Homebrew Recipe Formulation

Michael Donato, January 12, 2015

I can’t speak to how professional brewers come up with recipes (though I imagine it’s pretty similar), but coming up with my next homebrew recipe is often a long, intricate process.

The first step is coming up with what type of beer I want to make. I’ve never been much of a clone brewer, or one that brews regular beers. There are already so many interesting and great beers out there that I like to think outside the box a little and not brew something you can buy 40 varieties of on the shelf. Because of this I usually come up with a flavor or twist of some kind that I want to try, and build the beer around it.

It came to me suddenly while commuting home; my next beer would be a sesame beer, inspired by Halvah. I picked up a bar of it to refresh myself on what the taste was. Delicious, if you were curious.

Ingredients: Crushed Sesame, Corn Syrup, Sugar, Partially Hydrigenated Vegetable Oil (Cottonseed, Soya), Dried Egg Albumin, Natural and Artificial Flavor.  Gluten Free!

Yeah, I’m not putting egg in my beer. I don’t think that’s how you spell hydrogenated either, but that’s what the label said. Crushed Sesame is really the flavor I’m looking for. So my next step is to decide on a style. My last two beers have been stouts, but I think the roastiness inherent in dark beers would mask the sesame too much. Halvah is white, but I don’t think I want something light like a wheat, or a blond. I want there to be additional flavor to the beer, but I still want the Halvah to be the centerpiece. Amber/Rye seems like a good place to start.

I’ve been using Brewtoad to create my recipes. The software allows me to add all the ingredients I’m going to use as well as an estimated gravity and SRM and all that. Helpful, and it allows me to select extract as a brew type. I add some amber dry malt extract, some basic 2-row, a little caramel malt for some sweetness and color.  I chose 120L caramel mainly because I have some left over from previous beers though I suspect I should probably go with a less intense 40L. I added some flaked naked oats and some flaked rye for both a bready rye flavor and to aid in body. Halvah has a very chewy and full feel to it and I want to mimic that a little in the beer.

On to the hops. There are so many to choose from, so I start by perusing a couple of pages that recommend hops by style, in this case Amber Ale. I definitely don’t want to overhop, but I don’t want the beer to be sickly sweet either. Perhaps a resiny hop would match what I’m looking for? Williamette is described as mild and pleasant, slightly spicy, fruity, floral, and a little earthy. That seems about right, and it’s an aroma hop so this will be a late addition to the beer, but I’ll still need something for bittering. Columbus looks like a good match, described as slightly woody and pungent. I add the two hops to Brewtoad and first I check the percent of alpha acid listed against what’s listed on the site I’m ordering from to make sure it at least approximates the bitterness I’m actually getting. I then tweak boil times and amounts to get an IBU in-between the 25-40 listed for the style. I want the beer to end up on the less bitter side, but I generally get less hop utilization than expected as an extract brewer, so I always make sure to overestimate.

I’m less experienced with the nuances of yeast. I start with the Amber Ale page on Wyeast’s site. It lists five common yeasts for the style, and after reading through each one I settle on 1272 - American Ale II because it suggests I’ll get a clean profile with a hint of nut, which should match well with the sesame.

That’s it. Beer recipe created! I’ll add the sesame seeds right after the last hop addition and leave them in the primary fermenter before siphoning everything off to secondary through a cheesecloth to get the seeds out. I’m thinking I’ll crush the seeds first and will probably go with two pounds of them.

Excited to see how this one turns out, now I just need to find the time to actually brew it.


Michael can be found on Twitter and Untappd where he's fully aware he might be insane. You can also email him at beer@ceetar.com.