How To Design Your Own Beer Recipe – Step 1 – Specialty Grains

How do you make your own recipe?  

So many homebrewers get into brewing beer because this was ultimately their dream, to come up with a recipe of their own that was perfect to their palate.  I get asked a lot, and I mean, A LOT, “How do I go about making my own recipe?”.  So I’m writing up this series that will hopefully guide you along the process of making your own beer recipe.  My goal is by the end of it, you have the confidence as well as bit of direction on how to create your own recipe and if possible, to be able to look like a boss when explaining this to your friends.

I started writing this out and I had a moment I must confess, I was looking at what I was writing and thinking, “Wow, there is actually a lot that goes into it.”.  It’s bad when the  teacher is thinking that… The truth is there is and there isn’t, but at first glance you might get a little bit intimidated.

The moment where I felt this way was when I realized how much information I kind of have to throw out there.  The reason is, there are so many different styles of beers but most likely you will start to stay within a range of stuff that you normally use and things you don’t.  So when you’re reading over this just know some of these ingredients will not really apply to you.

I’ll try to explain how I use them as well.  I find personal experience sometimes helps, so I’ll add my ten cents to it along the way.  So let’s get started and take a crack at this.

The biggest key when making your own recipe is this:

You have to taste everything along the way.  I mean when it comes to grains smell them, take some chew on them.  Eat those grains like they’re going out of style (Crystal 40L taste like candy, just saying).

Same thing goes with the hops, grab a pellet and suck on that bad boy, smell it as well.  Dip your finger in the malt extract and lick it up.   This is the only way to start to associate certain grains and hops with certain flavors.  Your palate will get keyed in by doing this.  You’ll notice when you drink micro’s after a while of doing this, you can start to call out the hops/grains that they use – no joke.

Mentality you have to have when you’re making your own recipe:

If you remember that beer personality that was posted, I am a cook and chillax brewer.  This isn’t the only type that can build recipes but it really does make it easy when you look at beer as food.

In order to come up with recipes I look at it as I’m cooking up a meal.  Maybe it’s because I love to cook, but it’s the only way I know how to come up with recipes.  Just like cooking, if you were to make eggs, you most likely wouldn’t add coriander to it.  Why? You know that with eggs there are things you can add to them and things you can’t.  Salt, pepper, Tabasco sauce, peppers, mushrooms, onions, bacon, sausage, cheese and so many more are typically what goes well with eggs.  Top choices are not coriander, paradise seed, whip cream, steak sauce, mayo, etc.  But see, you know that because you’ve made eggs a thousand times in your life.

Where I’m going with this is, you need to know what taste like what when your making a beer.  Just like cooking you’ll start to learn that certain grains go well with other grains.  Certain hops go well with certain hops.  Eventually it just turns into patterns in a weird way.  I’ll make sure to have a post in this series about some patterns.

Another point to guide you along the way:

When I make beer recipe, I think what I want as the focal point of the beer to be.  You’ll see me say focal point a lot in this series, I don’t know any other word to describe it.  What I mean by, “Focal point” is, when I open up the beer what’s the first thing I want to notice, aroma, hops, malts?  When someone describes your beer what is the word they will use?  Citrusy, light, roasty?

Once you figure out the focal point, then you start to eliminate things pretty fast.  If you want a big hoppy beer, you can start to really eliminate a lot of grains.  You honestly won’t be able to taste a lot past a 90 min boil of Summit at 16.1%.

Same goes for if you want a Smokey aroma/flavor, you can really elminate a lot of hops.  We’ll take the hop part when it comes and just worry about the grains today though.

How much specialty grains should I use?

People that are just starting off with making their own recipes usually fall under a major pit fall.  Too many grains, or too many different types of grains.  A rule of thumb when starting off with building your recipe is, choose 3 grains for specialty grains and will keep it under 2 lbs for total weight.

When you add more you might start getting to many flavors that will run together and when it’s over 2 lbs you will come into problems with over powering flavors (very general statement, but one to consider).

Description of grains?

So to start with, to make life easy let’s look at different grains and what they taste like.  Brew your own magazine has a pretty good chart on their website.  I’ll be using this as a reference and adding a bit to their descriptions along the way.

Grain Description

Black Patent Malt:

500L. This gives color as well as a strong sharp flavor to the beer.  A little goes a long way with this malt.  Normally used for porters, stouts, maybe in milds and browns. You’ll see this grain used in conjunction with chocolate malt as well as roasted barley a lot in American stouts.

Chocolate Malt:

350L. By the name it gives a chocolate flavor to the beer.  Most people think that chocolate stouts have something special in them, they might but usually the focal point is just chocolate malt.

Crystal Malt:

20L-120L.  Crystal malt is used to change the color of the beer. It also has a caramel flavor to it.  On the lower side of the numbers it is sweet and caramel like flavor.   As you move towards 120L it gives a reddish color to the beer and almost taste like raisins.  You can use this malt with many styles of beer.  On the higher end (80L-120L) you might see it used in porters, and stouts.

Carapils:

1.5L .  Doesn’t do anything to the color, gives body and helps with head retention.  A lot of brewers will add this into their recipe as standard protocol.  Can’t really taste it just helps out with the head and body.

Munich Malt:

10L.  This is sweet, has a toasty flavor.  Very malty and has a bready type of flavor to it in my opinion.  You can use this with German style’s.  I’ve been putting just a little bit of this malt in with my Pale Ales and IPA’s to give more of back bone to the brew, especially when you are adding a lot of hops.

Victory Malt:

25L.  Gives a nutty type of flavor, has a biscuit flavor as well.  Gives golden color to the beer.  Great with milds and browns.  You can use this as a substitute for biscuit malt.  Really does give a nice body to the beer though.

Vienna Malt:

3.5L This is very much like Munich malt.  Lighter in color, but very close in the malty flavor.  This is one of those grains I feel is really under rated.

Wheat Malt:

2L.  Depending on how you use it, it will have different flavors.  It will give a creamy head for sure. If you’re doing extract with specialty grains you’re better off just using the flakes.

Aromatic Malt:

20L.  Much like the name, it gives a big malt aroma to the beer.  Used in a lot of Belgium brews.

Biscuit Malt:

23L.  (One of my favorite malts fyi.)  It has a biscuit flavor to the beer.  It will add to body and make a lot of beers smoother.  Any English style you can add this too.  It will help the beer taste like M.O if you are doing specialty grains with extract.  You could use this to Pale’s or IPA’s in order to give that back bone that they might need.

Caramunich I, II, III:

56L & +.  Very much like crystal malts in the fact that they have a sweet flavor.  They will give the beer a copper color.  Used a lot in German beers.  Cara is just short for Caramel.  So it’s a sweeter style of Munich in this case.  It’s used in German brews

Caravienna:

21L.  Again it’s a lighter version of the caramunich in every aspect.

De Bittered Black Malt:

500L.  It’s black in color but doesn’t give harsh flavors.  If you don’t like the flavor of black patent but need the color, this is the beer you need. Good for some porters but really makes a case to use it in Black IPA’s or whatever people are calling them these days.

Special B:

220L.  This taste kind of like sweet raisins.  Give a very potent caramel aroma and flavor to the beer.  It’s used for a lot of darker Belgian beers.  If you are using Crystal 120L most likely you could use this one somewhere in your recipe.

Acidulated Malt:

1.7L.  This gives beer a tang to it.  Smells exactly like salt and vinegar chips in my opinion.  Dry Irish stouts have this one it sometimes, wit’s, Saisons.  In my opinion, a little goes a long way with this one.

CaraAmber

23L.  Adds aroma and color to the beer.  Gives the beer an amber look.

CaraHell

8L.  Light colored and gives body to the beer.  Used in German brews.

Melanoidin malt

23L.   This is like Munich malt on crack.  Super malty and no need to mash.

Rye

2.8L .  Spicy in flavor as well as dry.  Rye-Pa’s are common but if you are doing extract with specialty grains I would stick with the flaked.

Smoked Malt

2L. Smells like smoke and taste like smoke.  Great for porters, Scottish brews.  In my mind you can use this one in colder months.  My personal opinion.  Reminds me of a warming feeling sitting next to a fire.

Flaked Barley

1.5L.  Helps with head retention, has a smooth finish to the beer.

Flaked Maize

1L.  Used for color, it lightens the body as well.

Flaked Oats

1L Adds body and creamy head. Oatmeal stouts naturally.

Flaked Rye

2L  Has a dry crisp flavor.

Flaked Wheat

2L.  Gives a hazy color and a slight wheat flavor to it.

Honey Malt

25L. Taste like honey nut.  Kind of reminds me of honey nut cheerios in a weird way.  I use this one in 60%-70% of my summer beers.  It’s about the only time I can figure a time to use it.  Really good with lighter beers where this is the focal point.  I’ve found that I need a fair amount to make it so I can taste it though.

Conclusion & What To Consider

And those are the main ones that I can think of.   Next we’ll get into the hops.  Until then starting eating your grains!

Also if you have any that you think I forgot and most importantly if you taste something different with the grains or would like to elaborate please leave in the space below.  I know and understand everyone’s palate is a bit different (that’s why some people think diet coke taste sweet and some think its tart), so the more voices the better.

 

Next Part

 

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30 thoughts on “How To Design Your Own Beer Recipe – Step 1 – Specialty Grains”

  1. I recently got into brewing and I wanted to say thank you. As someone who wants to learn more, especially concerning designing my own recipes, this is a very informative write-up. Kudos!

  2. That’s great! Thanks for the compliment, we try to break it down with homebrewing. I think a lot of information out there makes it seem like it’s a lot harder then it needs to be. I’m glad it was digestible!

  3. I love your website i had been doing kits to start out with to get the hang of it and now i want to make my own recipe but i didnt even know where to begain and i found your website and its awsome lots of helpful tips and direction i already feel more comfortable trying to make my own recipe now thank you so much

    “united we brew, drunken we fall”

  4. Ya, I’m familiar with that book. The approach that it goes by is really methodical. Kinda makes sense on some level, do you want a 9% beer or a 4% beer. Depending on your answer your answer there are, do’s and don’ts. It would include both (specialty grains, all extract, or all grain). The specialty grains aren’t going to swing the beer SG too much though. Most of your fermentation are going to be coming from the malt extract or in all grain your base malts. The specialty grains aren’t going to swing it. But if you figured out that normally I use 6 lbs of DME (or 7 lbs of LME) to get lets say a 6% beer with WLP007 Dry English ale yeast (all hypothetical) but you wanted to use certain specialty grains with it, you might have to drop down the extract by 8 oz in order to compensate for 1.5 lbs of specialty grains. I personally use beertools.com when I’m trying to figure out specifics such as that, and they will let you know how close to, “style” you are in certain departments if that matters to you. Other choices of course are the notorious beersmith. These day’s I don’t care that much about brewing to style, that’s not a slide to those that do care do. Personally I like looking for flavor profiles rather then putting my beer in a box and giving it rules. His methods though are good if you are trying to be authentic in the beer style. Let me know if that helps at all or if you are still trying to hash it out.

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  6. First Jay’s thanks you for you ongoing support. We strive to have the best customer service. It always nice to hear feedback as to how we are doing. If you have any questions or ideas for future content please email us. Thanks again for your support

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