Recipe Formulation: Tips from the Pros

Brewer: Jason Dunson Todd, Paper City Brewery in Holyoke, MA

When I formulate recipes, I rely on my brewing experience but still use my senses. All brewers should taste and smell samples of malt and hops — these are what become the final product. I also suggest to not be bound by tradition. Use tradition only when it is beneficial. For example, if you like British crystal over German varieties, use British instead. Also, simplicity is often underrated. One of our most-loved winter recipes consists of 98% pale and 2% roasted malt. It is a delicious and flavorful brew.

I’ll walk you through the formulation of our India Pale Ale. Paper City’s IPA falls somewhere between a West Coast IPA and a traditional British version. I decided a good healthy original gravity was important to balance an ample amount of hops. After some experimentation, I settled on 81% two-row pale (all our beers are based on two-row — even the lagers — in a single-infusion system), 9% light Munich and 10% light crystal malt (about 26 degrees Lovibond).

I determine my grain weights for a five-gallon batch by multiplying the percent of the grist each grain comprises times the extract “dry basis course grind” (DBCG) for that grain times the brewhouse efficiency.

DBCG can be found on any malt statistics sheet or it can be estimated if it’s not available. DBCG is the closest yield expected to what will happen in the brewhouse, although this is still high and will be modified by the brewhouse efficiency. For our IPA, we have:

(% Grist) x (DBCG) x (Efficiency) = X

Pale malt: 0.81 x 0.78 x 0.70 = 0.442
Munich: 0.09 x 0.76 x 0.70 = 0.048
Crystal: 0.10 x 0.74 x 0.70 = 0.052

These numbers (the Xs) are then added together. In our example, the sum is 0.542. This value, let’s call it Y,  can now be plugged into a second simple formula.

[Original gravity x volume] / [Y x 46.31] = total grist weight (in lbs.)

I decided I wanted a starting gravity of 1.053 and my volume will be five gallons, so: [53 x 5]/[0.542 x 46.31] = 10.56 pounds as the total grist weight. (Note: DBCG is given in English units, but the final weight can be converted to kilograms by multiplying by 0.454.)

This total can be multiplied by each grain’s percentage of the grist, giving us: 8.6 lbs. pale malt, 0.95 lbs. Munich malt and 1.1 lbs. crystal malt.

Hop prediction is similar to the grist formula. For each addition I use:

(% of hop bill) x (% alpha acid) x
(boil efficiency) x 7490 = X

You should always know the alpha acid levels of your bittering hops. I wanted 60 International Bittering Units (IBUs) in this IPA and a hop flavor throughout. I also wanted a hop presence that was subtler than the more aggressively hopped beers available. East Kent Goldings were chosen because of its classic use in English ales. More importantly, it is not a robust hop. It is mild and floral. The alpha acids are often a moderate four to six percent. I believe a lower alpha acid hop variety allows for a nicer development of flavor and a gentler bittering of the beer. Because I wanted a nice aroma as well and enjoy Golding hops, I stuck with them after the boil for dry hopping.

Using two hop additions of the same hop, the formula then follows:

0.80 x 0.05 x 0.30 x 7490 = 89.88
0.20 x 0.05 x 0.28 x 7490 = 20.97
and Z = 89.88 + 20.97 = 110.9

The variable Z goes into the formula (IBU x Volume ) / Z  = weight (in oz.).

(60 x 5) / 110.9 = 2.7 oz. (ounces convert to grams by multiplying by 28.4)

This is then broken down by the percent of the bill. The first addition at 80% will be 2.16 ounces. The second at 20% will be 0.54 ounces. It’s better to add dry hops later in the fermentation — in the secondary — for this beer.

Yeast is the workhorse of the brewery and should be pampered. For our IPA we use one of four in-house strains. Because this beer is somewhere between West Coast and English, an American ale yeast does well. Classic British yeast is a good choice, too. Mineral profiles or dryness from yeast will only accentuate the hop bitterness — and that’s not a bad thing in an India Pale Ale.


Brewer: David Wollner, Willimantic Brewing Company in Willimantic, CT

The recipe for our Rail Mail Rye has evolved from a German rye beer to an American rye pale ale. The grain bill has changed just as much as the hops. I’ll introduce both styles side by side for the sake of comparison. Both beers have an OG of 1.052-1.054 and an FG of 1.010-1.012.

The color in the German rye should be a deep reddish garnet from dark crystal malts (we use crystal 60 and 150 °L) and should have a distinct caramel and raisin sweetness. The color of the American rye will be amber and have a more sugary sweetness from crystal 30 °L  malt. Runnings should be nearly identical since the Pilsner and two-row malts (our base malts) have similar extraction rates.

The German rye has Tettnanger hops for their spicy character. Early and flavor additions are meant to accentuate the spiciness of the rye malts. The American version is hopped throughout the boil with Cascades and even in the secondary fermenter for the style’s spicy and citrusy character.

The rye malts tend to leave more mouthfeel in the beer and the caramel and crystal malts have more nonfermentables, which leave these beers with some sweetness in the finish.

For example, the German rye has little aroma but a spicy flavor with a crisp and quick finish. The American rye has hop aroma, then hop bitterness, followed by rye spiciness, then finishes long with hop flavors. They are two of the same kinds of beers with two distinct outcomes.

It is important to realize that brewing is an experimental process. You should try a recipe you’re familiar with and change one thing, such as hops, malt or mash temperature. Keep careful notes — they will help you determine the best beers you can make.

Yeast is the last ingredient and the most important.  The yeast for the rye beers could be an American or German ale variety.


Brewer: Sean Larkin, Trinity Brewhouse  in Providence, RI

Figuring out what style you want to make is the first step in formulating a beer recipe. You will use the style to choose the appropriate grain, hops and yeast for your beer.

In the case of my Oktoberfest, I use a combination of light Munich malt, dark Munich malt and some Vienna grains. The combination of German malts produces remarkable results — a rich malt flavor and deep color. Standard Pilsner malt can be used as the base, but the finished product may lack body.

The next step is to figure out how much grain to use. Too little, and the beer comes in under style specifications. Too much, and your Pilsner might pack the punch of a barleywine.

Most styles give you guidelines to follow, and you can use recipes as a guide. But how well you hit the gravity numbers depends on the efficiency of your equipment. Adjustments to your mash must be made in the batches to come, either by adding more grain if your original gravity was low or less grain if it came in high.

Keeping accurate records of your brew gravity will help you to understand recipe formulation. My suggestion on grains is always to put in more than you think you need. A good general rule is to bump your base malt by one-half pound to a full pound the first time you make a recipe. With each subsequent recipe, you can adjust based on your previous results. There is no way to really gauge efficiency until you have made the same beer back to back on your system. If you come in low on gravity, use malt extract to bump it up.

In my system, I know I get roughly one degree Plato per bag at 10 bags per 16 barrels. This gives me a beer that starts anywhere between 9.5 and 10.5 degrees Plato. As I go up from ten bags, I start needing two bags per barrel to get the same effect. As you see, it is a rough formula that is very specific to the efficiency of my system.

I do not calculate color when I formulate recipes. I do, however, try to include no more than 20 percent coloring malts, such as caramel or black patent, in a batch. This has  to do with flavor; these malts can overpower a brew, creating off or astringent flavors. Moderation is best.

Try using this 5-gallon Oktoberfest recipe to fine-tune your system. I use only German malts in this beer.

3.25 lbs. (1.47 kg) light Munich malt
3.25 lbs. (1.47 kg) dark Munich malt
3.25 lbs. (1.47 kg) Vienna malt
1 oz. (28 g) Tettnanger hops (4.5% AA) (60 minutes)
0.25 oz. (7 g) Tettnanger hops (4.5% AA) (30 minutes)
0.25 oz. (7 g) Tettnanger hops (4.5% AA) (1 minute)
White Labs WLP820 (Oktoberfest/Märzen)

With a high mash efficiency (72%), this recipe will yield an OG around 1.049  and 20.8 IBUs. The alcohol by volume will be about 4.9%.

Issue: March-April 2003