Brewing to a Taste Profile

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The Custom Designed Beer

Remember, if you can describe it, you can brew it.

Ah, the glow of pride a homebrewer feels when one of their brews gets the unequivocal stamp of approval. If homebrewing is your hobby, approval is what you strive for. It’s really not too difficult to make drinkable beer, but hacking through the jungle of information available is somewhat daunting. Where do you start? What if your finished product isn’t close to what you intended? How do you modify it properly? Here are some suggestions to help you get to the Promised Land.

Three major things can make or break a beer: technical aspects, system adeptness, and recipe formulation.

First, let’s assume you’ve eliminated or reduced the frequency of technical problems: you’ve learned all you can about sanitizing; your fermentation conditions are within range—neither too hot nor too cold; and your yeast is healthy.

Next, you’ve mastered your brewing setup. There are as many systems as there are brewers. Even the simplest can work and work well. Perfect reproducibility isn’t necessary—it is homebrew, after all—but you should be able to establish some sort of consistency from batch to batch with regard to extraction rates, hop utilization, and such.

The third step, recipe formulation, lets a brewer fine-tune ingredients, temperatures and timing to get exactly the result he or she wants. Here are a few variables that the brewer can tweak:

You want a full-bodied beer. Use a less attenuative yeast (one that converts fewer sugars to alcohol), malt with more character (carapils for light beers or caramel for darker ones), higher mash temperature, or less adjunct (grains in addition to barley).

You want a lighter-bodied beer. Use a more attenuative yeast, malt with less character, or lower mash temperature, add some adjunct.

You like a darker beer. Use more color malts like caramel, chocolate and black, but be judicious at first. Increase boil time.

You want a lighter-colored beer: Use less or no color malts; pale ale or pilsner malt alone is OK. Combine extra light dried malt extact with minimal color malts. Reduce boil time.

Your last batch was too sweet. Incomplete fermentation is the culprit. Check fermentation temperature. Make sure your yeast is healthy when you pitch. Aerate well.

You like a lot of hop bitterness. Use more hops early in the boil; get a handle on your system’s utilization.

The last batch had a rough hop bitterness. Use low alpha acid hops in greater quantity for bittering.

You love hop aroma. Use copious amounts of hops in late additions for IPAs and pilsners. Don’t be afraid to add them very late, or experiment with secondary fermenter hopping or dry-hopping.

You like the definitive hop character of certain beers. Use the appropriate hops: Cascade for American, East Kent Goldings for English, Tetnang or Halletau for German, and Saaz for Czech beers.

You like a lot of malt character. Try decoction mashing, use Munich malts, use melanoidin malts.

Recipe formulation can be approached from many directions. Get a recipe from a brewer who always seems to hit what he/she wants. Experienced, good homebrewers are worth their weight in Kent Goldings. Join a homebrew club and learn some really obscure tips.

You can also consult one of the many books that exist. Here are a few. For general recipe formulation, cite Ray Daniel’s Designing Great Beers. For overall brewing methodology, there are the staples, The Homebrewer’s Companion and The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing by the whimsical and practical pioneer himself, Charlie Papazian. A new book entitled How to Brew by John Palmer is just as comprehensive as the Companion. For lager brewing, check out famed brewer/author Greg Noonan’s fairly technical Brewing Lager Beer.

Michael Jackson’s The Beer Companion and The Great Beers of Belgium are not brewing books, but they provide enough data for a savvy homebrewer to design a beer. Finally, download a copy of the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines. Like Jackson’s publications, the information is not extensive relative to a homebrewing book, but enough is there to get started.

One other key point to remember—stick with traditional ingredients as much as possible. In other words, German ingredients for German beers, English ingredients for English beers, etc. Also give some thought to water treatment.

Remember, if you can describe it, you can brew it.

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