- Situation: Rebrew April 5, 2011
- The Neighborhood Pub February 8, 2011
- My Beer Story January 31, 2011
Less Is More
Posted on May 6, 2011 by Joshua Nathan Doty
Like many homebrewers, when I come up with a new recipe I do a lot of research online. I spend hours reviewing dozens of recipes posted on websites and forums by hundreds of homebrewers. This is a great way to see the nearly infinite ways there are to brew almost any type of beer, true to style or not. But one thing I always come away with, no matter the style of beer I am looking to brew, is how many homebrewers incorporate far too many ingredients into their beers. There is a huge difference in how homebrewers make their beers and how breweries make theirs. This is not to say that how we make our beers at home is wrong, just that it is much easier to throw a whole bunch of ingredients in home brewed beers because the amount of money to create a five or ten gallon batch is nothing compared to a brewery making six, ten or 100 barrels of beer. But still I wonder why so many homebrewers feel it necessary to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. By comparison when you visit the websites of most breweries they usually list only two to four malts in their beers and a short list of hops.
In my conversations with professional brewers they have all told me that “less is more.” They all say that yes, it’s fine to be as creative as you want and throw all the colors on the canvas, but if you are interested at all in starting your own brewery, or getting your beer(s) brewed at a brewery (major bragging rights are earned for a homebrewer if a brewery brews their recipe), you need to pay attention to economy of scale. The professional brewery, for the most part, is not interested in adding a beer to the line that requires a large investment in long list of ingredients. At the same time, when a homebrewer tries to make a beer that a brewery will take on, he won’t like having his recipe changed. When a brewery goes to a competition looking for a homebrewer’s beer to put on their line, they aren’t just looking for a great tasting beer, but also for one that is cheap and easy to make. Profit margin, the bottom line, etc.
At a recent homebrew club meeting we tried a bunch of beers, and typically most of them had a fairly extensive grain and hop bill, but there was one that stood out for me. It was a light wheat with only two malts in the grain bill, and if I remember right, just one hop was used. I commented to the brewer that I thought it was a very good beer and very economical, too. He replied that he hadn’t even thought about that aspect of the recipe and seemed to have a real revelation of how to go about creating new recipes from that point on.
One advantage to making a beer with a long list of ingredients it gives you much more room to hide the flaws. But when you have very few ingredients the flaws in the beer stand out much more, making technique, cleanliness and process much more important. For example, a big dark stout gives you plenty of room to hide in the darkness, but a pilsner is up front and out there with the spot light on.
While it’s true that for some kinds of beer you can use just one kind of grain and one kind of hop, it usually requires more than that to create the complexity of flavors we usually like to have in our beers. It’s more difficult, and a better challenge as a brewer to get the same beer out of less stuff and we all geek out a bit when it comes to seeing that challenge bubbling away in the fermenter.
For now I have been sticking to an informal rule of three or four grains and two hops to make my beers. You always need a base malt or two for fermentables and one or two get the color and distinct malt profile and character. As hops are concerned, you need at least one hop to cover bittering, flavor and aroma, but again, more than one type of hop gives you that much more complexity in flavors, but too many is just overkill.
While my long term goal may be to become professional brewer, my short term goals are little more modest; I just want to create the best beers I can with the equipment I have, and I want a brewery to add my best recipe to their portfolio of beers. I really want those bragging rights!
Here is a helpful article about recipe design and brewing techniques: http://www.beersmith.com/blog/2010/01/27/beer-recipe-design/ and check out “Designing Great Beers” by Ray Daniels http://www.beersmith.com/blog/2008/03/12/designing-great-beers-by-ray-daniels-a-book-review/