INFLUENCING FLAVOUR IN YOUR BEER BREWING KIT

Are you getting bored with strictly following homebrew beer kit instructions?  Do you want to cut loose and start experimenting with beer recipes but aren’t quite sure what to do?

Using an all-grain homebrew kit is a great way to begin brewing – the kit recipes are tried and tested and help ensure you get a good result for your efforts.

Many homebrewers are thrilled to know that they’ve created a tasty beer with their own hands… but what about those with itchy creative sparks who want to experiment a bit more?  It can be a big and daunting leap to go from recipe following to recipe creation.  The good news is that there are steps in-between to help you satisfy that creative streak and to allow you to personalise your beer recipe and make a kit truly “your own”.

The only rules are – there are no rules!  You are the brewer and the beauty of home brewing and creating beer from scratch is that you can learn what you truly like to drink and you can create a beer just for you.  Of course, the road of experimentation is not always smooth and you will not always create flavours that you love, the key is to learn as you go about what you like as well as what you don’t like.  The best way to really find out is to experiment yourself.

Here are characteristics in your beer that you can easily influence – regardless of the all grain recipe kit that you have – and the stages in the brewing process where you can feel confident to play master brewer and begin tweaking the established beer recipes:

HOW TO CHANGE THE BODY OF YOUR BEER:

Heating Mash Water
Heating Brewing Water

Describing the body and mouthfeel of a beer has nothing to do with the flavour of the beer.  Rather, it is a description of the feel of the beer in your mouth; how it fills your palate, is it thick or thin, viscous or watery, smooth, creamy, sticky, chewy… these are all terms commonly used to describe mouthfeel.

The body of your beer is determined largely by the type of sugars that are extracted from your grains, which in turn are determined by the temperature at which you conduct your MASH step… so ultimately, temperature control is very important.  A recipe will advise you to mash your grains at a specific temperature somewhere between 54 and 75 degrees Celsius.  A small change in temperature during the mash can have a major effect on the final product, so is an easy way to play around with your beer recipe.

A fairly simple explanation is that when you mash your grains, you are activating enzymes to convert the starch inside your grains into soluble sugars.  There are two main enzymes which do this work (alpha and beta amylase), and both are more active at different temperatures; Alpha is more active at the higher end of the mashing spectrum (above 67degrees) whereas Beta is more active at the lower end – (below 65 degrees).  Alpha Amylase creates sugars which are less fermentable (the yeast can’t convert the sugar to alcohol) leading to a beer with more malty sweetness and a fuller body – but less alcohol.

Conversely, Beta Amylase creates many more fermentable sugars, resulting in a beer that is cleaner and crisper tasting with a lighter body and more alcohol.

A MASH temperature between 65-67 will allow both enzymes to act together and result in a more medium bodied beer.  As you progress you can even perform what is called a “Stepped Mash” where you deliberately change the temperature during the MASH to favour the different enzyme activity.  This means that you as the brewer can determine the amount of activity of each enzyme and therefore deliberately construct the body of your beer.  This is a more difficult skill to master and involves using less water at the beginning of your MASH step, then adding more water to adjust the temperature as the MASH progresses.  Certainly, something to try when you know your equipment well and can accurately reach and maintain a specific temperature.

So you can see that by paying close attention to, and perfecting your temperature control during your MASH, you can influence many factors in your final beer including sweetness and alcohol.  Why not brew the same recipe twice, changing the MASH temperature each brew to see how it changes the final result?

Wild Hop flowersINFLUENCING BITTERNESS AND HOP AROMA:

Much like the grapes can contribute all sorts of flavours to a wine, hops can do the same for a beer.  There are many different hop varieties – with more emerging all the time – which offer different flavour characteristics depending on where they are grown.  But unlike wine, you can also influence the hop flavour contributed (bitterness, flavour and aroma) by changing when the hops are added during your brewing.

This (as with all components of brewing) can become as complicated as you wish to make it, but a simple way to think of it is:  Add hops at the beginning of the BOIL for at least 60 mins to give Bitterness, during the BOIL for 30 mins or less to give flavour, and at the end of the boil for 10 mins or less to give aroma.  You can also DRY HOP during fermentation to give extra aroma.

You will most likely have been given hops in your beer kit (pre-measured for the different additions if you have a HomeBrewtique Kit!) and directions on when to add them… but who says you must add these according to your kit instructions… If you prefer a less bitter beer, add you first hops later in the boil rather than right at the beginning – the later you add them the less bitterness they will contribute to your final beer… and if you like a really hoppy and aromatic beer – why not go crazy and throw in all the hops right at the end to see if that is how you like it best!

 

Hop Additions pre-measured and vacuum sealed in foil pouch
Hop Additions pre-measured and vacuum sealed in foil pouch

Then there is Dry Hopping – this is when you save some of your hops and add them during fermentation.  Dry-hopping is a great technique to influence the hop flavour and aroma, however it is interesting to note that hops tend to give a more grassy, resinous flavour when used as a dry hop, whereas when added during the boil – particularly at the end, they tend to impart more of a floral and spicy character… so consider which flavours would work with your beer style best and adjust your hop additions accordingly.

 

You can also consider purchasing extra hops to add to your brew – try different varietals at different times as all will contribute flavour in a different way.

YEAST:

Craft Beer Yeast
Craft Beer Yeast Sachets

A fairly simple way to change the final flavour of your beer is with the yeast that you use – there are so many different strains of brewer’s yeast available on the market today. Instead of an American Ale yeast for your American Pale Ale, why not try a British Ale yeast – and compare the results.  As a rule, the American Ale yeast will tend to provide a cleaner, crisper flavour to your beer with less sweetness as much more of the sugars get consumed and the yeast itself should impart little or no flavour – whereas the British Ale yeast may work a little slower and consume slightly less sugar, but itself will impart a more floral flavour to the beer.  Then there are the Saison/farmhouse yeast varieties which will give more of a sour hit to your beer, or even try a lager yeast in an ale recipe – this is how the “California Common” beer style came about.

A word of caution, be careful not to “over pitch” your yeast when experimenting with different varieties – especially if you are brewing in small batches – too much yeast can mean that the yeast does not need to multiply or “grow” in order to eat all the sugar and can get “lazy” meaning that it won’t clean up all of the by-products of fermentation, leaving off, undesirable flavours in your beer.  Conversely, under pitch and the yeast will need to work too hard in order to do its job – it may not be able to complete the fermentation, meaning that there is enough food (sugar) left for an infection to take hold and ruin your beer.

Determining the correct pitch rate for your yeast is the basis for a whole other blog – suffice to say for now, use the yeast included with your kit as a guide and if you wish to change strains, then try to stick with the same manufacturer and form (wet/dry) and use the same amount.

 

CARBONATION IN YOUR BEER:

Once the fermentation is complete, you will generally bottle your beer with some additional sugar to allow the yeast to get back to work and carbonate your beer.  This is another stage where you can very easily influence your final beer.  If you like less carbonation,

pilsner glass of beer
well carbonated beer

use a bit less – prefer a highly carbonated beer, then add a little more sugar.  The key word here is little – seriously, don’t go crazy, less is more and bear in mind that ultimately your bottles will only hold a certain amount of pressure.

 

Tip: colder liquids will absorb more CO2, therefore the colder your beer the more C02 will be dissolved into the liquid, and vice versa.  If your beer is served a bit warm, some of that C02 will no longer be IN the beer and may lead to excess carbonation eg. over-flow!

You can also experiment with the type of sugar that you add to carbonate, anything from molasses to honey can be used, with all contributing different flavours to differing extents.

As with yeast pitch rates – priming rates (how much sugar to add) is the subject for another blog, (giving us ideas for the future!!) but as a VERY rough guide, look to add 1 teaspoon per bottle.  I would not recommend actually adding per bottle but would add the total amount to your beer and mix to evenly distribute before bottling.

 

FLAVOUR ADDITIONS:

Finally, probably the area where you thought I was going to start this blog, is adding other ingredients to your beer…the most obvious of these being fruit… and why not?- try adding some raspberries at the end of the boil to your Pale Ale, some orange peel to your IPA, or maybe some sloe berries to your Imperial IPA … anything goes – see what is in season and chuck something in…Try adding it to the MASH, the BOIL or “Dry Hop” –  if you are going to “Dry Hop” your fruit additions try to add them in some form of a removable bag (ensure that you sanitise it first!) to avoid getting fruit chunks in your final bottle!

Of course, you are not limited to fruit, what about herbs and spices?  Try some lavender or rosemary from your garden in your next batch of beer, what about some chilli or peppercorns or even fresh ginger to give a hot and unique kick to your homebrew, or try some vanilla pods or cocoa nibs or a shot of espresso … really the possibilities are endless, your only limit is your imagination.

Have you already tried something creative? Did it work – or was it a massive fail?  Please share your experiments with us to help inspire other brewers… just leave a comment on this blog.  Hey, you may even help to inspire our next recipe pack!

 

Happy Brewing!

Claire and Posy

Cheers from Posy and Claire
Cheers from Claire and Posy

For a great all-grain kit to use as your base recipe – try our Best Bitter recipe pack, or for that darker beer try experimenting with our milk stout recipe!   Try our multi-hop IPA recipe if you want to play with hop flavours and different timings!  Have fun. xx

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