Ask Mr. Wizard

Questioning Homebrew Recipe Design



I am one of those annoying folks who question things on a regular basis. Several years ago, I retired from the professional brewing world and moved back into the homebrewing space. One thing that has caught me is — Why do homebrewing recipes make my head explode?  This thought brings me to my keyboard to share some “Grumblings from the Wiz.”

Ashton Lewis, aka Mr. WizardI

I have witnessed many many positive changes over the last 37 years of homebrewing, yet recipes and recipe talk is a department where things have stagnated. Charlie Papazian’s Complete Joy of Homebrewing seemingly stamped into homebrewing lexicon that the 5-gallon (19-L) batch-size is set in stone. Today, just like 37 years ago, a 5-gallon (19-L) recipe for a 1.050 OG (original gravity) pale ale may call for 9 pounds (4.1 kg) of English pale ale malt and 11 ounces (312 g) of crystal malt. What this recipe does not state is that these weights are based on assumptions about brewhouse efficiency and malt specifics. For example, the basic recipe above assumes 85% brewhouse yield, 78% FG as-is HWE (fine grind [as-is], hot water extract) for the pale ale malt, and 70% FG as-is HWE for the crystal malt. That’s a lot of stuff to consider, but we all do it, knowingly or not.

While I understand that it simplifies things for the beginner homebrewer, these “recipe standards” actually make it more difficult for advanced brewers.

I implore that the conversations and recipes about the grist bill need to change. Essentially zero commercial breweries in the world communicate brewing recipes by weight because weights alone are totally useless to the practical brewer. The language of brewing is in percentages. The recipe spoken of earlier is best described by 1.050 OG wort comprised of 93.8% pale ale malt (% of total extract) and 6.2% crystal malt; that’s it. 

Volume does not matter because brewers calculate the grist bill based on the OG target and the percentage contribution of the grains in the recipe. Same is true for hop bitterness, color, and approximate % ABV, which are typically stated in today’s recipe as a specification. Most of us are already using brewing software, apps, or custom-built spreadsheets based on percentages. So why do we all transcribe our recipes into weights? I propose a change to the homebrewing norm! Can I get a second on this motion?

Recipe Editor Dave Green replies: Motion denied, Ashton.