Sharing Recipes Among Brewers

November 22, 2011

Pancho has been an avid homebrewer for more than 18 years.

Recently we posed the question: How does recipe sharing happen between brewers and homebrewers? Below, one of our long-time tour guides, Pancho Luna, who is also a homebrewer, and Boulevard brewer, Jeremy Danner, responds.

From the Homebrewer:

When I started home brewing I wasn’t like my friends, I drank Beck’s Dark, Turbo Dog and sometimes I’d even sneak in a Guinness. I was a beer aficionado! Now, more than 18 years later of brewing on the kitchen stove, turkey fryers and now my brewing rig, I still find it to be one of the best hobbies I’ve ever engaged in.

My first homebrew was a brown ale. I got the recipe from the local “homebrew shop/garden center.” No one there really knew anything about brewing besides the line, the “stuff was back there”. The recipe came out of a bin. It had the list of items you needed to purchase along with all the instructions for making a brown beer. If I remember correctly, it turned out well. Since then I’ve purchased dozens of books with extract/all grain/mini-mash recipes for beers from all over the world. All in all, they’ve turned out well.

I pretty much brew whatever catches my eye (or taste buds). I go to the liquor store, try other brewers’ beers and get inspired. If it’s a commercially available beer, I look up as much as I can online. Sometimes I’ll find a recipe and brew it. Other times I’ll just try to figure out what ingredients are being used in the brew and formulate a recipe from that information. And yes, there are some instances where I email or call the brewery (gasp!).

All the professional brewers I’ve had the pleasure to speak with are so enthusiastic about beer. They have a fanatical outlook on beer and the process’ they employ to get the beer they enjoy. They (we) all do the same things: talk about the last great beer they drank, discuss the one in their hand, the yeast/grain/hop or water profile they used and what it did to the last batch they brewed, what they should do next time, etc.

I’ve found that brewers, amateur or professional are always willing and happy to share information, including recipes! I’ve asked for recipes from breweries and have never been denied. In fact, I’ve only had two questions asked to me in return: 1) When you brew it, can I get some?; 2) Why do you want our recipe? You can make so much more as a homebrewer! Just drink ours while you’re brewing. Homebrewers are the same way.

Others have asked me if I’m afraid someone will take my recipe and claim it as their own or make a batch that wins a contest. I say, “Do it!” but I always ask…. when you brew it, can I get some?

From a Boulevard brewer:

As a brewer for Boulevard I often get requests from homebrewers for advice on how to improve their beers or requests for actual recipes of our beers. The beer industry is unique in that we really don’t have brewing secrets. We openly share with other breweries that outsiders would perceive as “the competition.” The mentality of most brewers in the industry is that we’re all in this together. We share recipes and process details to help others improve their libations so that we can all make better beers. If we’re all making great ales and lagers, we’re exposing the general public to a high quality, delicious product. The same is true when sharing with homebrewers. Other industries might fear that if someone can duplicate their products at home, they’ll lose business. In brewing, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The beauty of beer is that even if someone brews the exact same recipe, using the exact same raw materials, they’re invariably going to end up with a slightly different beer. Will it be similar or very close to the original? Absolutely, but it will still have it’s own uniqueness.

Homebrewers are a vital part of beer culture as craft beer continues to grow. They’re the “first church of craft beer” if you will. Often times the uninitiated will have their first taste of craft beer in someone’s tricked out garage or basement brewery. Encouraging quality and growth at the homebrewing level helps to improve the entire scene. If homebrewers are making fantastic, high quality beer, it becomes easier to get that friend to try a commercially brewed craft beer. For this reason, I share as much information about the production of our beers as I can. I never send off a complete recipe because a recipe for a 150-barrel batch of beer is useless and overwhelming to a homebrewer looking to brewer five or ten gallons. We provide malt and hop bills in the form of percentages of total grist and IBU’s gained from hop varieties. I’ll also provide mash program, yeast strain, and fermentation temperature information.  I’ve even gone so far as to provide chemical and sensory analysis results to advanced homebrewers.

As professional brewers we feel a strong connection to the homebrewing community whether or not we started out as home brewers. Personally, I’ve never brewed a batch of beer smaller than 217 gallons (seven barrels), but I’m fascinated and amazed with the quality of beers I’ve had that were made in a five gallon plastic bucket.  Anything we, as professional brewers, can do to encourage the growth and quality of the homebrew culture translates directly to the growth of commercial craft beer. Many folks brewing in converted kegs in their driveway today will be future commercial craft brewery owners and I want them to make awesome beer for me to drink!