9 / 2018- Tech Talk: Recipe Creation

Below are my notes from the tech talk I gave at the last meeting.


Recipe Formulation: The Creative Side of Brewing



My Philosophy

What’s the Big Idea?

Build Your Flavor Profile

Practical Example: Imperial Stout


Caveat: My Philosophy


I’m a problem solver, an engineer. I am  technical, detail-oriented, and methodical.  


  • Strive for Consistency in my processes.
    • Recipe Development Process
    • Wort Production Process
    • Fermentation Process
    • Packaging process.
  • Change one thing at a time.  Or control for multiple changes.  
  • Take intelligent notes.  
    • Track both target and reality to improve reliability.
    • Focus on what’s important.   
  • Complexity is good, chaos is not. Thus, I tend towards simpler recipes:
    • Base malt or two.
    • Couple character malts
    • 2 or 3 hop varieties.
    • 1 yeast.


What’s the Big Idea?


Start High Level

  • Write a menu description.
  • Instead of Flanders Red or Imperial Stout, How about:
    • A complex, malty red ale, with dark fruit character, mild oak, pie cherry Brett funk, and a refreshing acidity.  
    • A thick and luscious black ale with prominent bittersweet chocolate flavor,  undertones of mocha and french roast coffee and notes of dried cherries and plums, with a deceptively high ABV.
  • For competitions, this should be based on overall impression and supporting sensory descriptions from BJCP guidelines.


Build Out Your Flavor Profile: Add Some Detail to the Big Idea

  • What flavors? What intensity?  This guides ingredient selection
  • Learn ingredients.  
    • Descriptions are helpful, but no substitute for individual experiences.
  • Keep intelligent notes.
  • Taste your malt.
    • Chew test
    • Malt teas
  • Smell your hops.
  • Yeast is a little trickier.
    • Sample beers made with the yeast
    • Ask people what yeast/temp they used.  you might be surprised.
    • Note: Don’t judge a yeast by its starter.
  • Eventually, you can reach a zen stage and “taste” a beer by looking at a recipe.   



  • Base Malt: Neutral (Graham Cracker)? Saltine Crackery? Bready?  
  • Toast/Roast: biscuit, bread crust, mocha, marshmallow, chocolate, coffee
  • Crystal:  toffee, candy apple, burnt sugar, dark fruit, raisin
  • Brewing Sugar: corn, cane, range of invert, range of Candi syrups



  • What level/type of bitterness?  Bite-y? Smooth? 
  • What type of flavor? Citrus? Earthy? Herbal? Fruity?
  • What intensity of flavor/aroma?  Background complexity? Olfactory overload?



  • What character?   Geographic?
  • Clean? Expressive?  
  • Fruity? Phenolic? Funky?  
  • Malt or Hops-forward?
  • Highly variable depending on:
    • Strain,
    • Pitching temperature,
    • Fermentation temperature,  
    • Pitching rate



Water manipulation is whole other discussion.

Dechlorinate always.  Chlorine does nothing good for your beer’s flavor.


Practical Example – NHC Gold Medal Imperial Stout


Big Idea: A thick and luscious black ale with prominent bittersweet chocolate flavor,  undertones of mocha and french roast coffee and notes of dried cherries and plums, with a deceptively high ABV.  


Aside: I am decidedly a fan of the what I call the British interpretation (smoother, maltier, less attitude).  Sierra Nevada Narwhal is a good American example of this interpretation of the style.


Full Disclosure: My NHC Gold beer was not an original recipe of mine.   It was…heavily inspired…by the 1914 Courage Imperial Stout recipe from the Shut Up About Barclay Perkins blog [


].  It appealed to me because it’s a fairly simple grist (like my own recipes often are), and showcases a couple of rather underappreciated malts.  


Flavor Notes


Bittersweet chocolate – British Black Patent Malt, NOT CHOCOLATE MALT. Maltster matters.   For British BP, Muntons is commonly available, but has a predominant ashy, italian roast coffee note that takes seemingly forever to smooth out.   I much prefer Baird’s, which has more of a bittersweet chocolate flavor, with french roast coffee undertones, and some dark fruit notes. If you brew this, seek out the Baird’s (note: Farmhouse Brewing Supply).   Big Stout needs big flavours, so lots of specialty malts. 9% of the grain bill was BP. That was like 2.6 lbs.


Mocha – British Brown Malt.  Crisp Brown Malt seems most common, although Simpson’s is also available.  From this malt, I tend to get things like mocha, diner coffee with cream, and maybe walnuts.  Brown provides a “middle roast note” that can add complexity to darker roast flavors. Lots of BP needs lots of brown malt.  16%, or 4.7 lbs


Maris Otter.  Base malt is a background player in a beastly beer like this.  With the other malty flavor, they need a strong base. Thus: Maris Otter.  Rich, Bready, with a touch of biscuit. I favor Fawcett and Crisp Gleneagles.  If you’re doing the math, that leaves 75% of the grain bill, or 22.2 lb.


In this beer, hops just provide a supporting bitterness. I had a bunch of UK Challenger and UK First Gold that needed to be used up.  Both provide a fairly smooth bitterness, and have a lot in common, flavor wise, with the archetypal EKG, herbal, earthy, maybe a slight orange marmalade note.  None of the pine/grapefruit that’s common in US hops.


Yeast- Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire, plays up malt, while finishing on the dry side.  Produces nuttiness and stone fruit esters. If you can find fresh Samuel Smith, this is their yeast.  It is a favorite English yeast of mine. For this yeast, in a closed up carboy, I like the flavors I get at 68 F or 20 C.



Know your ingredients

Start with a Big idea

Fill in the Details


Additional Resources

“Brewing on the Ones”. Drew Beechum.  Zymurgy/NHC archives.

“Brewing from the Inside Out.”   Randy Mosher. NHC archives

“Mastering Homebrew” by Randy Mosher

“Brewing Better Beer” by Gordon Strong