What to brew next? Believe it or not, this is a tough question you must answer over and over during your homebrewing career.
Before you 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:
Tips and Guidelines on What to Brew Next
1. The 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:
- There are many regional beers being brewed that have such an impact on the market that they become a new beer style. Take the Black IPA (also called Cascadian IPA or Black Ale) for instance. This beer is brewed with northwest hops and dark malts that would normally go into a stout or porter. For some, it’s a difficult beer to love but there are many who have embraced the new style and it has found a home across the U.S.
- Have you considered brewing a coffee beer. They first came on the market in 1994 when New Glarus brewed their iconic coffee stout. Since then many breweries are brewing one, and it’s not just stouts and porters any more. Coffee is being added to all kinds of beer styles with very interesting results. Have you tried Carton Brewing’s “Regular Coffee“? It’s an imperial cream ale brewed with lactose and coffee to imitate New Jersy’s Regular Coffee with “milk and 2 sugars”.
- Reviving defunct styles is one way to distinguish yourself as a brewer. American homebrewers are adventurous by nature and love to brew unusual beers. One new/old style is called Grodziskie. It is a session beer made mostly of wheat that has been dried with oak smoke. Grodziskie is usually filtered to remove the suspended proteins that would normally make it cloudy. And have you noticed a style called Gose, a salty, sour, spicy beer originally brewed in Leipzig, Germany.
- Sour beers are getting very popular and many breweries are starting their own barrel programs. Of course, lambics and gueze styles have been around for a very long time. But, sometimes it takes a while for a category of beer to catch on. There are many inventive brews on the market made by some very talented brewers who are using “bugs” (wild and cultivated yeast and bacteria) in their beers with outstanding results. How about brewing an IPA with brett? When trying to figure out what to brew next, if you have the extra equipment to dedicate to sour beer, there are many great sour beer recipes out there just waiting to be brewed. Check out my interview with Michael Tonsmiere who wrote American Sour Beers for more information on brewing these wonderful beers.
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.
7. How 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!)