Why Are Homebrewer So Secretive of Their Recipes?

I posted on twitter a link to my latest homebrew recipe, a Schwarzbier (a German Black Lager),  Soon after the post I received two tweets.  One was a 140 character rant on many homebrewers not sharing recipes and the other was a thank you for posting the recipe.  This got me thinking about why homebrewers can be very secretive about their recipes; I thought, rather think, the beer community is about sharing and helping fellow brewers.  I may be naive in my thinking, but read the rest of this and let me know what you think.

The first tweet was from Jamey Barlow (@BarlowBrewing)

@SimplyBeer Unless it is someone else’s and published in a book, I find it lame when homebrewers don’t share recipes.</rant>

While I don’t publish all my recipes for 2 reasons which I’ll get to in a second, I completely agree with Jamey.  I really don’t see why homebrewers are so secretive about their recipes.  The biggest reason, homebrewing is a hack job.  Seriously, we are all (most of us) working on homemade equipment, we don’t have the fancy equipment professional brewers have as far a digital temperature control, closed systems, water treatment, glycol among many other things.  Now I know there are some pretty technically advanced homebrewing systems out there that cover most of what I just described for what most homebrewers don’t have.

Now lets take out the technical advantages, you are left with nature, chemistry, and biology.  Nature is a fickle beast.  You have differences in water.  My water here in Montclair NJ is awesome for making beer, but your softer water or harder water some where else will produce a different result.  In hops, the Alpha Acids are always changing slightly.  If my recipe had Pearle hops at 9.5% and your Pearle hops are 9% or 10% you will have to account for that.  There will always be differences in measuring, such as the amount of strike water for the mash, slight temp differences in the mash temp, the mash out temp, or other temps.  I can be exacting a possible with my notes, but if my thermometer is off by a degree or two, everything will be off and if you follow my recipe exactly with a properly calibrated thermometer you’ll still be off.  I can go on and on about everywhere in a homebrew system where things can go astray slightly(efficiency, attenuation, etc), but one of the biggest will be the fermentation.  With out constant temp adjustment with a glycol jacket, you’ll never get an exact fermentation temperature.  Not only that the slight variations and “mutations” of a yeast colony can lead to variations in beer.

Like I said above, while I don’t have a problem sharing my recipes, there have been times where I haven’t for two different reasons.  The first is the time to put up the post on Simply Beer.  I get very busy and sometimes don’t get a chance to post recipes, especially since I love to include the photos.  I probably have about 10 recipes that I haven’t posted simply because of the time.  Secondly there has been several I haven’t posted because I have a commitment with a brewery to actually produce the beer.  (sorry I’m not going to get into more details here.) I know several homebrewers who are working towards their own brewery/brewpub, so I can understand why they don’t publish their recipes, although I’m sure they have some they aren’t going to use and could share with the world.

The second tweet was from Brian VanOrnum (@shortSnoutBrew)

@SimplyBeer Thanks for sharing. Schwarzbier is on my short list of upcoming brews. Not a whole lot of homebrew recipes for them out there.

I frankly find it an honor when a fellow homebrewer finds my recipe worthy of brewing.  My peanut butter porter almost has a cult following now of both beer bloggers and homebrewers, which is very cool and flattering.  Like Brian, there was not a lot out there on the Schwarzbiers, but I found a recipe on Northern Brewer and based my recipe on that with some slight changes in the grain bill and the mash and fermentation temps.  I usually like to create my recipes from scratch, but with styles I’m unfamiliar with I like to find other recipes to use.  Another reason why I post recipes, to give other people access or information to recipes.  it is also a way for me to give back, or pay it forward if you will, for all those people who have helped me along the way.

What are your thoughts, as a homebrewer, do you share your recipes?  Do you appreciate it when other homebrewers share theirs?

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20 Responses to “Why Are Homebrewer So Secretive of Their Recipes?”

  1. Tweets that mention Simply Beer - Why Are Homebrewer So Secretive of Their Recipes? -- Topsy.com Says:

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  2. michael reinhardt Says:

    With you Peter. I am happy to share with those I actually teach. I will also share with those I know. I’ll even share with the other homebrewers out there. However, I don’t share many of my brews for the exact reason you state above…its proprietary implications. I fully plan on sharing my recipes once I’m brewing commercially but I hold many of them tightly until then.

  3. Big Tex Says:

    For the most part, I don’t understand the hesitation towards intentionally withholding recipes out there. Golly, I know I’ve published a few of mine. Some of the exceptions you list, Peter, are certainly understandable, and I hadn’t considered them before. But overall, my impression that the beer world is full of generous folks looking to give a fellow brewer a hand. Prost!

  4. Simply Beer Says:

    Michael, while I’ve never met you, but we’ve had a number of emails and posts on each others’ sites, I would have guessed you would share a recipe if asked. Would you post any of your recipes on thankheavenforbeer.com if you had no plans to use it commercially?

  5. Simply Beer Says:

    Cool Big Tex! Do you have commercial aspirations like Michael or are you brewing as a hobby? Would love to see some of your recipes or even share them on Simply Beer.

    Any one who wants to post the recipes on Simply Beer please email me. If you have pictures that would be even better!

  6. Billy Says:

    Share away I say. I think people underestimate how difficult it is to brew the exact same beer from the same recipe. It’s not like the movies where they find an old crumpled piece of paper, unfold it, and behold! The secret recipe!

    Even at the commercial level it’s difficult to replicate, but at the homebrewer level it’s near impossible. The process has too many variables, as you said in your post.

    So I can understand that there are some reasons why to withhold it, but for the most part, share on!

  7. Ray Grace Says:

    Totally with you. Unlike you, I don’t have a blog to share my recipes on but I’m more than happy to share my recipes.

  8. Simply Beer Says:

    Billy, share on is what I’ll try to do. Will you be posting recipes on homebrewacademy.com?

    Ray, if you want to share any recipes, send them over I’ll be happy to post them on your behalf!

  9. Scott-TheBrewClub Says:

    Great post Peter! I wish I had some recipes to share! Still being very new to the homebrewing thing (haven’t quite jumped in w/both feet yet) I never really thought about the nature aspect of it. How something as ‘simple’ as water could make the same beer – taste like different beers!

    I think most homebrewers would share, but I think many are hoping that their secret recipe will bring fame and fortune someday. Nothing wrong with that either I guess.

  10. Doug Says:

    I didn’t realize homebrewers were particularly secretive. I can see being a bit coy when it comes to intellectual property that will earn you money, but as someone who has yet to begin formulating my own recipes—just brewing from the recipes of others—I love having ready access to proven ones. From what I can tell, there are plenty out there, between forums, books, magazines & blogs, to keep me entertained for a while. Still, the more the better, I say. Open source!

  11. Pat Walsh Says:

    I personally don’t have a problem sharing with people I have faith in. There is one person in particular that loves to ask for my advice, designs and recipes and then proceeds to tell me all the flaws. A week later he will post whatever it is I shared and claim it all as his own intellectual property and that just torques me off something fierce. And he plans to go pro someday!

    I will however gladly share with people who are seeking to improve, compare ideas or learn something new for purposes other than making themselves look better. I am one of those who have brewed the PB Cup porter and I try to preface it with “a nice guy shared this recipe and now I’m working on making it my own.”

    Also, I just emailed a pro brewer from a brew pub we visited on a vacation asking for his maibock recipe I’ve been dreaming of for the last 6 months and he gladly shared it. I plan to give him respect when I brew and name it as well.

    Also, I think we all hope to go pro someday and to get there you have to have good beer. To have good beer you have to have good feedback. To have quality feedback it takes palates that now what their tasting to help tweak things. Thus recipe sharing. And if I were to find the $$$ to go pro I won’t be to afraid of somebody else in my same market also finding the funds and starting to brew as well.

    Now I do have a few VERY unique recipes I am working on that I might not share at this time. Mostly because I haven’t had a chance to brew them yet and don’t know if they are worth sharing. Things like root beer float beer, samaos beer etc.

    Just my long winded .02 all typed on my Blackberry :-)

  12. Simply Beer Says:

    Doug, we look forward to seeing your stuff when you start crafting your own. The best way to start, IMO, is to start modifying the recipes you’ve brewed. Read about the ingredients (grains hops and yeast) it will vastly help improve you knowledge about what is going in and why. In my case I’ve actually removed ingredients (like the Peanut Butter Porter recipe) because the attribute of the grain is just lost in the beer. Complicated does not mean better.

    Pat, that sucks. It has happened to me. I basically crafted a recipe for some guy and he claimed it his own. I’m just not going to help that person again, karma can be a bitch :-) none the less, I’m going to brew that beer in a the next couple weeks with some major improvements. Now that I’ve started brewing lager beers, I’m planing on a bunch of lagers in the near future, would love to hear how you maibock come out.

  13. Billy Says:

    Peter, I will definitely have recipes for members inside The Homebrew Academy, and am even thinking about having a public portion of the site with recipes and homebrewing articles. That part is tricky since I already cover homebrewing on BillyBrew. Maybe invite in guest writers?

  14. Barlow Brewing Says:

    As a point of clarification, I guess my original tweet comes off as a little negative. In retrospect, my real point is that I wanted to pat Peter on the back for sharing his recipe. Sharing recipes something that I try to do on my blog, and that is the kind of sharing that really personifies the best of the pro- and homebrewing cultures. I wouldn’t be the brewer I am today (whatever that means) without the help, feedback and advice of others. And when I’ve had the chance help out others, it has made be a better brewer, too.

    Rather than to dwell on the silliness of not sharing and helping others (to both your AND their determent), I think I’d like to leave with the acknowledgment that if someone really wants to be part of the amazing beer community, they ought to be more open to sharing. Because that is, to me, what it is all about. And you will get back more than you will ever give.

  15. Simply Beer Says:

    Thanks Jamey, I appreciate you letting me use your tweet a bit out of context. You have helped me out on several occasions and shared that wonderful sour saison (my was the fickle mistress) with me. Thanks!

  16. Nick Says:

    Yo, I think this is a great post! I personally share all of my recipes, and hope others would too. Sharing recipes perpetuates the growth of this hobby and industry and helps other brewers improve. The more people who taste really good homebrew and say, man that tastes good, and then go out and buy Surly instead of Bud is a huge win for the community and the craft beer industry in my opinion. Like you said, there are seriously way to many variables in brewing. If and when I brew someone else’s recipe I try to give them credit. I also try and reach out before hand and see what they’d change if anything.

    That’s just my opinion…man.

  17. Simply Beer Says:

    Thanks Nick for weighing in, sounds like from most of this feed back most homebrewers would if they already don’t, share their Homebrewers.

    I guess my next question would be do you actually post you recipes online or just with friends or people who ask?

  18. Barleypopmaker's Beer Blog Says:

    I have to say I’m with Billy. Sharing recipes is not a big deal. A prime example is the segmanet “can you brew it” on the brewing network. Several top breweries have given out information on their recipes for attempting to clone them. It doesn’t appear to have impacted sales or some of the breweries wouldn’t have done it more than once. The way I see it, if it’s a good beer commercially, I’ll buy it. Even if I try to make a beer like it, I will still end up buying the commercial version. Which brings me to another point. If a homebrewer really likes a beer, and wants to clone it, the will keep trying until they do it. A good chef can pick out key ingredients in a recipe and replicate the dish. Same goes for a good brewer. In a few tries you should be able get tthe grain bill and hops real close.

    Also, like stated earlier, even with a recipe it can be difficult to replicate something exactly. Equipment, water, freshness of the ingredients, temperature, and yeast health all play a part and sometimes are not mentioned in a recipe.

    The only original recipes I don’t share on my site are the ones that I didn’t think were very good.

  19. Simply Beer Says:

    Thanks Jason, btw really enjoyed your post on how to roast your malt (http://barleypopmaker.info/2009/12/08/home-roasting-your-malts/)

  20. Barleypopmaker's Beer Blog Says:

    Thanks, I got most of it from Radical Brewing, but I tweaked the crystal malt recipe a bit, and got a bit better results than I did when I followed the book. I have made all Home-Roasted malt beers with great success, as a matter of fact my highest scoring beer in competition (43) was an all home-roasted batch. The only problem is it’s hard to stay consistant. But it does add a bit more “home-made” feel to the beer.


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