Simple Recipes Make Great Beers

Hot water tank. The hot water is then mixed with the grain and the mash process begins.

When you begin to make your own beer at home, most new brewers start using “beer recipe kits” which contain ingredients to make a certain style of beer. You can buy these from home-brew supply stores and the recipe is usually written or put together by the store staff or the owner himself. These kits are great when first starting to brew  because it allows you to get the right process down, teaches you the basics, and gets you into the habit of sanitation. Since the recipe is pre-written and already thought out, it also allows you to just pick your favorite style of beer and brew it. Invaluable for a new brewer.

  • Progressing from kits to original recipes

As you switch from using store-bought recipe kits to brewing  your own recipes, as with anything new in life, you look to your peers for advice. Sometimes you read other brewer’s recipes to get basic idea of how a beer recipe is written. Some recipes are simple and straight forward. A “SMaSH” beer,(meaning SingleMalt and SingleHop), is the most basic of all beer recipes and will leave the ingredients with “no where to hide”, thereby forcing all flavors to be singled out for evaluation. Other recipes have huge everything-but-the-kitchen-sink,laundry-list of ingredients containing any and every specialty malt available. I have always felt that these types of recipes can easily get out of control and tend to mud up the flavor in th end. In the beginning, its easy to write these types of recipes as you are still trying to figure out what each ingredient tastes like by itself in a “beer setting”. But in the end you need to ask, “what flavor am I looking to add to or enhance by adding… (insert ingredient here)?”  

Think about how the beer will benefit from each ingredient that you add. For example: “Is it really necessary to add 4 different types of crystal malts and carapils/dextrine malt and an ounce or two of  munich malt?” In that instance: 1) for crystal malt – try to pick a lovibond or color that is close to what you are looking for. 2) carapils/dextrine malt adds body (dextrines) to the beer when that same effect is achieved by mashing at a slightly higher temp. 3)  As far as adding the Munich malt in this case, more than likely won’t add much of anything in terms of its character to the beer in that small of an amount.  I find malts like Munich are better when used in place of some base malt or as the base malt itself. Often there are ways to add flavor without adding an excessive amount to specialty malts by using extended boils or different mashing techniques.

British pale malt in a malt mill hopper.

Allow the base malt speak to for itself!

I tend to write my grain bills with more emphasis on base malt than a ton of specialty malts. I feel the specialty malts should only be there to support the base malt in most cases.The obvious exception would be porters and stouts.  The specialty malts typically drive the flavor in those styles with the roasted barley and chocolate malt being the dominate. But even in that scenario I still tend to write a simple grain bill. In the case of a stout, it doesn’t take much roasted barley to get the classic coffee-like stout flavor. Some of the best beers in the world use only ONE  malt such as, Pilsner Urquell. The only malt used in its production is pilsner malt. It is how they use that pilsner malt that gives it more character. Other beers like Oktoberfest/Marzen are traditionally low on specialty malts and get most of their profile from the use of Munich, Vienna, and Pilsner malts.Both of these beers traditionally use decoction mashes and extended kettle boils to gain additional complexity and flavor.

 Hops could be looked at in this same scope – to a point. Consider Bell’s Two Hearted Ale: a great example of a simple recipe with only Centennial Hops at the forefront. Often times cited as a Centennial IPA. (Coincidently it is often at the top of  the lists of many beer geeks all time favorite beers.)  This is a classic example of a simple beer recipe and showcases what a good brewer can do with great ingredients.

It’s always a sure sign of a great brewer if he/she can take minimal ingredients, and make a great tasting beer with good character. Great brewers, like great chefs, have a respect for their ingredients. It’s all about making a  great beer at the end of the day.  And after all  its your blood,sweat and tears put into it and you brew it the way you see fit. Look at advice like guidance as opposed to rules. But I can’t emphasize enough about letting your taste buds guide you to excellence. Time and experience are always the best teachers but there also comes a time to trust you gut feeling. I urge you to try single malt,single hop brewing. It gives you chance to taste each ingredient individually whether it be yeast,malts, or a new hop. It will enable you to dial in the exact profile of each and what each brings to the table. As the saying goes ” simple is always more”. Happy Brewing.


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