Disclaimer: I’m actually not going to dictate how you should brew. If you like brewing gimmicky beers all the power to you. However, humor me and give this a read/some consideration.
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Like many of you reading this I started off by brewing beer kits. All the ingredients were there, recipe in front of me and all I had to do was follow it. Perfect! I had a 1 gal system so I could brew often and practice often. I started with a stout, then an IPA, a Belgian blonde and then got a little different. I brewed a jalapeno saison.
“Cool!”, I thought to myself, “I can use thing I find tasty and improve upone other beer styles!”. Oh how naive I was.
After those first 4 brews it was time for me to write my own recipes. I started with an imperial black IPA that actually turned out pretty decent. MO, midnight wheat and C15 was a great combo. After being excited with my success I though I could make only good beer with my own recipes. I’m a genius! I should become a brewer! Oh boy time for my next great idea! So time for the next brew. An imperial wit with lemon and raspberry and hopped with citra. That’s delicious sounding! So in my 1 gal of wort using 6 row cause you know, diastatic power is important. You see where this is going right? So I juiced my 1 lemon and then cut it all up. I added the juice and the entire lemon. Pith and all. Then for raspberries I decided to use a can of jam cause, more sugar = more ABV right? Holy hell was that an awful beer.
I got a bit discouraged and decided to take a break from brewing. My buddy wanted to try so I wrote a chocolate stout recipe. with some cocoa powder in the mash. Probably way more than was needed. It was pure chocolate. No beer. If there was an off flavour there was know way of knowing. And we thought it was delicious. “More chocolate than any commercial beer”, we said to eachother. So for the next many months all I brewed was out there beers. Biere de Garde with pineapple juice, licorice root coffee stout, peated malt RIS, smoked apple session stout, Lavender oak aged blonde ale, root beer APA and this list goes on. Basically it was X beer with X weird ingredient. The problem with all these beers? Some of them were kinda off but I had no way of knowing what it was. The X ingredient added masked fully whatever off flavour was there.
September 2016 strikes and I go to my first homebrew club meeting. I try what other people have and I see a trend. The excellent beers are a classic style like ESB, APA, Dark Mild and stuff like that. The beers that made me think “Hmm, maybe not” were the out there beers like a chili porter, ginger lemon APA and my beers. My beers. How come my beers sucked compared to a boring as hell ESB? My IPA has 5 different hops in it! I have always been under the impression more is better. More ingredients and more ABV!
So I decided to try brewing more classic styles and follow the 2015 BJCP guidlines. Suddenly I got a 3rd place in the saison category after a few months. My palate was picking up the subtle pleasant flavours of all the different styles. I signed up for a BJCP tasting course to learn more. Now with confidence I can tell you why a Munich Helles is my preference when compared to an American Lager. And I also can tell you why I prefer my 2 malt, single hopped saison from my old IPA with 5 malts and 5 hops. More effort and care.
My beer recipes on standard beers went from 5-10 malts, 3-7 hops + some flavouring to 2-5 malts, 1-3 hops and the odd flavouring if it seems like it would benefit the beer already made. Simplicity. Making sure that every ingredient benefits the brew and is not muddying the others. When there is an off flavour now I can locate it fairly easily.
Because I now am brewing base beers I can begin to develop more out there beers again. But now with purpose. Like a big brett porter. A few local breweries use a baltic porter as their base and the add some brett creating a beautiful funky, dark, smooth and complex beer. So I plan to add some B. Lambicus because unlike B. anomalus, Lambicus cannot ferment lactose. As well the deep cherry flavours given off from Lambicus should pair perfectly with some pale chocolate malt giving the beer a black forest cake like flavour. Baltic porter will be a better choice than American Imperial stout becuase the heavy roast may clash with the delicate brett character.
Or I could go off the deep end with a tequila and lime oak aged gose. A coworker/new brewer came up with this idea after a local brewery did not produce their annual Sour saison aged in tequila barrels. I couldn’t argue that sour and tequila do not go together so here I am helping him come up with something good. Tequila, lime and salt all in a less than 5 ABV beverage? Sounds like summer is already here. By using the MTF gose as the base recipe we already have a tried and true gose. Now to tweek it. For adding the tequila and oak portion I have soaked 30 grams of heavy toast oak in about 100 ml of tequila that will be strained and added to the fermentor after week 1 of fermentation. The heavy toast oak should impart the mild smoke and spicy character I love in a good tequila. For the lime I have the zest of 2 limes in the tequila oak mixture and, will add about 2 oz zest to the end of boil as a 15-20 min “zest stand”.
So what I am saying is experimentation is good and all but, before going down that road get a recipe or style you know is good. Critically think about what you can add to it to achieve your desired final product. And while you think about that have a glass of a classic English bitter.