It’s the weekend. You’ve got a few hours free, and you want to brew. The only problem is you forgot to order a recipe kit. Plus, it’s colder than a witch’s behind outside; there’s no way you’re going to the local homebrew shop in this weather. Bad timing has left you with only spare parts in your larder and nowhere to turn. So what do you do? You brew of course.
Gather up your half pounds of grain and spare extract. Pull your extra hops out of the freezer. Grab your yeast, additives, and other bits and start thinking of what you could make. Most of the time you can cobble together a BJCP certified style; “Brown Ale” covers a pretty wide range. But why make a Brown Ale when you could do a Nut Brown Wheat? Or an Imperial American Lager? How about a Cherry Rauchbier? Spiced Belgian India Brown Ale anyone?
How do you think Black Wheat beer became a thing? It certainly wasn’t because someone stuck to convention. Treat your fermentor like a canvas and your ingredient stash like paints. You’re only limited by the materials in front of you. Create your own recipe and in a couple of months evaluate the result of your artistry. Maybe the beer’s a little maltier than you expected, or there’s a strange peach flavor you can’t nail down. It’s good, but it could be better. Or it’s bad, but there’s a part of it you enjoy. Too bad you’ll never know what you could do to improve it, right? Wrong. Some of the best beers around started out as shots in the dark, with brewers throwing together recipes they weren’t sure would work. What made the beers great were the notes taken between batches to figure out what needed improving.
The benefits of note-taking can’t be emphasized enough. You’ll be able to tweak, scale, and compare your recipes as well as see what you might have done wrong. Whether you’re throwing together a recipe from spare parts or you’re brewing a recipe that you’ve made a hundred times before, taking notes is always a good idea.
Working with unexpected ingredients can really help provide new perspective on what you can brew. Necessity is often the mother of new beer. It might be a little risky. But all you really have to lose are some spare ingredients and a few hours of your time. What you gain is the chance to become an innovative brewer. So start your boil, toss in everything but the kitchen sink, and see where it takes you.