Thursday, March 31, 2016

The little changes..advice on refining your recipes

"Are we there yet? "
""Dad....?  are we there yet"
"how much longer"
"If you kids don't cool it, I'll turn this car around."

You have seen this scene a hundred times.   You have probably lived both sides of this scene too at some point in your life.   It is frustrating to be sure to be on a journey, to know your destination, to know what wonderful things are waiting for you, and to still be stuck on the journey.   So is the burden of travel with children, and so is the burden of home brew recipe design.

It takes time, and it takes multiple attempts.   Case in point our recent C4 hop explosion pale ale.  You remember, the attempt to make a super hoppy pale ale that is still balanced?   Well, we did it, it is awesome... almost.

Jake and MA working
on a batch of beer.
Or Jake next to a normal sized
human being
What do I mean by almost?   I mean, we are becoming fair, honest, critics of our own home brew efforts.   The C4 is outstanding.  Any of the team would proudly serve it to any of you, and we would take joy in your reaction.   I served it to the guys at the local home brew shop today.  Their reactions were gratifying, satisfying and mollifying.  They loved it, "don't change a thing", "this is excellent"  and "you did great champ!"   There is a certain pride in that, but that is not what I need.  I need a fierce critic.  Now, I am fortunate that one of my brewing partners, has an extraordinary pallet.  Now, I want to protect his privacy, so I'll just describe him for you,  he is 8' tall, and his initials are... Jake.   Jake can taste a beer and describe the flavors like an experienced sommelier describes fine wine.  I think that was a little embarrassing for him at first.  Using terms like, "fresh cut melon", and "a wine like bouquet"   But now he has embraced terms like "fresh citrus peel", and "musty earthy aroma"  I am fortunate that I am hundreds if not thousands of batches into this hobby.  So I can taste with the best of them as well.   I can work with my partners to truly identify areas for improvement. Not flaws mind you, just areas for improvement.  What do I mean by that?

You must examine the
beers that you make,
If you want to get better.
The C4 is flawless.  It wouldn't win a BJCP contest, it is way to hoppy.  But it would knock your socks off.  There is not a hint of off flavor or aroma.  It was carefully brewed, and carefully fermented in a temperature controlled environment.   We're not looking for flaws, were looking for areas of improvement. We're trying to make "ambrosia" not Amstel light.

So last night I set out to taste the C4 and be critical.  I approached it like I would a beer I was ranking on, I analyzed the beers appearance, aroma, mouth feel and taste.  Jake did the same.  And here is what we came up with, and how we will improve the beer in the next brewing.   It is our goal that C4 be the best pale ale we have ever drank.   And were almost there.

C4 Hop explosion Pale ale.  Analysis.

Appearance - Deep orange, crystal clear.  Can see my fingerprint magnified on the other side of the glass.  Small white head dissipates quickly, lacing lingers as beer is consumed.  Are we there yet?  No,  Color needs to be just a shade or two darker, this beer is a pale ale not an IPA.  Add darker malt.  4.25 / 5  Jake disagrees.  He likes the color.  So he gives it a 5 on the color. ( And after trying a couple more,  I think I now agree with Jake. It's not worth changing the malt profile to get a little more color.) 

Aroma - Strong Hop aroma, smells of pine, strongly of grapefruit, and lemons, there is a slight floral almost rose aroma. No off aromas detected at all. Are we there yet?  Yes,  Change nothing in the late hops, the aroma is outstanding.   5 / 5

Mouth feel -  moderate carbonation, should improve,  nice mouth feel, neither crisp nor viscous.  Just where you want it for a pale ale.  lingering sense of hops, almost creamy but not quite,  slight tongue sting, slight numbness from the hops.  Lots of fun. Are we there yet?  Yes, Mouth feel outstanding.  5/5 

Taste - Front end taste is bitter as you would expect, but the bitterness fades as you swallow and the beer moves to the back of your mouth/throat.  The bitterness is replaced by a gorgeous aftertaste of pine, grapefruit, citrus, a touch of spice, and floral flavors.   There is no middle pallet flavor to describe. In other words, this beer has a hole in the pallet.  No off flavors detected. Are we there yet?  No, but were damned close.   The beer needs a middle hop addition to reach its full potential.  Jake and I agree a spicy, smokey, middle hop would be most appropriate to create the correct flavors for an pale ale. We had great talks among the team last night and we all think a 20-30 minute Chinook addition would do the trick.  4.25 / 5

Overall the C4 hop explosion scored an 18.5 on my rating scale and a 19.25 on our team's overall rating scale. 19 or above we leave alone.  "Wait, what?  you have a system for analyzing your home brew?"  Sure, why? you don't? Wait a minutes, seriously, you don't have a rating scale?  Well get one.  C4 is an 19.25, it, therefore, is formally set as a team recipe, with only one change, that the entire team agrees upon.  The 20 -30 minute bittering addition.   Other than that, the recipe is ready to go.  And we will brew it over and over.

Here's the recipe:

But there is always room for self analysis, there is always room for contemplation, and there is always room for improvement.   And there is always room for stealing from a successful recipe to make a new recipe!  So here is what we came up with for next time.  We're going to make a vairant of C4 Called "red rocket"  We're going to try to get a little more roast, and a  deep read color in the red rocket.  It will not be the same beer, but it will be dang close.   Here is how we will go about it.  If it works, and we love it, then we'll re examine.
  • Appearance - Cap the mash with Carafa  3 or pale chocolate until the color we want is obtained.  Just add a little at a time until we get a slightly darker color. deeper than orange, but not brown.  If we could get brilliant red, I would certainly take it.  I know MA and Jake have the discipline to shoot for that.  I know John and I can provide the real time analysis and practical hard work to assist.
  • Taste Add a middle hop addition of 1 ounce of Chinook at 25 minutes.   We want some of the spicy, almost smokey notes that Chinook provides.  if that doesn't work we'll add some Rye malt next time.
See we're making 2 changes, not one,  And with them we are creating a variant that we can compare to C4.   I know prevailing advice is change one thing at a time. Only one.  That is what the beer cannon guys say you must do.  And that is hogwash.  If you take the time to analyze your beer carefully, you can make more than one change at a time.  But if you find you are changing a whole bunch of things at once.  It is probably time to seek advice from a more experienced home brewer, or the friendly people at your LHBS.

So taste critically,  Evaluate the brew completely.  And then make one or two changes.  If you have persistent off flavors, evaluate your process and sanitation.   And finally, and I can not stress this enough.  Take copious notes.  Comprehensive, thorough, detailed notes.  You'll learn so much from theses notes.  And always ask your self,  "are we there yet".  


  1. This is a great article. Refining good recipes is my passion. Creating variants is something the most successful craft breweries are doing right now, and should be a fun experiment for home brewers as well. Any chance you can add a link to your C4 recipe to the article so others can check it out and maybe try to brew it themselves?



  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. sorry to see you took your comment down. I appreciated it. Thank you. I'm glad you enjoy the blog.

    2. Yeah, there's just no decent way to make a grammar related comment without looking like a total @sshole. I really REALLY have come to love your blog. Lot's of new and interesting information here. Please keep it up and know that it's appreciated!!!

    3. Thanks Ryan, I will. It is a lot of fun to share common sense about home brewing. I, for one, feel that there is too much focus on "best practices" or "commercial brewing practices" in home brewing. We need to celebrate the fact that we are home brewers, and we need to use that to our advantage.