What to brew next? Believe it or not, this is a tough question you must answer over and over during your homebrewing career.
choose the ingredients, before you pick an award-winning recipe, and
before you make your yeast starter, you have to pick a beer style to
brew. A lot has been written about choosing the perfect homebrew
recipe and choosing the proper ingredients, but not much is written
about how to choose thee beer you want to brew in the first place. When
brewing beer, a lot of time, effort and money is invested in the
process so making the right decision is important.
I started out wanting to brew all the beers in the BJCP style guidelines. But we all know that’s a lofty, if somewhat unattainable, goal. I just didn’t brew often enough, or have enough buddies to help me drink all the failed experiments, to brew that many different beer styles.
Speaking of failed experiments, I brewed four batches of Munich Dunkel and never did find a recipe that matched the beer I wanted to brew. And then you stumble on a beer that is so good, you just have to keep brewing it.
I brewed four different batches of Schwarzbier. Every batch turned out great, winning top awards in competitions. I always seem to go through a period of mental turmoil when it comes time to pick the next beer I want to brew. There are just so many choices I feel like a kid in a candy store. Here are some guidelines that may help you choose what to brew next:
Season- When deciding what to brew next you always have to be thinking
ahead when you are a homebrewer. Just like brewers of old, you have to
plan your brew so that it’s ready to drink at the right time. If you
want to make a Lawnmower beer to drink in the heat of the summer, you
have to brew it in late winter or early spring. By the time it
finishes fermenting, you give it a proper diacetyl rest, transfer or
rack it off the sediment into a secondary to condition or straight into a
keg to carbonate and condition, it will be close to May when it is in
its prime. When making fruit beers with fresh fruit, harvest time
becomes a factor. Although you can sometimes get fruits in your
supermarket from the southern hemisphere when they are not available
here, these are usually picked green and just can’t compare to fresh
fruit from your local farmer’s market. For some beers, aging times are
up to a year so you really need to plan ahead. Holiday beers are
popular and must be planned ahead as well. There is nothing better than
sitting by the fireplace with a snifter of well-aged barleywine or a
hearty spiced Christmas ale.
2. Your Ingredients- To brew the best beers, your ingredients must be fresh. You will either have to brew often and turn your inventory over quickly, or purchase your brewing malts, hops and yeast from whichever source offers you the freshest ingredients. If you are lucky enough to live close to a local homebrew supply with a high turnover then you have it made. But for a large part of the country, and the world for that matter, we must purchase from the closest online supply store. Yeast selection becomes important, especially if you will have to have it shipped during the heat of the summer. Order from your favorite online dealer (links to MoreBeer.com yeast page) and fork out the extra money for ice packs and one-day shipping. Yeast will not survive well if they spend 5 or 6 days in 100°⁺ F (40°⁺ C) heat. If it will be a few weeks before you can brew, order the grain un-milled and mill the grain yourself to keep it as fresh as possible. If you do have fresh ingredients in your inventory, you will have to match those ingredients with a beer style. It okay to mix and match ingredients and come up with a unique beer, but it most likely won’t match any beer in the style guidelines. That’s not always a bad thing, but if you are trying to match a style, using the correct ingredients, even ingredients grown in the region the style originated in, makes a huge difference in the final outcome. For instance, using continental malts and German grown hops when brewing any German beer will result in a beer that is much closer to the original beer style.
3. Your Brewing Goals- Some homebrewers are goal oriented. They have an agenda when deciding what to brew next. There are some brewers who actually do brew every style in the book. Others simply want to brew all the German beers with continental ingredients. Yet others may be trying to make the perfect Coors Light clone. These goals will narrow your choices somewhat and it should be easier to decide which beer to brew next. The brewer trying to brew all the styles might simply brew the next beer on the list for example.
4. Homebrew Competitions- If you are hoping to win a brewing competition, brewing your favorite beer might not be the best answer, not when it is the most popular style with the most entries. When brewing for competitions, it sometimes helps to check out the results of last year’s competition. Look for styles that had very few entries. It’s a good bet that there won’t be many more in that style this year. And if you happen to like the style, or think it would be an interesting beer to try, all the better. Some competitions, such as The Dixie Cup, one of the nation’s oldest homebrew competitions, have special categories that offers homebrewers a chance to stretch their brewing muscles. For the 2016 Dixie Cup, the special category is called “Texas Ingredient Showcase” where entrants should “brew a beer featuring ingredient(s) grown or produced in the state of Texas in a way that allows the drinker to appreciate the features of the ingredient as well as complementing the base beer style. Examples would be things such as a brown ale featuring Texas pecans, an American wheat featuring hill country peaches, a braggot featuring mesquite honey, or even a beer aged on or smoked with a distinctive Texas wood. There are many possibilities here if you think about the number of agricultural products the state produces.” Hmmm, I have some mesquite bean flour that might make an interesting Texas brown ale.
5. New (or Newish) Styles:
6. High-gravity beers- For many home brewers, what to brew next is a high-gravity beer. They enjoy taking a popular style and “Imperializing” it. But simply doubling or tripling the recipe doesn’t necessarily make a good beer. With higher gravity comes lower hop utilization. You will also have to worry about low attenuation and making a too-sweet beer. You will have to pay close attention to the fermentation process, even to the point of babying the fermentation the whole time. You’ll have to experiment with your recipe to get everything in balance again. But there are many, many possible iterations of Imperial beer to choose from. That's the fun part. Imperial porter, imperial pilsner, imperial witbier, if you can imagine it, it can be brewed with some experimentation and patience. Can you imagine what an Imperial Baltic Porter might taste like? Or what about an Imperial Eisbock? When you are thinking of what to brew next, and haven’t brewed a high-gravity beer, you definitely need to give it a try. It will test your homebrewing skills and tax your patience.
much time do you have?- If you are brewing for an event, of course you
will have a deadline. You will have to give yourself enough time to
brew, ferment, condition and either bottle or keg prior to the event.
And deciding what to brew next for a wedding can be difficult. Unless
most of the guests are craft beer enthusiasts, you will have to cater
to the masses. And you know what that means…American light lager,
witbier, Kolsch, or American Pale Ale (to name a few styles popular with
the masses of Miller Lite drinkers.
8. To maintain marital bliss- You may find that to maintain marital bliss, what to brew may have to be what the wife (or significant other) likes. I’d say this is especially important if you are an extract brewer still brewing in the wife’s kitchen. But you can always experiment under the guise that you are trying to find the wife a new favorite beer…I mean, how is she ever going to know what her favorite beer is unless you give her some options?
These are just a few thoughts on how you might decide what to brew next. If you have some thoughts on the subject, please leave a comment below for the other homebrewers around the world. (Yes, homebrewers from Britain, Germany, Australia, even China will be reading this, and they can’t decide what to brew next either!)
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