decide on the style of beer you want to brew. Styles range from light and refreshing lagers to robust and complex stouts. Each style has its own characteristics, and familiarizing yourself with them will jumpstart your creative juices.

Explore the Beer Judge Certification Style Guidelines published by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) which is a world-wide certifying organization for judges of beer and related fermented products. The guideline has 34 different beer styles and many sub types. This guideline comes in handy when you need a starting point for your creativity. 

 

Fuel Your Imagination: How Adjectives Facilitate Creativity

Adjectives play a pivotal role in fueling creativity by injecting vividness, depth, and nuance into our expressions. These descriptive words act as the brewer's palette, allowing them to paint more intricate and imaginative recipe ideas with language. Adjectives help a brewer provide a spectrum of choices that can transform a mundane idea into a captivating beer recipe. In essence, adjectives breathe life into the canvas of ideas, inviting a broader spectrum of possibilities and enhancing the power of a brewer's expression through beer.

Below are some examples adjectives grouped by the key beer characteristics of Aroma, Appearance, Flavor and Mouthfeel. 

Aroma Appearance Flavor  Mouthfeel
Toasty Pale Straw Malty Light Body
Smokey Straw Toasty Medium Body
Floral Pale Gold Smokey Full Body
Fruity Deep Gold Bitter Alcohol Warmth
Pale Amber Sour Creamy
Medium Amber Sweet Silky
Deep Amber Bready Astrigent
Amber-Brown Carmely
Brown Chocolatey
Ruby Brown Toffee-like
Deep Brown Peppery
Black


Start with the Basics: Understanding the Four Main Ingredients

The foundation of any great beer lies in its ingredients, Water, Mated Barley, Hops and Yeast. Adjuncts like sugar, honey fruit and others can also play a role but will be the subject of a future blog post. For the scope of this article we will focus on the aforementioned key four ingredients. 

Water:

Water is the primary ingredient in beer, constituting over 90% of its composition. It is a critical yet often underestimated element that significantly influences the flavor and overall quality of beer.

The mineral composition, pH level, and overall hardness of brewing water can have a profound impact on various aspects of the brewing process. The minerals present, such as calcium, magnesium, sulfate, and chloride, can influence the perception of malt sweetness, hop bitterness, and yeast fermentation. For example, higher levels of sulfate are known to enhance hop bitterness, while chloride can accentuate malt sweetness.

The pH of the brewing water is crucial in enzymatic processes during mashing and affects the overall stability of the beer. You can tailor your water profiles to specific beer styles, adjusting mineral content and pH to achieve the desired flavor characteristics.

Whether aiming for a crisp and hop-forward IPA or a rich and malty stout, understanding and manipulating brewing water chemistry can be a great tool for brewers striving to create beers with nuanced and balanced flavor profiles.

 

Malted Barley:

Barley grains are germinated and then dried in a process known as malting. The malting process develops enzymes that convert the grain's starches into fermentable sugars during brewing. Not all malt is created equal. Malted barley falls into two main categories, Base Malt and Specialty Malt. Understanding the different types of malt will help realize some of the adjectives you have imagined for your beer.

Base Malt

Base malts serve as the primary source of fermentable sugars in the brewing process. They undergo the malting process, where barley grains are germinated and then dried to develop enzymes that convert starches into sugars during mashing.

Base malts are characterized by high enzymatic activity, which is crucial for breaking down complex starches into simpler sugars. This enzymatic activity supports the overall efficiency of the mashing process.

Base malts typically have a lighter color and a milder flavor profile. They form the majority of the malt bill and provide the essential sugars needed for fermentation without contributing strong or overpowering flavors.

Below is a list of common examples of base malts and their contribution to beer.

 

Base Malt Description
Munich Malt Sweet, toasted flavor and aroma. For Oktoberfests and malty styles.
Pale Malt (Brewers 2-row) Smooth, less grainy, moderate malt flavor. Basic malt for all beer styles.
Pale Malt (Brewers 6-row) Moderate malt flavor. Basic malt for all beer styles.
Vienna Malt Increases malty flavor, provides balance. Use in Vienna, Märzen and Oktoberfest.
Wheat Malt Light flavor and creamy head. For American weizenbier, weissbier and dunkelweiss.
White Wheat Malt Imparts a malty flavor. For American wheat beers, wheat bock and doppel bock.
Lager Malt Used to make light colored and flavored lagers.
Maris Otter Pale Malt Premium base malt for any beer. Good for pale ales.
Pilsen Malt Light color, malty flavor. For pilsners, dubbels, tripels, whites and specialty ales.

 

Specialty Malt

Varied Flavor, Color, and Aroma Contributions: Specialty malts are used in smaller quantities compared to base malts and are known for their ability to impart specific flavors, colors, and aromas to the beer. These malts undergo different roasting or kilning processes to achieve unique characteristics.

Wide Range of Colors and Flavors: Specialty malts come in a wide range of colors, from pale to dark, and contribute flavors such as caramel, toffee, chocolate, coffee, and more. They play a crucial role in defining the beer's style and complexity.

Limited Enzymatic Activity: Unlike base malts, specialty malts have limited enzymatic activity. They are often used for their flavor contributions rather than their ability to provide fermentable sugars.

Examples: Specialty malts include Crystal malt, Chocolate malt, Black patent malt, and others. Each imparts specific qualities to the beer, enhancing its overall character.
 

Specialty Malt Description
Black Barley Imparts dryness. Unmalted; use in porters and dry stouts.
Black Patent Malt Provides color and sharp flavor in stouts and porters.
Chocolate Malt Use in all types to adjust color and add nutty, toasted flavor. Chocolate flavor.
Crystal Malt 10L Sweet, mild caramel flavor and a golden color. Use in light lagers and light ales.
Crystal Malt 20L Pronounced caramel flavor and a red color. For stouts, porters and black beers.
Crystal Malt 30L Sweet caramel flavor, deep golden to red color. For dark amber and brown ales.
Crystal Malt 40L Sweet, mild caramel flavor and a golden color. Use in light lagers and light ales.
Crystal Malt 60L Sweet, mild caramel flavor and a golden color. Use in light lagers and light ales.
Crystal Malt 80L Pronounced caramel flavor and a red color. For stouts, porters and black beers.
Crystal Malt 90L Sweet, mild caramel flavor and a golden color. Use in light lagers and light ales.
Crystal Malt 120L Sweet, smooth caramel flavor and a red to deep red color. For porters, old ales.
Dextrin Malt (carapils) Balances body and flavor without adding color, aids in head retention. For any beer.
Roasted Barley Sweet, grainy, coffee flavor and a red to deep brown color. For porters and stouts.
Special Roast Provides a deep golden to brown color for ales. Use in all darker ales.
Victory Malt Provides a deep golden to brown color. Use in nut brown ales, IPAs and Scottish ales.
Biscuit Malt Warm baked biscuit flavor and aroma. Increases body. Use in Belgian beers.

 

Hops:


Hops are the cone-shaped flowers of the hop plant and are responsible for contributing bitterness, aroma, and flavor to beer.

Bittering Hops

Bittering hops are primarily added early in the brewing process, typically during the boiling phase. These hops contribute alpha acids, which are responsible for the beer's bitterness. The bitterness helps balance the sweetness from malt, providing a well-rounded taste. Common bittering hop varieties include Magnum and Warrior.

Aroma hops

On the other hand, aroma hops are added later in the brewing process, towards the end of the boil or during fermentation. These hops impart a wide range of fragrant and flavorful compounds, enhancing the beer's aromatic qualities. Aroma hops, such as Cascade and Saaz, introduce floral, citrusy, piney, or spicy notes, creating a sensory experience that goes beyond taste.

Carefully select and combine bittering and aroma hops to realize the adjectives you imagined. The more you brew with different types of hops the easier it will be to reached the desired balance in bitterness and aromatic complexity, shaping the unique character of of your beer.

 

When searching for hops to bring our adjectives to life check primarily for the Alpha Acids, Flavor and Aroma. There are a few more attributes you you can factor in when selecting hops but those are out of scope of this article and will be the subject of a future blog post.

Below is an excerpt from a table we found on homebrewacademy.com that is typical of the kind of helpful information you will see when you are searching for hops. 

Name

Alpha

Beta

Origin

Description

Aroma

Typical Beer Styles

Used For

Bravo

14.0-17.0%

3.0-5.0%

 

Pleasant fruity and floral aroma characteristics

Fruity,Floral

American Amber,American Pale Ale,India Pale Ale

Bittering

Cascade

4.5-7.0%

4.5-7.0%

American

Medium intense floral, citrus and grapefruit tones

Fruity,Citrus,Floral

American Amber,American Pale Ale,Barleywine,Imperial Stout,Brown Ale,Porter,Stout

Aroma

Cashmere

7.7%-9.1%

6.4-7.1%

 

Mild herbal aroma with strong melon, lemon, lime and slightly spicy notes.

Fruity,Citrus,Herbal

 

All Purpose

Centennial

9.5-11.5%

3.5-4.5%

American

Medium intensity floral and citrus (lemon) tones

Citrus,Floral

American Amber,American Pale Ale,Barleywine,Imperial Stout,Brown Ale,India Pale Ale,Porter,Stout,Wheat Beer

All Purpose

Chinook

12.0-14.0%

3.0-4.0%

American

Distinct, medium intensity spice and pine characteristics with subtle notes of grapefruit

Citrus,Spicy,Pine

American Amber,American Pale Ale,American Lager,Barleywine,Imperial Stout,Brown Ale,India Pale Ale,Porter,Stout,Wheat Beer

All Purpose

Citra®

11.0-13.0%

3.5-4.5%

 

Strong citrus and tropical tones of grapefruit, melon, lime, gooseberry, passion fruit and lychee

Fruity,Citrus,Tropical Fruit

American Amber,American Pale Ale,India Pale Ale,Porter,Stout

Aroma

Cluster

5.5-8.5%

4.5-5.5%

 

Strong floral and spicy characteristics

Floral,Spicy

American Amber,American Pale Ale,American Lager,Barleywine,Imperial Stout,Brown Ale,India Pale Ale,Porter,Stout,Wheat Beer

All Purpose

Columbus

14.0-16.0%

4.0-5.0%

American

Pungent, black pepper, licorice characteristics with subtle citrus overtones

Citrus,Spicy

American Amber,American Pale Ale,Barleywine,Imperial Stout,Brown Ale,India Pale Ale,Porter,Stout,Wheat Beer

Bittering

 

Yeast:

Yeast is a microorganism that ferments sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Beyond its primary role in converting sugars into alcohol during fermentation, yeast imparts subtle yet distinctive flavors that add depth and complexity to the final brew. The choice of yeast strain significantly influences the beer's character. Understanding the flavors that yeast add to our beer as well as how attenuation and flocculation affect beer are key to helping further turn your ideas into the beer that you imagined.

Flavor

There are three types of yeast that you have to choose from, Ale Yeast, Lager Yeast and Wild Yeast. Ale yeasts often ads fruity and estery notes, ranging from apple and pear to banana and bubblegum. On the other hand, lager yeasts typically yield a cleaner and crisper taste with fewer fruity esters. Wild yeast strains, such as those used in sour ales, bring forth tart and funky flavors, adding an adventurous twist to the beer landscape. The temperature and fermentation conditions further influence yeast flavors, showcasing the intricate interplay between yeast and other ingredients. In the world of brewing, yeast is a silent architect, shaping the nuanced taste that makes each beer a unique and flavorful experience. 

Attenuation

Attenuation refers to the degree to which yeast ferments and consumes sugars during the brewing process, affecting the beer's alcohol content and residual sweetness. High attenuation yields a drier beer with lower residual sugars and a crisper finish, while lower attenuation can result in a sweeter profile.

Flocculation 

Flocculation, on the other hand, determines how yeast cells clump together and settle out of the beer post-fermentation. Highly flocculant yeast strains create clear beers with a clean appearance, while less flocculant strains may contribute to hazier brews. Beyond aesthetics, flocculation impacts mouthfeel; highly flocculant yeast can produce a smoother texture, while less flocculant yeast may contribute to a fuller body. Brewers carefully select yeast strains and manage fermentation conditions to achieve the desired balance of attenuation and flocculation, crucial factors in shaping the diverse array of beer styles that enthusiasts enjoy.

Alcohol Tolerance

Fermentation creates alcohol and alcohol kills yeast. Higher alcohol beers ferment better with yeast that have higher alcohol tolerance for this reason. Keep this in mind when creating your recipe.

 

Below is an excerpt from White Lab's yeast chart that shows the type of information you should expect to find when you are searching for yeast from any yeast provider. 

White Label Yeast Chart

 

Balancing Act: The Importance of Recipe Balance

After you have chosen a beer style, imagined the adjectives that describe your beer and aligned them with the ingredients that will realize them you will have to use some guidelines to insure that they play well together. Achieving a balanced beer is a delicate art. Consider the interplay between malt sweetness, hop bitterness, alcohol content, and yeast character. Balancing these elements ensures a harmonious and enjoyable drinking experience.

 

Laying the Foundation: Building the Malt Bill

The key to balance lies in considering the malt's color, sweetness, and body. Begin by choosing a base malt that serves as the foundation for the beer, providing the majority of fermentable sugars. Lighter malts, such as Pilsner or Pale malt, are often preferred for a clean and neutral base.

To impart complexity, introduce specialty malts in smaller quantities. These can include crystal malts for sweetness, Munich malts for maltiness, and roasted malts for color and subtle roasted flavors. Typically, specialty malts make up a smaller portion of the total grain bill, ranging from 5% to 20%. However, this is a general guideline, and certain styles may deviate from this range.

The goal is to strike a balance between malt sweetness and bitterness from hops. Understanding the malt's potential for color contribution and flavor impact is crucial. Experimentation, attention to detail, and a keen palate are essential for achieving the desired equilibrium in a balanced grain beer, resulting in a beer where no single element dominates, allowing each ingredient to contribute harmoniously to the overall flavor profile.

 

Hop Balance

The BU:GU ratio, an essential parameter in brewing, specifically in the context of hop balance, plays a pivotal role in determining the equilibrium between malt sweetness and hop bitterness in beer. This ratio, often expressed as the ratio of bitterness units (BU) to gravity units (GU), is a key factor in achieving a harmonious and well-balanced beer profile. The BU:GU ratio helps brewers strike the right balance between the perceived bitterness imparted by hops and the residual sweetness derived from malt sugars. By carefully adjusting the amount and timing of hop additions relative to the beer's gravity, brewers can fine-tune the BU:GU ratio to create beers ranging from malt-forward and subdued bitterness to hop-dominant and assertively bitter brews. This ratio is a valuable tool for brewers seeking to craft beers with a desired flavor profile, ensuring that the interplay between malt and hops results in a well-rounded and enjoyable drinking experience.

The Higher the BU:GU ration the more bitter the beer. For example 1.0 = Highly Bitter, 0.5 = Balanced and 0.1 = Low Bitterness. So if you are creating a beer recipe that has an original gravity (OG) of 1.050 and IBUs or 25 your BU:GU ratio would be calculated as follows: 

IBU = 25 : BU = 25

OG = 1.050 : GU = 50 (use the last two digits of the OG)

BU:GU:  25 / 50 = 0.5 which yields balanced bitterness profile. 

The attenuation level of your beer will affect the beers perceived bitterness so it is important to make sure you hit hour target final gravity. Low attenutation will reduce the perceived bitterness of your beer bedause the additional malty sweetness will mute bitterness.  

  

Dialing In: Record, Learn and Keeping a Brewing Journal

It usually takes a few times brewing a beer to dial it in to make it the beer you dreamed of so maintain a detailed brewing journal or use brewing software to document each batch's ingredients, process, and outcomes. Learning from both successes and challenges will contribute to your growth as a brewer. 
After each time you brew the beer revisit your adjectives and try different ingredients and ingredients in different amounts and at different stages of the brewing process to fine tune your recipe. 


Final Thoughts

Crafting the perfect beer recipe is a blend of science, art, and passion. By imaging the adjectives that describe your dream beer, knowing the ingredients that can bring them to life you can create just about any beer you can imagine. 

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