I used to enjoy brewing completely different styles of beer each time I had a chance to brew.
It allowed me to try all sorts of things and new concoctions. We really made some dumb crazy stuff. Some of it was good…some was not.
I’m talking a blueberry wheat with fresh blueberries in the fermentor or an imperial honey cream ale with something like 4 pounds of honey in a 5 gallon batch.
However, when I made the switch to brewing on an all-grain system, I began with a single recipe and brewed it over and over until I had it perfect.
To be honest, I probably would not have chosen to go that route at first, but I was engaged and planning a wedding, and my awesome fiancee and I had decided that we wanted to give out home brew as party favors at the wedding.
Well, I didn’t want to give away anything that wasn’t great! And I also needed to make a S#!%-ton of it! We wanted to have about 300 bottles – enough to put a couple in the hotel rooms of all of the guests, have a party favor for each guest in attendance, and also have some to enjoy after the rehearsal dinner with our wedding party.
I quickly learned that to have 300 bottles (left) by mid-August, I would need to brew a lot of the same style of beer. We would need to nail down a recipe, tweak it, and then make it over and over. And we had to leave some extra time in there in case we royally screwed something up and had to make an extra batch (which we did…I learned how to better calculate the volume of sparge water needed after that batch!).
So, what did I learn?
I found that by repetitively brewing and tweaking a recipe can help refine your palate and teach you what each individual ingredient brings to the beer. I could experience the difference caused by adding the hops at a different time, or by using purified water. I could compare and contrast batches that used more or less of a specialty grain. All-in-all, I learned a lot of things that I can now apply to every batch I brew.
While I do still enjoy brewing up different styles, I highly encourage any beginning home brewer to pick your favorite style and try to make one. Then tweak it, one item at a time, and see what you like and what you don’t. Odds are, after a few tries, you will really get to know your own tastes and you will learn how to brew a beer to match your taste. That knowledge can then be applied to any type of beer you make.
If you’re interested in the recipe we came up with for our “Matrimony-Ale,” it was an American Hefeweizen (perfect for the hot summer evening wedding) with 2-row, white wheat, and some 15L caramal/crystal. I used Czech Saaz and Tettnang hops, with an American Hefe yeast strain (that I harvested and re-used for each batch). And for a couple batches we used a little bit of sweetened dried orange peel, but we were not in agreement on whether or not that made it better…the jury is still out on that one, so I will let you decide.