I am relatively new to this hobby of brewing, with less than a year under my belt, though have brewed enough batches to understand the fundamentals of formulating a recipe that myself and people around me enjoy. I constantly see the threads that ask the question, "Does this recipe look good?" or "Will this be beer?". The answer to both questions are, it depends and yes.
The first time that I took beer recipe formulation into my own hands, I created a beer that was consumed in under one week from the date that I kegged it. Was it a great beer, no. Was it a beer that we drank, yes. Will I make it a second time the same way, never. The reason that I say this is because I personally have learned so much since then that I wouldn't formulate it in the same way. I wouldn't add so much Crystal, and might vary the crystals between some 40L and 120L. I might also add in a handful of chocolate to add a little bit of bitter. All that aside, I started with a product that I knew that I enjoyed and built from there.
This art of making beer, it is a lot like cooking. A pinch of Chocolate Malt, a handful of Rye, Three cups of Maris Otter or in the Extract brewer some DME. Point being is that if you know that the end product will taste like beer, then you are on the right track.
Onto the point I am trying to make. Start with the basics of every recipe. For example, with my Sweet Delicious Mowlawner
I knew two things that I wanted to achieve. First off was that I wanted something that was light enough to drink during the heat of the day and Second that I wanted a nice hop aroma and a creamy head.
Knowing what I like made this recipe easy to come up with. Pale malt as a base, rye for creaminess and flavor, Victory for a biscuit/toast flavor and some Crystal for color and body. The hop profile is as such because I enjoy citrus and don't like my beers overly bitter (when mass consuming after working on the yard, bitter is not a thirst quencher in my book), so I aimed at the lower end of IBU's and decided to get some great aroma from a small dry hop after fermentation had finished.
When I put together a Stout, I knew that the traditional dry stout recipe is tradition for a reason, so start there. I personally like the chocolate flavor, so I add chocolate. Now I have a chocolatey, coffee flavored stout that I can drink multiple pints of because I set the alcohol within a range that can be enjoyed on a friday night, 4.5%.
When I write a recipe, I think of four things. Alcohol level, Body, Balance and Aroma.
Alcohol: If creating an easy drinking beer then I stay between 4% and 6%. For an enjoying beer I go 6% to 9% and above that is a sipping beer. Remember, alcohol can give the perception of sweetness also, so if you are making at 10% beer you will want something to balance it out.
Body: Body comes from a variety of things including crystal malts, roasted malts, alcohol, attenuation level and hops. Too much body creates what some can describe as "sickly sweet" and "cloying" or "thick". Not enough is "thin" and "watery". The balance between the two is key and often times I find that people make a beer that has too much of one or the other. On higher attenuating beers, you might have to add in some crystal in order to keep the body at a level that competes with the hop acids. On lower attenuating beers, the body will be there without the addition of too much crystal, so less is more in this case.
Balance: This to me is the most important. I find that without a good balance between the hops and malt you have a beer that is incomplete. Hop acids are able to lower the ph level in beer quite an amount, so without the malt backbone or attenuation there to assist in keeping them in check you can have an out of balance beer. On the flipside there is the too malty a beer that just tastes sugary and thick and doesn't have that acid to keep it in check. Think Sweet and Sour chicken. It works for a reason.
Aroma: When you walk into a house during the holidays and your nose tells you that there is food cooking, your mouth waters. You know that turkey and gravy will taste fantastic. The same can be said about a beer. Great aroma comes from many places including the hops, grain and yeast. I personally can die a happy man with a great hoppy aroma, but there are times when making a lower hopped beer that you need to understand that not everything is hops. Great malty aroma in a brown, or yeasty in a belgian or wheat is also inticing.
To close this post, I will say that start simple and build from there. My stout that I mentioned is a work in progress. I have found the ideal amount of flaked product to keep that glorious smooth character and tight head. The amount of coffee flavor is about right, the chocolate is right, and I like the alcohol level. I am still working out the kinks of how much attenuation, which yeast and the level of roast that I personally enjoy the most. Over time, since the beer smooths out, I have found that more roast is needed. I began with a recipe of Pale Malt, Flaked Barley, Roasted Barley and Chocolate. From there I have added Black Patent, Flaked Rye, Flaked Oats, some Crystal 60L, some Crystal 90L and various other things in order to find out what is just right for me. Trial and error is part of the fun.
If all else fails, make someone elses recipe from the tried and true section.
I hope this helps.