Quick Recipes and Easy

Homebrew Experimentation – Back to Basics

I started brewing my own beers back in the late 90′s. A friend of mine had been brewing successfully for about 10 years and had offered to show me the ropes. I keenly accepted.

At that time he had already had a sufficient grasp of the process, so my actual first brew was an experiment of sorts, but the outcome was honestly predictable because we were using base ingredients that he was familiar with.

The addition we made to his standard recipe was about 4 lbs. of honey. He thought it would be clean to try our hand at brewing a honey brown ale. We finished up with approximately 10 lbs of fermentable sugars in that brew, and later, during fermentation, the airlock clogged with hops and the lid blew off of my fermenter spewing hops and foam onto the wall in my apartment. It would prove to be one of my strongest brew to date.

Since that first brew I’ve tried different recipes and experimenting with my own variations on the basic theme. I’ve used pale malt extracts, dark malt extracts, steeped specialty grains, several varieties of hops, different yeast strains, lemons, limes, rosemary, coriander and other herbs to enhance the “nose.” All in an attempt to make my perfect ale.

I still haven’t achieved that goal, and now that I look back on all the experimentation, the successes and failures, I know why. There is no perfect beer, just different beers that need to be appreciated for their own unique qualities and differences. Likewise, different tastes and preferences will cause us to appreciate one style or flavor more than another.

One batch of beer cannot, or should not, be compared to a previous batch of beer, unless the brews were made from exactly the same recipe, they must be assessed individually. They are as distinct as any commercially available offering. Even more so because of the environmental differences, and variations in timing inherent in the home brewing process.

As a brewer who likes to experiment with flavors and other additions, if I can’t make the perfect beer I must first make a beer that I am satisfied with and use that as my benchmark for additional experimentation. At least then I can anticipate the result and not be completely disappointed when a particular experiment doesn’t turn out as I had plotted.

For example, I can’t successfully determine the effect of a particular flavor addition if I have also changed the hops variety, or the malt variety for that same batch of beer. I need to establish a base brew for my future experimentation.

Then, if I choose to experiment with different hops varieties, or extracts and grains, I’ll be making a completely different benchmark brew which can be used for further experimentation.

Many home brewers like to experiment with flavors and subtle changes in the recipe, and I’m no exception, but first we need to establish a solid, excellent tasting beer to build upon. That means we need to step away from the spice cabinet and the fruit basket, and get back to basics. Find the right hops, find the right malts, and build the brew that’s right for you.

Once that’s done you can start experimenting, but at least you’ll know what the underlying beer tastes like, and that will make all the difference.

Drew Vics is an avid homebrewer, artist and musician from northern New Jersey. He writes small articles for various websites on the internet, and runs the home brewed and craft-brewed beer appreciation site, Cryptobrewology.com/” target=”_new Cryptobrewology.com.

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