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One of the greatest things about humanity is that each person is born with the desire to go and explore whatever it is they are interested in. That is why artists push themselves to better their craft, why athletes drive forward to enhance their technique, and why beer brewers constantly try to make new and unusual beer recipes that get people begging for more. You may even find that once you have made enough of other people’s recipes, you get a hankering to design homebrew beer recipes on your own. Guess what? If you want to know about inventing beer recipes, you are in the right place.
Today, you are going to get the inspiration you need, as well as a step-by-step guide to help you along the way!
Table of Contents
- Start With Beer Recipes You Already Know
- Inventing Beer Recipes Means Being Basic — At First
- A Sample of Beer Recipes
- Designing Beer Recipes from Scratch
- Formulate the Process
- Tips, Do’s and Don’ts of Inventing Beer Recipes
Start With Beer Recipes You Already Know
Oddly enough, most experienced home brewers are going to tell you the same thing: Start with recipes with which you are familiar. Sounds a bit weird, right? You want to develop something original and mind-blowing, not run of the mill. Well, every stroke of genius has a foundation. Look up beer recipes across the internet and double check the guidelines of certain beer styles. Some recommended databases include BeerSmithRecipes.com and HomebrewersAssociation.org. Forums are also a good place to swap some ideas with other brew nerds.
It may also be valuable to point out that you should not try to learn and experiment at the same time. If you have only ever done extract brewing, then you probably do not want to create a recipe that requires a triple decoction. Be comfortable with homebrewing beer first. Start playing like a mad scientist in their lab once you have bottled a fair share of beer and know how to avoid beginner mistakes.
Isn’t This Cheating?
Artists already know the feeling of being inspired by something and then using that model to make something new. They also know about the guilt that ensues. However, we mustn’t forget that creativity, no matter how limitless, has to start from somewhere. There are few things in this world today that are 100% out-of-the-box original. No idea stems from nothingness anymore. Everyone is inspired and guided by something.
So if you alter a recipe that is well-known but make it different in some way, then yes, that recipe is yours. The only time you might call your recipe a clone is when it tastes exactly like something else. If you end up making something taste like a commercial beer, because you followed a clone recipe almost completely, then you can’t call it your own.
What is permissible is using an inspired recipe that tastes a little different and naming it a tribute to said beer.
Inventing Beer Recipes Means Being Basic — At First
Hasn’t the basics been harped on enough? Not exactly. When you are looking to make a tasty homebrew of your own design, the science behind brewing beer is just as important as you desire to innovate. Sure, you could go online and seek out a widget to draft up a recipe, but it takes more than a computer to decide what is going to work.
With that said, there are some things both new and advanced homebrewers should keep tucked in your back pocket:
Whether starting from scratch or improving upon a favorite, the standard batch size of 5 gallons or 19 liters is often the easiest to use for your beer recipe outline. This makes sense because most mash tuns, carboys, fermenters, and kegs are crafted to accommodate 5 gallons. Making a standard sized batch also has another benefit. When all is said and done, if you create a Frankenstein’s monster of a beer, you didn’t waste too many ingredients or resources to do so.
Thus, whatever your goal, begin with 5 gallons (19 liters).
Your Ultimate Goal
Have you ever looked at a beer and thought, “What the [expletive] were they thinking?” Happens all the time. Of course, gauging the success of a beer, be it bacon beer or dessert beers or glittery IPAs, is difficult. Most of the time, the most outlandish recipes dig their own graves. But then you find out there are popular beers made from testicles and, well, things get wonky from there.
So, back to the first question. What are you thinking? Is this a prototype beer based on some wild dream? Are you recreating an old world recipe and making it new? Do you want to jazz up a plain beer you made weeks ago? Or do you simply plan on experimenting with some new nobles you purchased?
When formulating an outline, the objective is crucial. Think about how the final result should be and start building your recipe from there. Knowing the objective will keep your wild and crazy ideas in check.
The Ingredients Matter Most
You know you are working with 5 gallons or beer and have a general idea of what you are going to make. Now, do you know what ingredients you are working with?
Think for a moment about some of the most beloved beers in history. Most of the time, those beers use grains, yeast, water, and sometimes hops. Those simple ingredients make something rich and delicious, right?
Thus, start simple. The fewer ingredients on your shopping list, the better your beer is going to historically turn out. Plus, the fewer ingredients thrown into the pot makes it easier to sniff out problems.
For example, let’s say you want to make a tropical-flavored Hefeweizen. You already know that you will need at least 50% wheat for the grain and a handful of German hops. You could potentially change the yeast to see what changes, and if it is not as delicious as you hoped, you at least know it was that one alteration you made.
Go back to your ingredient list and try again. Mix and match your ingredients, but never forget the reason why you are using them!
Identify Any Constraints
One more thing. As a homebrewer, you have freedom when it comes to choosing the kinds of ingredients you want to sample. However, where brewers are often compelled to stay true to beer styles but have unlimited resources to get those right, you have very limited resources and space to experiment. The quality of your water, a lack of storage space, timing, or the technique required could put a dampener on whatever it is you are planning.
Of course, necessity breeds creativity. If you need a specific temperature for a primary fermentation that you don’t know can be achieved, or if you can’t source the right adjuncts, or if you cannot get your hands on a bourbon barrel, this is the time to think about how to overcome those issues.
A Sample of Beer Recipes
Here’s the rub: Once you get good at this whole thing, you are going to figure out new ways to go about it. Recipe design is something each brewer makes their own. You might find yourself focused on a flavor, while your homebrewing beer buddy likes to make spin-offs of their favorite craft brews. Each process is viable. The goal is to make your recipe simple, delicious, and to have fun while you are doing it.
In other words, do not be intimidated by the process outlined here. If you don’t think it is going to work for you, get this, you don’t have to use it! That said, knowing the skeleton of designing beer recipes starts you off on the right foot. Take a look at two methods of inventing beer recipes, then customize the one that is closest to your creative process.
Alternatively, you can watch this informative video about beer recipes:
Using an Existing Recipe and Making It New
Is there a beer recipe you love but wish you could tweak to make it just right? There is nothing wrong with starting with that beer and revamping it. Some of the best recipes to remix are those using the SMASH method. In other words, recipes that use a single malt, single hop, water, yeast, and your basic homebrewing equipment.
Here is an example of a Munich English Pale Ale SMASH:
- 2 lbs 3.27 oz of Munich Malt 20L
- 0.50 oz First Gold hops (divided into 3 portions of 0.14 oz, 0.14 oz, and 0.21 oz)
- 1 package of German Ale/Kolsch yeast (White Labs #WLP029)
- Mash your Munich malt at 151°F (66°C) for 60 minutes.
- Boil your wort for 60 minutes. For the same duration, boil 0.14 oz of First Gold hops.
- At 15 minutes into the boil, add another 0.21 oz of hops to the brew bag.
- At the last minute of boiling, steep the final portion of hops before removing the wort from heat and chilling it.
- Add in your German/Kolsch yeast when setting up for fermentation and follow your usual homebrewing method for secondary fermentation and/or conditioning and bottling your beer.
- The estimated original gravity is 1.046. Estimated final gravity is 1.009. ABV: 4.8%. IBUs: 31.7.
Mixing Up The Recipe
Obviously, this is an easy enough recipe to follow, and you can recreate it again and again, getting the same result every single time. But what if you want to spice things up a little? Here is how you would tweak this Munich English Pale Ale SMASH recipe and make it your own:
- You may split the First Gold hops in half and use Citra or Cascade hops at the 15 minute mark.
- Instead of using all the same malt, you could do a partial mash and then use an extract to make up the difference.
- During the last minutes of the boil, you can throw in some adjuncts, such as fruits or spices, to give the beer more flavor and tone down the bitterness.
Look at that! You have just made your own recipe without too much hardship. Yes, doing these could have an effect on the color, gravity, body, and mouthfeel of the beer. If you are concerned, consider using an online calculator or cross-referencing with other recipes to see the result. You can then choose how you wish to go about making your additions or changes to the recipe.
Also, if you are using a special hop or other technique, make a note of that for yourself, just in case you stumble upon something magical.
Designing Beer Recipes from Scratch
Is tweaking an existing recipe boring? Maybe. That is when you remember the process from above:
- Start with the basics
- Name your objective
- Consider your ingredients and constraints
Let’s say you are craving a juicy mango beer. Perhaps something that reminds you of a boozy mango cocktail you had gotten once. Your first task is to consider the base. You will need something that does not overpower the mango flavor, something light. What about wheat?
Decide next on the grist. Remember: Simplicity! Do a 50/50 split with wheat malt and pilsner malt. Your malt choice should support whatever flavors you want to highlight.
Since you want the tropical fruity flavor to stand out, you choose hops that won’t overpower the mango. You could choose Mosaic hops or opt for something more bitter, like Cascade, Simcoe, or Citra. Magnum is another good option. Because you are not aiming for anything too bitter or too overpowering, you know that you won’t have to add many hops. So you decide to drop in a handful of hops for 60 minutes while the wort boils.
Next, the yeast. For many wheat beers, a Hefeweizen strain is used, but the esters tend to add a banana flavor. Is that what you want? No. So you research the flavors imparted by various strains. For this, an English ale yeast would be ideal, since it accents fruit flavors instead of masking them.
Don’t forget about the water profile! You will want to consider how the minerality of water can affect the mouthfeel and body of the beer before starting your brew.
Formulate the Process
The plan is everything, because there is so much to take into account. The mashing temperature, hopping, boiling, fermentation temperature, original and final gravity calculations, when to add the adjuncts, and so on. You could start with a SMASH structure again, or you can choose a variety of methods based on your level of homebrewing proficiency.
Let your experience and intuition take the wheel here.
You are making a wheat beer with a touch of fruit, meaning that your grains are making up a large portion of the fermentable sugars for the initial process. If you choose to add your mango during secondary fermentation, then you can brew your wheat beer as you would any other.
Step 1: Calculating Your Grain Bill
Head online to find the original and final gravity of a traditional wheat beer. Below is the OG and FG for an American Wheat beer:
- Estimated original gravity: 1.040 min, 1.055 max
- Estimated final gravity: 1.008 min, 1.013 max
You’re using both wheat malt and pilsner malt, so you have to calculate your gravity units. That can be done by multiplying the gallons of your batch (5 gallons for our example) by your desired OG. For simplicity, use the average of the min and max of the OG from above. Note that the gravity units from the OG are the second and third numbers after the decimal point. So, 1.055 would be 55.
That gives you: 5 gallons x 47.5 = 237.5 gravity units
Now break down how much grain you’ll need for your wheat and pilsner malts by multiplying the percentage (50%) by the gravity units from above. This makes more sense to do if you have multiple grains and malts lined up for your recipe.
- Wheat malt: 0.50×237.5 = 118.75
- Pilsner malt: 0.50×237.5 = 118.75
That is how much the grains will contribute to the beer’s gravity.
Potential Yield and Brewhouse Efficiency
Next, you need two other numbers: potential yield per fermentable and your brewhouse efficiency. Because figuring out your brewhouse efficiency requires quite a bit of mathematics, let us say for the sake of brevity that your practices and chosen grains are right, so you have a brewhouse efficiency of 75%. On the packaging of your malts, there should be a number describing potential yield, but if not, check out this online grain list.
- Wheat malt: 39
- Pilsner malt: 36
Divide the gravity units from the potential yield and then divide that number by your brewhouse efficiency to figure out how much grains you need for your 5-gallon batch:
- Wheat malt = 118.75/39 = 3.044/0.75 = 4.05 lb
- Pilsner malt = 118.75/36 = 3.298/0.75 = 2.47 lb
Now you know how much grain you need.
Step 2: Mashing and Boil Temperatures
This part is much more straightforward than calculating your grain bill. For most beers, an adequate mashing temperature is around 154°F (68°C), give or take a few degrees. Your sparging temperature will be around 170°F (77°C). But, you know, you could always choose to use wheat and pilsner malt extracts, too. Just keep in mind that those will change the process up above!
Since you are making a 5 gallon batch, 6.5 gallons of water pre-boil is what you need to hit your number targets.
How you wish to use your hops is up to you, but you can make this easy on yourself and boil your Mosaic hops for 60 minutes with the wort. Some people might want to drop their hops in once at the 60 minute mark during a 90 minute boil then use the remaining hops during the last 15 minutes.
You may have to adjust some of the numbers based on how the finished product tastes in your stein, but this is as good a place to start your journey as any.
Tips, Do’s and Don’ts of Inventing Beer Recipes
Now that you know the whole process of making new beer recipes, let’s go over the things you should and shouldn’t do. Keeping this in mind will ensure that your unique beer recipes are not just innovative but also satisfying (because who wants a beer you can’t drink?)!
The Don’ts of Inventing Beer Recipes
- Avoid using too many specialty malts in your beer recipe. If you don’t know what to use, compare your recipe to others online for some inspiration.
- Don’t go overboard on the base malts either. You should only need one, maybe two at max, especially when using specialty malts as well.
- Do not make a beer that punches you in the mouth with a single flavor. It’s good to go for a citrus vibe, for example, but you should not ignore other notes, like floral, chocolate, toast, or caramel.
- Avoid using too many hops. If you think 12 different varieties of hops is too much, it is. For some recipes, even 5 different kinds of hops will be too much.
- Don’t pour in too many adjuncts.
- When making a NEIPA, do not waste your hops by adding them 5, 15, 30, and 45 minutes in. Stick to the basics when adding hops to your beer.
- Don’t be afraid to get creative. The best findings happen because you took a risk.
The Do’s of Inventing Beer Recipes
- Know thyself (and the beer you want to make). Again, the basics are the foundation of everything you will try to do!
- Do select the simplest ingredients.
- Ensure there is a reason for each ingredient you choose—and make sure the reason is a good one.
- If you don’t need to add or do something, don’t do it.
- Find a balance between your flavors. Too much can be overpowering and off-putting.
- Subtle flavors add to the complexity of your beer.
- Consider the process. You might have to research new ways to extract flavors from your mash with a decoction, for instance.
- It is okay to use adjuncts to get more flavor. You do not need to exclusively add hops for flavor all of the time.
- If you are struggling with the calculations, consider using some beer recipe software to keep everything in line. There is plenty of free software available for you to try.
Now You’re Ready to Craft Beer
You know you are a homebrew beer nerd when you start inventing beer recipes and experimenting with all kinds of ingredients. But let’s face it, coming up with something new and refreshing is part of the fun of brewing up beer. The effort to design beer recipes is well worth it in the end, when you can crack open a bottle of something that is distinctly a beer of your own creation. Of course, inventing beer recipes from scratch is going to take some practice, and you might have some flops along the way. Don’t get discouraged. Keep on brewing!
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