In the wake of the 2016 election, the moral panic that is fake news sprung to public consciousness. I would argue that even more of a threat to society than fake stories about the pope endorsing Donald Trump or the Russians allegedly making up stuff about Hillary Clinton, is what I call "fake beer".
Just as the internet and social media has made it easier for people to share news, videos, and opinions it has made it easier for brewers to share recipes. That applies to commercial brewers and beer experts as well brewers who may or may not know what they are doing. There are websites like BrewToad and Brewers Friend that have tools to help brewers design and share recipes. These websites are great resources, but unfortunately they are also breeding grounds for "fake beer".
Anyone can create and share recipes on these sites. Unfortunately there is no extreme vetting going on to make sure these recipes are any good or if they conform to style. Untold numbers of these fake beer recipes are sitting in the ether, waiting to deceive a new or inexperienced brewer to find them and think they are proven recipes that are accurate representations of the style they purport to be. I shudder to think that someone might find one of my early recipes online and attempt to brew it.
One fake beer recipe I saw was supposed to be a Scottish Ale, but it called for eight pounds of dark malt extract and a late hop addition. It may actually have been a decent Brown Ale recipe, but a Scottish Ale it was not. Luckily I was able to look at the recipe and explain to the brewer what was wrong with it and suggest changes. Sadly too many brewers cling to their fake beer recipes like that one Facebook friend that still believes Barack Obama was born in Kenya.
If you are a new and/or inexperienced brewer here are some quality sources of beer recipes that will steer you clear of fake beer:
- The American Homebrewer's Association (AHA): Every brewer should join the AHA just for Zymurgy magazine which features around a dozen great recipes in each issue. AHA members also have access to award winning recipes from the National Homebrew Competition. The AHA also publishes recipes and articles from noted craft brewers for free on its website.
- Craft Beer and Brewing: The Craft Beer and Brewing magazine is perfect for a brewer that is also a huge craft beer fan; as the name suggests the magazine and website focus equally on craft beer and brewing. Any organization that can publish a clone recipe for Double Sunshine can be trusted.
- Brew Your Own: BYO publishes lots of great clone recipes and articles on different beer styles. Many are available for free on their website including several of Jamil Zanichieff's recipes from Brewing Classic Styles.
- Michael Tonsmeire: The Mad Fermentationist
- Any book published by Brewers Publications: Brewing Classic Styles is the book I always reference when brewing a style for the first time or starting a new recipe. The insight into each style is at least as useful as the actual recipes. I also highly recommend Gordon Strong's Modern Homebrew Recipes. Two other titles suggested my members of the Home Brew Network Facebook group: Clone Brews and Radical Brewing.
- Experimental Brewing: Authors Denny Conn and Drew Beechum have also published books for Brewers Publications.
- Shut Up About Barclay Perkins: These recipes are from actual brewing logs thanks to Ron Pattinson's extensive research. A go-to resource for historic British styles.
- Actual breweries: Stone, Sierra Nevada, Ballast Point, and Brew Dog are just a few commercial brewers who have released actual recipes to the public.
- Recipe kits: The only difference between buying a kit and putting together your own recipe is that the former is pre-packaged in a box, while the latter likely leaves the shop in a bag. I think there is merit for brewers of all experience levels to brew a kit from time to time. There are lots of ingredients that I would never have tried if they weren't included in a kit. Some shops sell kits based on recipes directly from commercial brewers.
- Homebrew Academy: I am not too familiar with this site, but it came recommended on The Homebrew Network Facebook group. Homebrew Academy features recipes, gear reviews, and articles on brewing techniques.
- Beer and Wine Journal: Another suggested site I am not overly familiar with, but a quick scan of a couple of articles makes me comfortable adding it to the list. Generally if a recipe is accompanied by an article there is a better chance it is not a fake beer recipe.
- HomeBrewTalk*: HBT has a trove of recipes. These recipes aren't necessarily directly from commercial brewers or homebrewing luminaries, but as a message board many of the recipes have long discussion threads. In the threads other users provide feedback, and users will describe how they have tweaked the recipe over time. HBT has massive threads where users have collaborated to clone beers like Heady Topper and Westvleteren 12.
If you aren't sure if the recipe you are looking at makes sense or is fake beer never hesitate to ask another brewer for feedback. This is where building relationships with the staff at your local homebrew shop, making friends with people at your local craft brewery, or joining a homebrew club can be an invaluable resource. This advice is coming from a person who abhors small talk and forced social interaction.
As I describe the threat that fake beer poses with tongue firmly in-cheek, the real threat fake beer poses is that if new or inexperienced brewers brews one of these poorly constructed recipes and the beer doesn't come out the way they had hoped. Putting the time and effort in to brew a batch and not having it come out the way you had hoped can be discouraging to any brewer. As a community we need to do what we can to guard against other brewers making a crappy beer because they were using a crappy recipe and then losing interest in the hobby because their beer was crappy.
Beer recipes are like anything else you see on the internet, The more reputable the source, the more confidence you can have that all the ingredients in that recipe are there for the right reasons. Always approach everything you see with a degree of skepticism and evaluate it before accepting it as gospel truth.
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*Disclosure: I am a contributor at HBT