Recipe Philosophy

Homebrew Talk - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Forum

Help Support Homebrew Talk - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Forum:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.


Active Member
Dec 31, 2007
Reaction score
Just wondering how you more experienced brewers got started with different styles. Did you try to make clones of your favorite beers or did you just throw stuff together to make something unique? I'm asking because I just finished brewing my 3rd batch and in my head, it's almost like I have free reign to make whatever I want and have tons of ideas in my head.
Welcome to HomeBrew. It's a lot like cooking, you just have to be familiar with what the ingredients will contribute or be willing to make that beautiful mistake.
Well, I've always followed recipes (sort of) and done "styles" or "clones". I think it's because I've always been a little cautious about making a beer exactly the way I like it. I overthink the ingredients, and the styles and have a hard time thinking up recipes. I think that's my basic personality and not something I'm proud of!

I wish I was the kind of person you are, though- that sounds awesome to have some ideas in your head and be willing to take some risks. I think some of the best brewers must be like that. I'm more likely to "experiement" with hops than with malts, unless I'm actually looking for something specific.
I'm still pretty new, so I mostly follow recipes that are known be good examples of a style. I'm still learning about different ingredients and styles, so this works for me.

But, yeah, I hear what you are saying. You do have the freedom to brew what ever you want and its a great feeling :mug:
I'll follow a proven recipe for the most part. I might adjust the grains/hops to dial down the ABV%, but always try to maintain the original gravity-to-IBU ratios by plotting on this chart.


With the shortage of hops right now, I think we're all forced to "improvise" our recipes.

One note, if you're going to create a recipe from scratch, avoid over complicating things.
I think that brewing new styles and formulating my own recipies is one of the best parts of brewing. I will normally pick a few styles that I haven't brewed before, then review the styles BJCP style guidlines and come up with a recipe of my own creation based upon those guidelines.

I'll then do some searching to compare the recipe I came up with to other similar recipes to make sure that what I have come up with is proper for the style. Sometimes I make some adjustments and other times I feel that my recipe is just fine the way that it is.

Don't feel that you have to be a style geek though. What's so great about this hobby is that you can brew whatever you want and as long as you like it - that's all that matters.
bradsul said:
Get yourself a copy of Ray Daniels book Designing Great Beers. It will help you to understand how the ingredients work and how they go together into the classic styles.

+1 for that book. Another thing I've done is take classic/solid recipes and brew them to the tee. Then I would tweak them in ways I thought I'd like to make them my own. You have to find the balance between creativity and acceptible combinations. Like anything else, knowing the fundamentals is crucial. You can't start improvising off the bat, but eventually you can go so far as forgetting style-guidelines if you like...

edit - brewtus and I are not purposely posting next to each other, although it may start looking that way
Last edited by a moderator:
Soulive said:
edit - brewtus and I are not purposely posting next to each other, although it may start looking that way

Lil' Sparky said:
:off: What's up with the Chewbacca avatars? ;)

Soulive is still suffering from Wookie envy... and now he's stalking me. :p

When you post whore as much as we do you're bound to respond to the same thread a lot. :D
Just something to keep in mind, is that like anything you do on your own your path to success may be littered with failures. You can dramatically reduce those failures, first off by following the 'rules' and if you brew 'in style' you are more likely going to be starting from a more normal combination of ingredients....however you most likely won't make anything truly unique (although I always wonder what hasn't been done eh?...probably not much, most things have been done). *shrug* brew what you like.... :D
A lot of my early recipes were from The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing. That would have been in about 1992 or '93. The Internet was nothing like it is today, and I don't think I even had a shell account until 1994 or '95, so there was much less information readily available. I did try tweaking a few recipes and making my own up, but I have to say they were not my best efforts.

These days, I usually am inspired by something I taste or a wild idea, so I then start researching the style or flavor I want, mostly online. This time, for example, it's Chimay's Cinq Cents which has me fired up, so I'm looking at Tripels. I read a bunch of recipes and such about what I'm trying to do, and take all the best parts to build my own derivative recipe. These are turning out to be the best beers I've ever made, and in several cases, better than the commercial beer which inspired the experiment.
I like to go through my brewing books for ideas; primarily Designing Great Beers and Radical Brewing. I also check out websites that have recipe pages (including this site!) and pay attention to recipes that won some kind of award or jsut sound interesting. There's a lot of great information out there. When I first started, I pretty much brewed "to style" and still like to try out classics. Brewing several different beers to style is a good, safe introduction to learn about ingredients and process variables. Experience is golden with this hobby.
Happy Brewing!
Usually I'll develope a recipe that fits my mood and then after it's done figure out which style it resembles closest. Problem is, that when you really look closely style tend to be really close anyway and vary by only a few characteristics.

This didn't become a realization until I had developed a spreadsheet that allowed me to choose ingredient from what I have on hand, and from there it would sort out what styles typically include said ingredients. It was really shocking to see the commonality and how little variance there is between some styles.

The key, IMO, is to keep your recipes simple. All to often I see guys who throw a little bit of everything in, don't like the end result, and then ask what happened (why isn't this beer this way or that way.).
i brewed a few clones from Beer Captured and although they none of them were a perfect clone, they gave me tons of information on how ingredients affect flavor.

i've made lots of mistakes and used too much of certain ingredients (rye, acid malt, etc.) which told me alot about how they taste as well. really, screwing up is the best way to learn.

i'm constantly designing recipes even if i don't brew them. i'm constantly reading and checking out other people recipes online. i've gotten quite good at it in a relatively short period of time and the majority of my recent brews have been fantastic.

just dive in, experiment (but keep it simple) and you'll learn alot.
I also go to Designing Great Beers when I am thinking about a recipe. However, no one has mentioned the Classic Beer Style Series. If you are interested in a certain style, or something along the lines of such a style, you really ought to check and see if it's covered in that series. They are amazing books that get deep.

I also like to look at many different recipes and play around with the different ingredients. I am at a point where I can look at a recipe and get a pretty good idea how that beer will come out, and I can vary it in my mind to the same result. I manage to get pretty close, but I've had a lot of experience. The only way you will become adept at formulating recipes is to do a lot of research in books and beer. You have to learn, first hand, what each ingredient and process does to a beer. Then you can start to put them together.

So, do like DeathBrewer said: Dive in and keep it simple. Pay attention, and you will find your knowledge growing exponentially.

What they said.

Read everything you can get your hands on again and again, taste good beer and screwed up beer, brew with intent and record what you do, judge other people's beer and your own, compete so you can get unbiased feedback. Work with consistent ingredients and process. In short, do all you can to develop your bag of tricks.

Bottom line - enjoy every aspect of this great avocation!
I personally brew "whatever". I told myself I was going to do a batch of hobgoblin and got tired of pouring in Maris otter, so I modified it and went out on my own. :)

If I've got stuff around that I don't want to go stale, I toss it in.

Take notes, and look for patterns.

It was said that the important thing is to know how the ingredients affect your brew and there's a ton of ways to do that.
TexLaw said:
I also go to Designing Great Beers when I am thinking about a recipe. However, no one has mentioned the Classic Beer Style Series. If you are interested in a certain style, or something along the lines of such a style, you really ought to check and see if it's covered in that series. They are amazing books that get deep.

+42! Let me give you an example. Say you want to brew a classic English-style Special Bitter. In Terry Foster's Pale Ale, you'll not only find how to brew one using modern ingredients, you'll also learn why pale ale developed through history and how to serve pale ale in the traditional way - the section on cask-conditioning is only slightly less detailed than my copy of CAMRA's Cellarmanship.

Well worth the ten bucks, IMO! Eventually I'll collect the entire set, even though there are some styles I never brew, just because I voraciously devour information. ;) Plus, there are styles in the Classic Styles series which Designing Great Beers doesn't cover.

Moving on.

What got me brewing in the first place, back in 1994, was economy. I was poor, and in my area quality beer was bloody expensive. The mountains of Central PA were a good beer wasteland; what you could get was imported and twice to three times as expensive as domestic industrial brews. But this was just after I left active service in the US Army, where I had sampled lots of different quality brands.

So, long story short, I wanted to drink the stuff I used to buy all the time but was now too poor to purchase even if I could find it. So I got The New Complete Joy at the library, assembled some gear and went to it.

Back then, I brewed those recipes from NCJOHB that looked tasty, and for which I could find ingredients. Since then, I always start recipe formulation with a specific goal in mind, and go through a process.

1. What time of year do I want to drink the beer? Thus, in late March I might brew a Witbier, an Old Ale, or Trappist style. Witbier to drink while it's fresh, the others to age until the snows of winter.

2. What do I have in stock? I try to always have a session beer ready to drink. Sometimes that's challenging, but nevertheless...

3. What do I have in stock? I mean by way of ingredients. If I only have 6 pounds of Briess Gold LME, some Willamette and a packet of Nottingham, trying to brew a Tripel is pretty much pointless. But an American Blone Ale, OTOH...

Anyhow, when trying to make new styles, it's usually because I had a commercial example of the style and found it intriguing. In other words, I rarely if ever try to brew something if I don't have an available, drinkable reference to guide me, even with a book or award-winning recipe.

So I guess you could say I try to clone. I'll get some samples of styles benchmarks - for example, SNPA if I was after an APA - drink them, read up on recipes and techniques, take one of the recipes, tweak it so's it's mine, and brew up. When it's ready, get some more samples of the benchmark, drink 'em side by side, and see how well I got there.

These days, I flatter myself that I can figure stuff out fairly easily, and formulate recipes in my fevered brain. But there are still areas where I have little experience; if someone were to force me to brew a Doppelbock, I'd have to hit the books. ;-) But American, English and Belgian ales I think I can fly solo. ;)


Last edited by a moderator: