Ask any brewer how they approach crafting their recipes and you’ll likely receive as many answers as brewers you ask. Likewise, it is rarely constructive, or even appropriate, to comment on what is “good” or “bad” when it comes to recipe formation. With those ground rules laid down what I can write about is how we approach our recipes.
Some of the beers we have lined up are based on proven time-and-time again contest winners, or favorites that our friends and family will be familiar with, or fresh ideas we’ve dreamt up together. Other times we just give Chad a yellow pad and shout ideas at him.
Joking aside, every recipe we’re working with goes through the same process:
We start at the end. Imagining a finished beer, the flavor, aroma, mouthfeel and carbonation level. Once we have a rough concept of the finished beer, building the specific beer from the thousands of available malts, hops, and yeast strains is the next step. Not only is there a plethora (“you told me I had a plethora…”) of ingredients, but different suppliers provide access to varied examples of otherwise similar ingredients with a different manufacturer or terroir (ex: Michigan Cascade hops vs. Oregon Cascade hops).
At this point, consulting the classic styles can be helpful. The Beer Judge Certificate Program (BJCP) promulgates the “classic styles” (American IPA, Vienna Lager, German Pilsner, English Mild, and on and on…) and updates them regularly with parameters that are recognized internationally. This is not to say every beer has to fit a style, as that’s a conversation for another time. Regardless of one’s opinion on the use of classic styles, the guidelines are a practical resource for recipe formation.
Deciding the ratios of each ingredient to reach the target thresholds, such as a focusing on a particular specialty malt or hop profile, is brought into the recipe at this time. Each beer provides different challenges at this stage. Sometimes the hop combination and addition times takes forever to balance. Other times its the malt bill (simple is good). To us the choice of which yeast strain to pitch and the pitching rate is particularly important. It is a decision that is sometimes obvious and sometimes frustratingly confounding. Which lab, the yeast strain, pitching rate, and the temperature range all takes critical consideration in order to reach our target beer.
Once the general concept is outlined and ingredients selected, inputting the recipe into a calculation that applies our brewhouse and fermentation tank volume, water flow rate, dead air space, and build, as well as the different heating steps and transfer time for a specific beer, allows us to fine tune the amount of each ingredient necessary to reach our target numbers.
Finally, testing the source brewing water cannot be overlooked. Whether or not, and how, to treat the water to downplay or accentuate the maltiness/hoppiness/bitterness of the beer is factored in with the brewhouse calculations.
Now after all that, just shouting ideas at each other doesn’t sound like such a bad idea anymore, does it?
This is what works for us, but it certainly doesn’t work for every other brewery. For Hop & Barrel this process makes sure our recipes are tailored to our brewing process, but more importantly, screened by each person involved in that process. Chad, Brian and I each come from a different brewing background, but having the ability to bring those experiences together is what our process, and ultimately our brewery as a whole, is all about.