Like most people, when I first started playing music I took pleasure in simply learning and copying popular music. I played covers of my favorite bands at the time: Metallica, Faith No More, Nirvana, etc. But what I quickly realized is that there’s a ceiling to the pleasure that can be derived from copying someone else’s creation. Developing something truly your own is where the real art is. The same is true with brewing.
Like playing music, many homebrewers start out with recipe kits; this is a great way to become familiar with the process before diving headlong into recipe design. But still there are many brewers that never move beyond kits and after years are still “covering other people’s music”. If you’re still brewing with recipe kits or clones, you’re really missing out on the real fun.
At first designing a recipe can be a bit daunting. Where do you start? The malt bill? Hops? Yeast? Adjuncts? Beer is more than the sum of the individual ingredients that comprise it. Try to imagine your beer as a holistic experience. Flavors that work well in the kitchen can serve as great inspiration for beers too. For example, my mother-in-law makes a delicious iced tea with lemons, oranges and a hint of cloves. It’s a refreshing summer drink that translated nicely into a delicious witbier. Find your inspiration and let that be your “north star”.
Once you have a vision for the beer, start researching ingredients that lend themselves to that overall sensory experience. Your first attempt will surely not be your best. Don’t be discouraged. Time and repetition are the name of the game. With each brew session you’ll get a more familiar with the ingredients and amounts and a bit more comfortable with your process. Before you know it, you’ll be churning out award-winning custom recipes and chuckling about the days when all you played were cover songs.