Commercial Brewing Recipe Formulation – Part 1

Commercial Brewing Recipe Formulation

Time to tackle a big one today and cover commercial brewing recipe formulation. It’s a subject Chris brought up and one I needed to work on, to do justice to.

It’s a deep subject to write about and why it’s been a while since my last article as I’ve been tackling this beast. So, instead of writing a book, this article covers some of the “key concepts”.

Putting a new beer together is one of my favourite roles as a brewer. The brewing life isn’t as glamourous as most people believe, being mostly cleaning. So, when I’m given scope to put a new beer together, I relish it.

When brewing on a commercial scale, creating a new beer doesn’t mean you’ve carte blanche on recipe design. There’s generally caveats involved, such as:

  1. Needs to complement other beers already on tap
  2. What season of the year you’re in
  3. Target market for the beer
  4. What has done well before
  5. Is there a “hot” style right now people are looking to drink
  6. Costs, how much will the beer cost per litre?

Other Factors

There are more factors involved when it comes to recipe creation; these a just some of the main ones. Where I live, China I see many breweries with 60% of the beers on tap being IPA’s, this can lead to customer confusion.

Yes, IPA’s are popular however, many Chinese drinkers don’t like bitter beer. Additionally, IPA’s are expensive to make, due to their high hop loads.

I see tap houses with IPA heavy line-ups and believe they are missing out on sales. IPA’s are usually higher in alcohol and more flavourful compared to say a crisp pilsner so, people tend to drink less. Even if the beer is higher in price, the spending per customer may be smaller.

I see it as breweries in China going off worldwide trends. Not considering their own customer base, what they might like to drink and/or using more local flavours their clientele know and understand.

I talked about “commercial styles” on the BMAB Facebook group and one person spoke about how using local fruits in Korea was key in his thinking. Some feedback provided by the BMAB group to assist in the writing of this article topics below:

Commercial Brewing Recipe Formulation – Where to Start

One of the keys to recipe design, is being aware of the big picture. But also, being on top of the small details. Recipe formulation starts with the beer style you’re planning to brew.

When brewing you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Yes, new styles pop up over time such as pastry stouts, however, there are many beers you can brew which people know, want and are balanced.

When designing a recipe, understanding the beer style you’ve chosen to brew and the history behind it, is a good start. Yes, brewers can add their own twist or tweak a recipe. But basing the heart of the recipe on a proven style is where most commercial brews start.

A “beer style” is where a beer has found widespread popularity, at a given time and location, becoming a local standard. To be brewed with the same general parameters. Basing your recipe on a particular beer style doesn’t have to limit you.

BJCP Guidelines

You only look have to look at the BJCP beer style guidelines to know there’s a wide range of beer styles, all with their own unique qualities, open to you as a brewer.

There’s a skill involved in understanding the origins of a beer, the original ingredients used and the requirement to brew it successfully.

Yes, you can create a beer from scratch, I have and know many brewers who work this way. Brew what you think people want. However, 95 times out of a 100, I’ll base a recipe off a style.

The Evolution of the IPA

Let’s take a look at IPA’s which we discussed before, the original IPA’s (India Pale Ale) were brewed in the UK and sent to India for British troops to drink from the 1760’s onward. The beer was fortified with hops to act as a preservative ensuring the beer was drinkable when it reached its destination.

Now, we have many different iterations of IPA. We have Black IPA’s (Cascadian Dark Ale) and NEIPA’s (New England IPA’s) for instance. IPA’s have evolved over time with new variations accepted and their parameters standardized. So now we have:

  • English IPA
  • Rye IPA
  • West Coast IPA
  • New England IPA
  • Double, Triple and Imperial IPA
  • Session IPA
  • Black IPA
  • Sour IPA
  • White IPA

And there are a few I’ve probably missed too!

Commercial Brewing Recipe Formulation – The Steps

Let’s look at a breakdown of how a beer can be put together:

  1. Choose your beer style
  2. Look at the style guidelines
  3. Set your parameters for OG (original gravity), FG (final gravity), IBU’s (bitterness) and SRM (color of the final beer)
  4. Grain bill selection
  5. Put together a mash profile with salt additions, pH adjustment and temperature steps
  6. Choose hop varieties with addition times and quantities used
  7. Decide the length of the boil
  8. Select yeast strain
  9. Choose your fermentation profile; fermentation technique, yeast needs, oxygen (O2) requirements, pitching rates and fermentation temperature schedule
  10. Actually brew your beer

Choose Your Beer Style

When you choose your beer style, you’ll have general guidelines to follow. This includes; OG and FG giving you the alcohol content plus, bitterness, color, mouthfeel, appearance, presence of esters, characteristic ingredients and even a list of other commercial examples.

These are the building blocks from which you can build a recipe from. This doesn’t mean you’re beholden to the guidelines. The choice of grains, hops, fermentation options and maturation techniques are still open to you, allowing you to put your own stamp on a recipe.

Base Malts

All recipes start with your base malt. This is usually a simple choice. The standard base malts are:

Ale malt – For the aforementioned IPA’s, English styles ales and more

Pilsner malt – For lagers and many European beer styles including Belgian ales.

Wheat malt – Used in quantities (usually 50% and above) for Hefeweizens and Belgian wit beers.

Munich/Vienna malt – For some more unique beers such as Festbiers and bocks.

How much malt you need depends on the malt extract potential. The data needed can be provided by the malt supplier. The actual yield you’ll get depends on the efficiency of the brewhouse. In most commercial breweries you’ll get 72% efficiency and upwards.

Every brewhouse is unique and losses in efficiency will make a large difference to the final gravity. If you’re working on a new brewhouse, where efficiency is unknown.

It’s always worth playing safe so, working to a lower efficiency percentage. More liquor can be added during a brew day to reach target gravity if it’s too high. Keep an eye on your gravity of your running’s to the brew kettle, if it gets too low you will pull tannins and make your final beer bitter.

Brewing Software – Commercial Brewing Recipe Formulation

There are many different software’s available to brewers today, to figure out malt (plus hop and water treatment) needed for a brew. Some of the most popular are:

Brewers Friends – for a link to the free recipe calculator click here

Beersmith – For the site please click here

Brew30 – A paid and popular brewing software

Brewd – I’ve not used it but seems popular amongst brewers, click here for more info

Ekos – More than just a recipe formulator, it’s a fully-fledged brewing software through to beer stock and more. The recent price hike is making this one less attractive…I’m not a fan.

There are a many more, some free, others expensive and do more than just calculate recipes. I’d rather not suggest one over another. There are various brewing forums on the net where brewers talk about their preferences.

Please note: It’s always good to know how to calculate malt needs by hand. There are various guides on the internet and a quick Google search will give you access to a lot of good info. Yes, most brewers use software but being able to do it the old school way is always handy.

Specialty Malts

Once you’ve decided on your base malt next comes the specialties. Your specialty malts typically take up 5 to 25% of the total grain bill but can be even higher in some modern styles.

These malts provide flavor and colour contributions which allow you to brew a beer to style. There are literally hundreds of malts to choose from for the modern brewer. Here are some my personal favourites:

Commercial Brewing Recipe Formulation

Please note: Some suppliers provide similar malt under different names. Malt substitution charts for malts made by different companies are readily available online. Google is your friend here too.

Commercial Brewing Recipe Formulation – Adjuncts

Adjuncts often have a bad reputation in craft brewing circles due to their association with macro-brewing. Where the big boys derive 30-50% of the carbohydrates from rice and corn when brewing lager.

I use adjuncts in brewing several beer styles, as they allow me to brew the beer with the characteristics desired. I’ve written a dedicated article on brewing with adjuncts, which you can read here.

However, I’ll go into a bit of details here too. Adjuncts play a role in many classic beers. They can provide a brewer the ability to create much more fermentable wort than all-grain brewing alone.

Using adjuncts to provide 10-30% of your carbohydrates when putting a recipe together can lead to a lighter beer and balance than with solely malt alone.  I love using oats in several beers such as stouts or some IPA’s variants if I want a “smoothness or silkiness” in the final beer.

Depending on how the adjunct has been processed, it might require some steps before being adding to a mash. Raw grains need to be cooked in a cereal cooker before they can be used. As I say for more information, please see my dedicated article on brewing with adjuncts.


Color is important when it comes to producing a recipe. Again, this is where brewing software can help. When you input your malt bill, the software can calculate the color. Color comes from the different specialty malts you use.

It’s the role of the brewer to think about what flavor a malt imparts as well as how it effects color. When it comes to craft brewing, sometimes you might be a little off in color when brewing a new beer. It happens, especially the darker you go. Sometimes tweaking is needed to dial in a recipe.

In one of my previous articles on brewery boiling tips, we also speak about how boiling wort leads to a color change. The beer will darken as it boils due to Maillard reaction. To learn more please read the article. If brewing to style it’s important to be in the color range listed.