Websites and books are full of recipes, extract and all-grain, telling you how to make a clone of your favourite beer. The ingredient lists is usually five or more different malts, two unmalted grains, three different hops and a special liquid yeast culture, to make a particular ale. Then you look at what you can get from your local Irish supplier and despair begins to set in.
The problem is that most of these books and sites are American. I'm not saying that that makes them bad or wrong, I'm just saying that that means that they are designed with American brewers and the myriad speciality grains and hops available to them, in mind. We just don't have that kind of selection here, but that doesn't mean we can't make good beer.
I also think it is a mistake to rush ahead and begin throwing loads of different ingredients into your brews, before you have a feel for them. How are you going to know which ingredients you like the taste of and which you don't, if you used six new ingredients in the batch? Get to know the basics first. For example, make sure you know how to use crystal malt before you spend your hard earned cash importing Belgian Special B. Bitters, for example, are an excellent place to start. You can make a beautiful bitter with the simplest ingredients. If you want to make a nice, bitter, here is a recipe:
All Grain Extract with steeping grains.
3.5Kg Pale malt Or 2Kg Dry malt Extract.
400g Crystal malt. 200g white sugar.
400g Crystal malt.
40g of Goldings Hops for 60 minutes.
30g of Goldings Hops for 15 minutes.
1 Teaspoon of Irish moss for 15 minutes.
20g of Goldings Hops for 5 minutes.
Ferment With Danstar Nottingham/Gervin English Ale yeast.
This will make a very tasty, fast maturing, beer of the bitter style, from easy to get ingredients. Once you have made this beer you will know what crystal malt and Goldings hops taste like. You have learned these ingredients and have a baseline for your next brew.
Want something a little stronger than a bitter? Just take the same recipe and increase the pale malt to 4.5 or malt extract to 2.5Kg.
Think it's too bitter? Reduce the hop additions to 30g, 20g and 10g respectively.
Want to try a different hop? Why not see what Fuggles tastes like instead of Goldings?
Want something darker? Why not try adding 150g of chocolate malt to it.
Want more of that caramel flavour? Increase the crystal malt to 600g or even 1Kg.
Brewing is a creative process and if you approach with that in mind, it is a lot of fun. It's about learning what the ingredients do and using that knowledge to make beers that you like. The end result of this is that the beer which graces your glass is yours in every way. Not only did you make it yourself, but you formulated the recipe through trial and error, forging a truly unique beer for you and your friends to enjoy.
If you need any help with recipe formulation, substituting hops and grains, working out how bitter or strong your beer will be, or you just want to chat to fellow brewers about your latest creation, pop along to our forum, where the other brewers and I will be glad to help.