How to read a homebrew beer recipe

There is a point in every homebrewers career when we realise that using the pre-hopped cans of malt extract just isn’t delivering the kind of beer that we are after. The taste is not quite there and the appreciation of our beers just doesn’t quite seem to match the amount of effort that goes into making it.

One of the easiest ways to move on from this is to use a pre-made homebrew beer recipe that has been tried and tested by someone else. The move away from extract kit brewing can be a daunting one but hopefully this guide should make the process easier.

At first look a homebrew recipe can seem strange and full of a range of various abbreviations and measurements. Once explained they are actually quite simple and although they contain room for countless variations and options, this information is presented in a limited range of variations.

For the purpose of demonstration I will be using information from my very first beer recipe for the examples. The Find Your Craft (FYC) Ale was the one that I consider to be the point where my brewing all started to come together. If you are interested in trying to brew this, it has actually evolved into the ‘Ship Shape Pale Ale’ recipe that can be found here.
This brew started as a modified clone of my favourite commercial beers. Over time though, I realised that it has come to reflect a lot about my progression as a brewer. It is also one of the beers that I always have a few of under the house.

 

This is an ‘extract with specialty grains’ recipe and the ingredients list for the brew as it was last made is:

3.2Kg Unhopped Light LME

200g Light Crystal 60L

Cascade               20g @ 45

Nelson Sauvin     12g @ 45

Cascade               15g @15

Nelson Sauvin     8g @15

Cascade               10g @ 0

Nelson Sauvin     10g @ 0

Cascade               20g @ dryhopped

1pkt US05

 

You will also note that all measurements are listed in metric units. If you would prefer to use US customary units, I would love to send you a copy of our conversion chart when you sign up to the mailing list.

The first part of our recipe lists the type of liquid malt extract (LME) that you will be using as the base malt for your brew. This is 3.2kg only because that was the size of the tins that were available to me.

The second part of the recipe are the specialty grains that we will be using to add color, flavour and body to our homebrew. The 60L refers to the darkness of the malted grain as measured in ‘Lovibond’. To make things confusing this may not be the only scale of measurement that you see in a homebrew recipe. You may also see this measured in SRM or EBC depending on where the initial recipe was constructed. In the early 1950’s the limitations of the old lovibond scale were identified and the standard reference method (SRM) of measuring beer color was moved to. Grain however is still measured in ‘degrees lovibond’.
For your purposes, if you recall that they are close to being the same in most instances, you will do fine.

In time you will become familiar with the many various types of specialty grain used in homebrewing. For the purpose of learning how to read extract homebrew recipes though, anything more than 45g (about 1.5oz), that isn’t your base malt, is likely to be specialty grain.

Lastly we have the many smaller amounts of hops and the time that they will all be added to the ‘roiling boil’. This boil is normally a 45-60 minute process through which the hops are added at various times in order to impart their flavour and bitterness to the wort (unfermented beer). The longer the hops are boiling for the more bitterness they impart of the brew and for this reason the hops added at the start of the boil are referred to as bittering hops.
The hops added towards the end of the boil (at 15 minutes remaining and at ‘flameout’ in our case) are referred to as ‘aroma’ hops and are used to add their fragrance more than their bitterness.
Our example also calls for the addition of some further hops to be dryhopped. This means that they will be added directly into the fermenter after the yeast has finished with primary fermentation. This is done to achieve an even more pronounced aroma without adding any additional bitterness or flavour.

The final entry that we have is the type of yeast that should be used. There are a number of various strains of yeast from multiple manufacturers and it is often important to use one that will suit your style of beer.

It really is as simple as that. Although at a first look a homebrew recipe can look strange or intimidating, there are only a handful of key components used in a large range of applications. If you keep the general guidelines here in mind, you will be reading and brewing from custom recipes in no time.

Photo by tinyhousefarmstead

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