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Learning how ingredients affect your beer

I started brewing last summer and my first all grain is bottle conditioning now. When I started brewing, it wasn’t just because I thought it would be fun. I want to learn more designing beer and how different ingredients effect my beer. I know that praticing and experimenting is a good way to learn, but I am looking for some classes or other means to speed up the process. Any suggestions?

I’d look into joining a local home brewing club, another thought would be to enroll in the Beer Judge Certification Program
to hone your tasting and evaluation skills. At the end of the day though it’s going to be your own experience through trial and error. You might want to look into doing 2.5 gallon batches and brew more styles and more often.

Brew the same recipe over and over, changing only one thing each time. That made a world of difference for me.

…and write everything down, in language that a non-brewer will understand, that way you can go back to it for reference for the next batch and you won’t have to remember every little step/change. I’d recommend that you have a non-brewer read your notes and then have them explain to you what they read. If it’s what you did, with nothing omitted/assumed, then the notes are complete and you’ll be able to fully understand the affects of each ingredient on the final product.


+1 to both:

Brew the same batch, changing one thing.
Write everything down.

One thing that has really helped me is to sort of get 8-12 “stock” recipe’s - IPA, Amber, Alt, Scottish, Brown, Oatmeal Stout, etc. When I find something that really, really turns out well it goes into my “book” of recipe’s. These are my “go to” recipe’s and I brew them frequently - often, I will do a double batch when I brew them - one according to the recipe and then tweak something in the other - different yeast, Dry hop with something different, add a different grain, etc. Important though - change ONE thing at a time so you know which thing made a difference (for good or bad). In this way you can really get a feel for what is good, what to keep, what to change or avoid. The other thing that can really help too is to brew “single hop” beers. Brew IPA’s or Pale ales and use the same hop for all the additions in order to really tell what that particular hop brings to the table.

Another thought as well - be sure to keep track of anything you do differently with water, mash temps, fermentation temps, amt. of yeast used, etc. Sometimes those things can make a greater difference than the ingredients do.

All good suggestions. Also look into SMaSH brewing. Mash enough grain for a 5 gallon batch, but then break it up into 5 different boils and use 5 different hops. That way you’ll get 5 1-gallon SMaSH batches every time you brew.

That’s pretty much what I did when I went all grain years ago, and it is how I eventually arrived at all of my core recipes. As a bonus, further experimentation even gave me a pretty good foundation of knowledge about substituting ingredients when necessary in a favorite recipe if availability was a problem (including base malt, specialty grains, hop varieties, and sometimes even different yeasts) and still be able to attain an almost identical (or at the very least, a familiar enough) result.

As others have said, the need to take good notes can’t be stressed enough.
That, and of course, brewing a lot!!

All the information above is great. My advice is to research the beers you enjoy drinking and try to find out what ingredients they use. Avoid those ingredients in the beers you don’t like. Of course your tastes will change over the years. 7-8 year ago I did not care much for Belgians. Now, about 1/2 of what I brew is Belgian and I love them. So don’t be afraid to try new things once you get a handle on what you like.

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