Ask the Experts: What’s the Most Overlooked Item in Beer Recipe Development?

by Robert French | Last Updated: June 29, 2015

When planning your next homebrew, have you ever thought:

If I could just ask a professional this question, I would nail my next batch?

While some are lucky enough to have a pro to ask questions to, others rely on what they can find: the internet, books and other homebrewers. While these provide great and accurate information, you sometimes just don’t get the inside scoop.

So I reached out to a few of my favorite brewers and asked them one question:

“What is the one most over-looked item (or thing) when developing a beer recipe?”

I think you might be surprised by how some of the most respected brewers in the industry answered that question.

Ready? Here we go…

Vinnie Cilurzo — Owner and Head Brewer at Russian River Brewing Company

To me, the most overlooked item in recipe design is the fact that late and whirlpool hop additions give a lot more BU’s than most brewers (home and professional) think.  The wort can sit for a good amount of time post boil at high temperatures and the beer is picking up BU’s through this.

There is a general theory that 180F or below and you significantly lower the isomerization but there is still going to be some BU pick up.  The real key is for the brewer to take this into account in their recipe formulation.  So maybe they need to bump a particular hop utilization up from 5% to 10%.

Russian River Brewing Company
725 4th St. (brewpub)
Santa Rosa, Ca 95404
www.rrbeer.com

Travis Smith — Co-Founder and Head of Fermentation and Execution at Societe Brewing Company

Opened in May 2012, Societe Brewing is a production microbrewery in San Diego, California, producing roughly 3,000 barrels of beer annually.  Follow them along on or Facebook.

“The most overlooked part of developing a recipe happens to be the most important part of developing a beer. The reliance on a magical list of ingredients is not a recipe. The process is far more important than minor details of specific quantities or specific hop varieties or the latest never before used ingredient in a beer. All of those things impact a beer, but not as much as the process. The process makes or breaks a beer to the point that a good process can turn a bad list of ingredients into a drinkable beer, and can turn the perfect ideal combination of ingredients into a disastrous mess. The details that matter most in a recipe are questions of “how” and “why” not questions of “what” or “how much”.”

Societe Brewing Company
8262 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
San Diego, Ca 92111

Cory King — Owner and Brewer at Side Project Brewing

“Water Profile…

Beer has more water in it than anything else, yet brewers love focusing on new hop varietals, adjusting malt bills, exploring new barrels for barrel-aging and pushing the boundaries of their yeast strains when they are developing recipes. Understanding your water profile and how to adjust it to be tailored to the beer that you are trying to brew in order for everything to be in harmony and to be perfectly expressed should be the first item addressed when developing a recipe. The hardness, pH, concentration of ions and composition of salts all play into the expression of the hops, the richness of the malt, the mouthfeel and overall quality of the beer you are brewing.”

Side Project Brewing
7373 Marietta Ave.,
Maplewood, MO 63143

www.sideprojectbrewing.com
@sideprojectbrew
Facebook

Michael Tonsmeire — “The Mad Fermentationist”. Beer writer and homebrewing expert.

“Homebrewers often overlook the numerous advantages they have compared to professional brewers. Don’t artificially constrain your recipe designs to match your favorite craft breweries. Take advantage of your small size, and lack of financial, regulatory, and production constraints to brew the most interesting and delicious beers possible! Procure local fruit or honey too limited, expensive, or labor-intensive for craft breweries. Use experimental hop varieties not available in sufficient quantities for commercial production. Forage for ingredients impossible to obtain in marketable amounts. Age your strong or sour beers for months or years until they are at their best, or serve your hoppy beers and wheat beers within weeks of brewing. Blend in your favorite wine, spirit, or commercial beer. Ice concentrate a batch. Formulate recipes perfectly suited to your palate alone. In short, brew like pros wish they could!”

Michael Tonsmeire is the author of The Mad Fermentationist blog (www.TheMadFermentationist.com) and American Sour Beers (Brewers Publications, 2014).

Agostino Arioli — Founder and Brewer at Birrificio Italiano

“pH is often not taken into account in the recipe design and brewing process. It starts with my source water, which can vary throughout the year. Once my source water pH is determined I can make my initial adjustments. I will check the level at every step along the way from the mash, boil kettle and fermenter (both pre & post fermentation). Adjustments are made at every point as needed.  My primary method to lower pH is the use of Lactic Acid.  This is both an effective and efficient way to make the necessary adjustments. Depending on the recipe I shoot for a 4.9 to 5.2 before fermentation.  pH levels are important to the final product as they will influence the hop character and yeast activity. Testing the pH should be as normal as checking the gravity and temperature of your wort / beer.”

Follow up question #1:
Q: Is there a method you use to decide what you want the starting pH to be for each beer?
A: Different yeast have different needs. I try to figure this out every time I brew a beer using new yeast.

Follow up question #2:
Q: As the pH lowers during fermentation, how do you determine if it is on the right track to finish where you want it?
A: As a matter of fact I know it only for regular beers, comparing a standard chart with the fermentation going on.

Birrificio Italiano
Via Marconi 27 22070
Limido Comasco, Como, Italia
http://www.birrificio.it

Whatever you take away from each of the brewers’ responses, it’s safe to say there are many things to consider when building a recipe. From the ingredients, to water, to procedures — they’re all important.

I really want to thank each of the brewers for taking the time to respond and providing such great responses. And a very special thanks to Agostino for really going above and beyond and call me from Italy to make this happen.

Native to Southern California, Robert brewed his first homebrew with a good friend back in 1995 and has been brewing ever since. One of the driving forces that keeps him homebrewing is the sharing of beers. He gets far more enjoyment from sharing one of his brews than from just having a pint at home.