3,2,1 - A New Frame Work for Developing Recipes

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After most of us have a few brew days behind us, and possibly a few beers in our belly, we get the bright idea that we can make a stellar recipe...on our first try. As I like to say, "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in awhile." However, chances are that squirrel is not you!
First Recipe Failures
I remember my first recipe - a southern English brown ale. I looked at the BJCP guidelines for 11B and saw there was a large emphasis on the "sweetness" in this style. I proceed to throw over 2-lbs of crystal 60L malt in that five gallon recipe and used very little hops which contributed to a low bitterness. A few weeks later my taste buds received a thorough lesson on the definition of a cloyingly sweet beer.
I believe I am like many other homebrewers who enjoy researching issues from previous batches and finding a way to fix them. I wasn't going to let a little recipe mishap get me down. I went back to the drawing board with a new goal in mind; figure out how to design recipes that won't suck.
Luckily, Christmas was right around the corner and I was able to add a few books to my wishlist. Santa must hate cloying Southern English Brown ales, too! I received Designing Great Beers and Brewing Classic Styles in my stocking.
I chose to read Brewing Classic Styles first and decided to stick with recipes straight from the book until I felt comfortable with getting back in the 'recipe development saddle.' Still to this day when trying a new style I will most likely reference this book. In the meantime I read Designing Great Beers and started formulating my first recipe, an English mild. That recipe went on to place in two homebrew competitions I entered that year.
Make Your First Recipe a Success with the 3-2-1 Framework
While learning from my aforementioned mistakes I would like to provide a framework to help new all-grain recipe developers. I call it 3-2-1.
While I am sure you have heard of SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hop) beers, which are designed to isolate and learn about individual ingredients, the 3-2-1 framework allows for some creativity without being too one-dimensional.
How Does it Work?
3-2-1 recipes comprise of three malts, two hop varieties and one yeast. You can use the table below to jump start your malt selection.

Three Malts

Pick one from each category. Make the majority of your grist from the Base malt category as this will be the backbone of your beer. Use smaller percentages from the Specialty Malt category and the Crystal/Roast Malt category. While this is not a hard-fast rule - its ok to pick two from category Specialty or Crystal/Roast - it is general concept that works quite well.

Two Hops
With so many hop varieties the possibilities here are truly endless. Just give a quick search on the forum for hop combinations and you will come up with some killer combos. For example I'm a big fan of cascade and simcoe in my hoppy beers.
One Yeast
Okay, I know most of us don't mix yeasts often in our brewing practices. But you have a ton of options with yeast. Depending on the style of beer you are going for your yeast selection will have a large impact on how the malt and hops are portrayed.


My Wrong Coast IPA recipe is essentially a 3-2-1:
3 - Pale Ale, Munich and Carapils malts
2 - Simcoe and Cascade hops*
1 - Safale S-05 yeast
Or how about a dry stout:
3 - Maris Otter Pale malt, Flaked barley and Roasted barley
2 - East Kent Goldings and Fuggles
1 - Irish Ale Yeast
Final Thoughts
Use discretion on malts from the Specialty and Crystal/Roast. Research the specialty malts you are considering using to prevent issues like I had with my southern english brown ale. Taste grains if possible at the brew store to see what flavors different malts contribute. Take good tasting notes and then brew the recipe again switching ingredients you think would enhance the recipe.
If you haven't designed your own recipe yet I encourage you to try it right now. 3-2-1 go!
* - I use a clean bittering hop as my bittering addition in almost every beer. I buy it in bulk and allow it to not count as part of your 2 hops #creativeLicense
** Extract brewers don't be intimidated either! Replace the base malts in column 1 with Dry or Liquid malt extracts and count it it as 1 of your malts.
The three malt two hop rule will help anyone having issues with beer identity for sure! It's too easy nowadays to add too many things into one batch.
Good article!
So how much, percentile wise, would you know to add for each grain addition? Is there a formula for that? Would you do , say, 80% base, and then !0% of the other two?
I know those don't have to be hard numbers as those could easily be 90, 5, and 5. I was just curious if there is an average percentage baseline to follow if one is new to formulating a new recipe.
Great article by the way!
@tadkays I somehow forgot Munich on the list, be sure to add it as a write-in
@Yesfan there is some leeway with the percentages though I would always recommend going for the "less is more" approach. I know some online vendors, or even the malting companies will list % ranges for specific malts and that could be a great place to start. I think this framework can greatly reduce recipe mistakes, but I dont want to state any percentages which could lead people in the wrong direction. For sake of example I will say my Wrong Coast is roughly 80/15/5 (Maris otter/munich/carapils)
Using your effeciency, you can calculate how many pounds of grain you need to get X alcohol by volume also taking into account yeast attenuation.
If you had a ten pound grain bill (80/15/5)
8 pounds would be base malt
1.5 pounds would be specialty
.5 pound would be caramel and roasted.
For less easy poundages, take your total pounds, we'll say 13.
13 X .8 = 10.4 Pounds of Base malt
13 X .15 = 1.95 Pounds of Specialty Malt
13 X .5 = .65 Pounds of crystal/ roasted malt
Add it all back together and you should get your 13 again.
Great article. Really enjoying the brew with Brett (not the type of yeast) Shegogue series. Learning alot.
I'm glad the previous article today was benched by the mods.
Thank you for this article! I enjoyed reading it, and it gives me something to consider when writing recipes.
It's a great framework to go off of for those who tend to go overboard. Unfortunately, I'm more concerned with ratios but this is a good start!
This looks like a great way to approach educational recipe design, I'll be trying it out myself soon.
Love that you specifically mentioned Cascade and Simcoe. Finding myself down to three varieties of hops and wanting to brew an APA, I ended up going Cascade/Simcoe so I can save the Amarillo for another brew. I was a little nervous it would be a weird combination, but now I'm really looking forward to it.
A good alternative to SMaSH beers! I've brewed two smash beers in my beer history and while they were good, I found they lacked complexity I typically enjoy, with the exception of belgian style beers.
Thanks for contributing.
I've found myself gravitating towards a similar process over the past couple years. Normally I am a champion of complexity, but there can be beauty in simplicity executed flawlessly.
@2005732 that is tough because robust porter tends to be a style with a very broad range. Let me know what flavors are you most looking for in your robust porter and I can try and come up with something
Nice article. Short and sweet.
I really like Cascade and Simcoe. I have yet to try them together but I'm sure it would make a nice brew.
I'll keep this 3,2,1 combo in mind next time.
@2005732, here's a Robust Porter recipe that follows Brett's 3-2-1 principal. BTW, it won gold at the NHC!
P.S. All gold medal recipes from the NHC, going back to 2004, are available online, here:
Interesting... Makes me feel more confident about a recipe I've been working on but haven't brewed yet. Absolutely follows this 3-2-1 concept! Wish me luck! :)
I'm finally starting to get comfortable with the idea of slapping my own grain bills together so this article is perfect. Great find
thanks for posting this - I am at my experimental stage in brewing and this was a great introduction for me into recipes. I actually have 5 one-gallon brews going today as we speak! Curious to see how different yeasts portray the same wort.
I love this concept! I've seen dozens of recipes online that seem to be "a pinch of this and a dash of that" and I hate spending all my time at the LHBS measuring a dozen different malts. I listened to a podcast on The Brewing Network a while back (not to pimp another brewing site) which stated pretty much the same thing, that simpler is better. Get the bulk of your OG from your base malt based on style (English, American, German, etc.) then pick a couple or at the most three specialty malts to steer the flavor and color, and use the same idea for hops. I'm at the stage in my homebrewing where I'm starting to craft my own recipes, and this will be a great help. Thanks!
Hey Brett,
I used your article to create a beer I call Stormy Sundae APA. This consists of mostly 2-row, some Carastan and a bit of wheat. Hops included Centennial (bittering) plus Nelson Sauvin / Citra for aroma and flavor. The result has the balance between malt and hops that I was aiming for in an APA, and pretty good head retention provided by the wheat. The Nelson Sauvin and Citra hops combine to make a 'fruity' beer that is quite drinkable here in the SoFL summer. The brew obtained a 1.53 OG and a 1.002 FG with a resultant 6.8% ABV. Your article was a great help and gave me the confidence to start creating my own beers.