Recipe for first extract brew, a lot learned

As I wrote in my previous post, I have decided on brewing an American Pale Ale and had picked out my ingredients but I hadn’t a recipe to follow. So I turned to the forums to get help coming up with the recipe. After a lot of discussions back and forth on the forums (especially this thread), I came up with a recipe that I have confidence in and I had learned a heck of a lot about home brewing.

What I learned

Great tools available for planning extract recipes

The first suggestion I got on the forums was to get a copy of a piece of software called BeerSmith. BeerSmith is a recipe development tool widely used by home brewers. It costs US$21.95 but there is a free trial available so you can try before you buy. It is a very easy tool to use but you do need to have a rough idea of the recipe in advance. BeerSmith will help you determine the quantities of fermentables and hops to brew your desired style of beer.

I also learned about another great tool for the same purpose, it is an Excel spreadsheet application called Kit & Extract Beer Designer. It can be downloaded free of charge from the forum (link to latest version). As then name implies, this spreadsheet application is geared towards brewing with kits and extracts and not all grain brewing. BeerSmith does not have any kit data built in but does support all grain, so it is geared towards extract and all grain brewing.

Playing around with these tools does give you a good feel for how the different malts, adjuncts and hop additions affect the profile of the beer. They both are packed with data about all the common brewing ingredients and beer styles, so you can input and tweak your ingredient quantities to get a beer profile to match your desired beer style.

Late Hop Additions for American Pale Ale

I had based my recipe idea on a sample APA recipe in How To Brew which called for hop additions at 60, 30 and 15 mins, but experienced brewers pointed out to me that it would be better to go later with the hop additions (apart from the initial bittering one) to get more of a hoppy flavour that is typical of APAs.

Don’t Overdo the Crystal

No we’re not talking about crystal meth but crystal malt, a steeping grain that is recommended for American Pale Ales. In one version of my recipe I had bumped this up to 0.5 kg (because I’ve got 1 kg of of it) but learned this could result in a ‘thick, syrupy sugar beer’. So with Crystal, less is more.

What a BU:GU ratio is

I was told my recipe had a good BU:GU ratio, but didn’t have a clue what that meant. It’s the ratio of Bittering Units to Gravity units and gives an indication of the bitterness/sweetness balance. e.g. A 50 IBU beer with an OG of 1050 has a BU:GU ratio of 1.

Boil Gravity may have less effect than common conventions assume

Most extract brewers do not boil their entire wort volume as it’s not necessary and it’s easier to work with a smaller volume. Instead they boil a portion of the water (half is typical) and in some cases all of the malt extract and in other cases just part of the malt extract (adding in the remaining extract at the end of the boil). Common brewing conventions have it that the specific gravity of the boil effects the utillisation of the hops (at least as far as bittering is concerned). So if you dump in all your malt you raise the SG and lower the hop utillisation. Calculations for bittering used in tools such as BeerSmith will indicate that you need to increase your hops to come out with your target bitterness at the end. However some new studies have shown that this may not be true and that SG of an extract boil has little or no effect on hops utilisation. In fact it is now thought that the amount of hot break material in the boil is really the factor that can affect hops utilisation. In an all grain batch this tends to correlate to the boil SG so the calculations were right but for the wrong reason. However in an extract boil there is much less hot break material because the extract has been previously boiled in processing and most of the hot break material is already removed. So the old conventions of calculating IBUs based on boil SG may be wrong for extract brewing. Well, it is still a contentious point with some saying stick with the old conventions and you’ll be fine, you’ll basically end up recalibrating to your own tastes anyway as you gain experience.

Some brewers contend that the boil volume also has a role in hops utilisation, with a reduced volume giving a reduced utilisation. This theory too has been put into doubt. In an experiment performed last year, 3 batches of the exact same recipe were made with the differences between the batches being:

  • batch 1: full volume with all the extract
  • batch 2: half volume with all the extract
  • batch 3: half volume with half the extract (remainder added at end of boil)

The same amount of hops was used in each case. Conventional wisdom would have it that batch 2 would be significantly less bitter than batch 1 due to the higher boil SG. And batch 3 could also have somewhat reduced bitterness due to the lower boil volume. The result was that there was no major difference between any of them and they were all fine beers. Lab tests found that they had the same IBUs. Some subtle differences were noted but even these varied by taster. A podcast about this experiment can be found here (scroll down to Mar 4, 2010) .

In my case I will be doing a partial boil due to pot size limitations. I’ve decided to boil part of my extract as maintaining a BG close to the OG would not affect the conventional IBU calculations (as used in BeerSmith) so whether the boil SG theory is right or wrong it won’t matter. What I will take from it though is that I won’t be concerned about measuring out extract to target a specific BG, I’ll simply toss in 1 whole can into my boil and add the rest at the end. The Kit & Extract Beer Designer spreadsheet is actually set up nicely to deal with this. Unlike in BeerSmith, boil volume does not affect IBUs becuse it is set to assume a constant BG of 1.040 (it tells you how much malt to add to your boil to achieve this). I thought this was a weakness at first but now with this new information that I’ve learned, it just takes that whole aspect of the IBU calculations out of it and I think that’s a good thing.

How to measure volume in your boil pot

Very simple, mark up a scale on a stick or wooden spoon handle to dip into your pot for checking volume.

For now best stick with single hops variety

I was planning on using Simcoe for bittering and Cascade for later additions. But some brewers reckoned that the Simcoe may overpower the Cascade. This challenged what I had read that bittering hops varieties don’t have much effect on flavour and also some other forum members thought it was bogus too. However I decided it would be good for me to go with using only Cascade for bittering because it is known to make a good APA all by itself and I think I would gain a fuller appreciation and understanding of Cascade characteristics by avoiding potential confusion of flavours from other varieties.

Different Recipe Calculators will often give different results

I put my recipe into both BeerSmith and Kit & Extract Beer Designer and was surprised to see significant differences in resultant IBUs and ABV. The ABV was different by a whole percentage point in one version of the recipe. I think it is down to use of different calculation approaches and assumptions, none of which are exactly right or wrong. I was advised to just pick one or other and stick with it and get a feel for it. For my first recipe though, I just averaged out the 2 to be on the safe side. I think I will be sticking with the spreadsheet because I like the beer style graph, the fact that it has kit data built in and it’s FREE. But BeerSmith is pretty slick.

The Recipe – Aidan’s First All Cascade American Pale Ale

Batch Size: 23.00 L
Boil Size: 10.00 L
Boil Time: 60 min

1.5 kg Pale Liquid Extract (8.0 SRM) Extract 37.5% [boil]
2.25 kg Amber Liquid Extract (12.5 SRM) Extract 56.25 % [add at end of boil]
0.25 kg Caramel/Crystal Malt – 60L (60.0 SRM) Grain 6.25 %
20.00 gm Cascade – NZ [7.70 %] (60 min) Hops 22.6 IBU
20.00 gm Cascade – NZ [7.70 %] (30 min) Hops 12.3 IBU
20.00 gm Cascade – NZ [7.70 %] (10 min) Hops 5.8 IBU
20.00 gm Cascade – NZ [7.70 %] (0 min) Hops –
20.00 gm Cascade – NZ [7.70 %] (Dry Hop 3 days) Hops –
1 Pkgs Safale US-05 (Fermentis) Yeast-Ale

Beer Profile (Beersmith)
Est Original Gravity: 1.049 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.014 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 4.56 %
Bitterness: 34.0 IBU
Est Color: 22.0 EBC

Beer Profile (Spreadsheet)
Est Original Gravity: 1.052 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.013 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 5.4 %
Bitterness: 35.9 IBU
Est Color: 24.3 EBC

Beer Profile (Average)
Est Original Gravity: 1.050 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.014 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 5 %
Bitterness: 35 IBU
Est Color: 23 EBC


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    • Simon on 6 January 2011 at 3:51 am
    • Reply

    Good summary. It will be interesting to see what gravities you actually get. Make sure you keep a record of your measurements. Are you going to keep the boil topped up to 10L or just let it evaporate down?

    • on 6 January 2011 at 4:13 am
    • Reply

    Will do. I’ll just let it evaporate down. From what I’ve learned about the latest thoughts on the effects of boil gravity and volume shouldn’t really make much difference one way or the other. Thanks again for all your input and advice.

  1. Great article.
    I am going through the same predicament with IBU calc v’s gravity. At I have used the formula in How to Brew, but I find that for my half volume brews, I only calculate ~half the desired IBU’s. Which is outside the style guide. But when I increase the hop weight to compensate, I get a beer that tastes waaaay too bitter, which matches with your comments above.

    Shame I can’t get IBU’s lab tested.

    How did your APA come out?

      • on 25 July 2012 at 4:14 pm
      • Reply

      Yeah, I listned to an interesting podcast by John Palmer on this issue and gist of it is to throw the old assumptions about hops utillisation (that he wrote about in earlier versions of How to Brew) out the window. They did an experiment by making 3 batches of the same recipe, one full boil, one partial boil with all of the malt (a concentrated boil), and one partial boil with just part of the malt. The exact same amount of hops were used in all three and the end result was that there was not any major difference in precieved bitterness between the 3 finished beers. The current thinking on it by the experts is that wort gravity does not affect hops utillisation. However there may be some effect from break material in the boil but this is less of a factor when brewing with extract.

      My own rule of thumb is that no need to make any hops adjustmeents when doing a partial boil. But I like to have the gravity somewhat close to the boil gravity in my calculator – i.e. I don’t do a concentrated boil, but instead I add the extra malt at the end.

      That APA came out great, it was just my 3rd batch of beer and it’s been drank long ago, but it was a good one and everyone really liked it.

      1. Yep, I’m in total agreement with you because:
        * I checked out 2 podcasts on Brewing Network, as you suggested, including the one with Greg Tinseth (12-14-09).
        * Listened to the other podcast you suggested at
        * Using the normal Tinseth formula, for an IPA recipe, at HopWort, it only calculates 27.23 IBU, which is significantly below BJCP guidleline yet this a damn hoppy beer – it makes my tongue curl up!
        * When I change, only, the brew volume to 20L from the real-life 10L it calculates 53 IBU which is within style, and what I’m tasting (IMO)

        So now I have a predicament: How to change my website so it provides useful comparison to BJCP guidelines. If I ignore brew volume (which I’ll do for personal use now) then I’m not being accurate to the formula for my visitors.

        Think I need to write an explanation of how I’ve “improved” on Tinseth and suffer any backlash!

        FYI my sample recipe is here:


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