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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Brew Builder

Today, I'm looking at a recipe program that's actually part of a retail website. So, let me start by saying I have no affiliation with this site. In fact they don't even know I'm writing this.

I'm certain there are other online retailers that have this feature. And, to be honest, I don't know why they don't all include this. Usually, you design your recipe, go to your favorite retailer (online or in person), and gather all your ingredients, hoping you haven't forgotten anything.

Here, you design your recipe from what's in stock. Then, when you're finished, click on the button marked “Buy Recipe”, and it all goes into your cart. You can't forget.

It works like any of the simple recipe programs. Decide on the style you're making, what size batch, and your mash efficiency (For a straight extract recipe, don't touch this.) Then, just go tab by tab, and choose your grains, extracts, hops, etc.

Under “Recipe Statistics”, you can see if you hit your target figures or not. Just under that is a running tally of what your recipe includes so far, as well as what you're spending (Yeah, that's important.)

Now, to be fair, there are both plusses and minuses to this. On the plus side, as I said, you design and buy all in one place. You save time and effort by avoiding having to transcribe your recipe from one place to another (and another, and another....). On the other hand, your recipe design is limited to what they have in stock. If you want to use something really exotic, or just weird, you'll have to guess at the effect.

With that in mind, I must say I've used it, and like it. I think it's especially useful if you have an idea of the kind of beer you want to make, but aren't sure of what to use to get there. Oh, and if you really like what you've come up with, you can save your recipe, and buy the same one again.

As a final word, of course, you aren't obligated to buy, so you can just play around at recipe design. It works well, and given the built-in lag of the internet, it's quite responsive. It can be a worthy addition to your toolbox.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Brew-Mate Review

Today, I take a look at BrewMate v1.22. At first, I didn't have a good feeling, because the program opens with a huge, garish splash screen.

But, once I used it I was very pleasantly surprised. I like it, a lot.  

Once the program fires up, you're presented with the main program screen, divided into three sections; grains, hops, and miscellaneous. Way down at the bottom is a menu for your yeast choice.

The first steps you need to take are fill out the basics at the top; beer name, style, batch, and efficiency. No need to be fancy with the name, yet. When you choose a style, the various parameters for you beer turn yellow, and will go back to white when you hit the target for that style.

Over on the right is a beer mug, which changes color as you add malts, so you have an idea if you're getting close to the desired appearance.

The grain window allows you to add all the usual grains, malts, sugars, and adjuncts. In the hops window, you get an extensive menu to choose from (although I'd like to see a generic option). You can change the AA of whatever you choose, whether it's pellet, plug, or whole, and exactly when you add it.

The coolest part, for me, is the miscellaneous window. There is some funky, fun stuff there. I'm definitely going to try some of those additions.

The yeast menu allows you to add standard dry yeast, some specific dry yeast, or any one of a bunch of liquid types.

Once you're done, you can save it, or export it to a text file, which I've printed below.

Robust Porter

Recipe Specs
Batch Size (G):           4.0
Total Grain (lb):         6.800
Total Hops (oz):          2.00
Original Gravity (OG):    1.055  (°P): 13.6
Final Gravity (FG):       1.011  (°P): 2.8
Alcohol by Volume (ABV):  5.82 %
Colour (SRM):             29.7   (EBC): 58.5
Bitterness (IBU):         26.4   (Tinseth)
Brewhouse Efficiency (%): 75
Boil Time (Minutes):      60

Grain Bill
3.300 lb Liquid Malt Extract - Dark (48.53%)
2.000 lb American 2-Row (29.41%)
0.500 lb Brown Sugar, Dark (7.35%)
0.500 lb Chocolate (7.35%)
0.500 lb Crystal 120 (7.35%)

Hop Bill
1.00 oz Cascade Pellet (6% Alpha) @ 60 Minutes (Boil) (0.2 oz/Gal)
1.00 oz Willamette Pellet (7.1% Alpha) @ 0 Days (Dry Hop) (0.2 oz/Gal)

Misc Bill

Single step Infusion at 153°F for 60 Minutes.
Fermented at 68°F with Ale yeast

Recipe Generated with BrewMate

As I said at the start, I really like this one. I especially like that everything is on one screen. No jumping back and forth. The mug is cool, although I think the color comes out a little light.

All in all, it's a very helpful program. Granted, it may lack some features of a high-end program. But, for quickly working up a new recipe, with a minimum of fuss, it absolutely does the job.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Recipator, from

Before I get into the review itself, I have to apologize. I had meant to have this up some time ago, but I had some -uh- stuff go on in my life. An old friend of mine passed away recently, and since we were nearly the same age, it sort of hit me harder than I thought it would. But, here it is. I should get back on track.

Today, I'll take a look at The Beer Recipator, an online recipe calculator hosted by, The Homebrew Digest. The Digest has been around longer than some of you have. Here's the beginning of their official history:

The Digest has existed in various forms since before 1988. The most successful incarnation of the Digest came at the hands of Rob Gardner, the original Digest Janitor (though, I must say, its current instantiation may be more successful yet). The least successful incarnation occurred in 1996, and very nearly destroyed the Home Brew Digest.

When you click on the Recipator link, you're brought to a page with 7 different choices. We'll only look at the first, the spreadsheet. But, feel free to explore the others.

On the spreadsheet page, the first thing apparent to me is that this is a bit more, involved. There are more places where you can make choices, and there are more places where you must make choices.

On the initial page, you choose the beer style and whether it's extract, partial mash, or all-grain. Then you choose your measurement units. Finally, you click on everything you're using in your recipe. If you're not sure, or you forget something, don't worry. You can add or change things later.

Clicking on continue brings you to the main recipe page. Fill in the amounts of all your ingredients, and press one of the “calculate” buttons. The online spreadsheet will then figure out your beer, and let you know at the top of the page if you hit the right parameters for the style.

You can view, and save, a report of what was found. My porter recipe appears below.

The Beer Recipator
The BreweryHomeSpreadsheetRecipesDiscussion


Beer:PorterStyle:Robust Porter
Type:Partial mashSize:4 gallons
95 HCU (~34 SRM)
Bitterness:27 IBU
Alcohol:5.9% v/v (4.7% w/w)
Grain:2 lb. American 2-row
8 oz. American crystal 120L
8 oz. American chocolate
Mash:75% efficiency
Boil:minutesSG 1.0455 gallons
3 lb. 5 oz. Dark malt extract
8 oz. Brown sugar
Hops:1 oz. Cascade (6% AA, 60 min.)
1 oz. Willamette (aroma)

This web page generated by The Beer Recipator.

With any of these programs, there are things which only come with experience. The different flavor characteristics of your ingredients cannot be quantified. You might get the same strength and color from brown malt, smoked malt, or crystal malt, but the contributions to the flavor of the final beer are completely different. Only your own taste buds can tell you what to use.

This spreadsheet may be more than some people want, or less than others. But, if you're out at a coffeeshop, with a tablet and a wifi connection, you can work up a recipe very quickly. It can be a valuable resource to use along with your regular recipe program.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tonight, On My Podcast

Tonight, I'll talk about my software review, why I'm not always as smart as I think I am, and do you really need software?

Friday, July 6, 2012

This Isn't Easy

I've noticed something, that I probably should have realized. Reviewing software is not exactly a slamdunk. Q-Brew was easy. I've used it for so long, that I know exactly how it works. Anything else, I have to learn it first.

I'm working on it, though. I should have the next one up in the next day or so.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Program Review - Q-Brew

Today, I'm starting my review of free brewing software. First, this is the recipe I'll be using in all my reviews. It's my porter recipe, which I've used for -uh- a really long time, since 1990 or so. It's a partial mash recipe, and it has a small addition of brown sugar, to impart a little molasses flavor.

3.3lb dark malt extract
.5 lb crystal malt (120L)
.5 lb chocolate malt
2 lb 2-row malt
.5 lb brown sugar
1 oz hops (6% AA), bittering
1 oz Willamette, dry-hopped
1 pkt dry ale yeast

I'm starting out with the program I've used myself for nearly my entire brewing career, Q-brew. It's available in versions for Linux and Windows, and also as source code that you can compile yourself.

When you start the program, it opens to the main screen. You can input your beer's name, your name, and choose the style and batch size. When you choose a style, the strength, color and bitterness you're shooting for are shown for you. By choosing the grain bill and hops you can make sure your beer meets the parameters for your chosen style.

Flavor components are so subjective, you can only match those with experience.

You also have the option of saving your recipe for future retrieval, or exporting it as html, xml, pdf, or txt. This is how it looks exported as text:

Style: Robust Porter
Batch: 4.00 gal Partial Mash

Recipe Gravity: 1.055 OG
Recipe Bitterness: 31 IBU
Recipe Color: 24° SRM
Estimated FG: 1.014
Alcohol by Volume: 5.3%
Alcohol by Weight: 4.2%

American chocolate malt       0.50 lb, Grain, Mashed
American two-row              2.00 lb, Grain, Mashed
Brown sugar, dark             0.50 lb, Sugar, Other
Crystal 120L                  0.50 lb, Grain, Mashed
Dark malt extract             3.30 lb, Extract, Extract

Generic                       1.00 oz, Pellet, 60 minutes
Willamette                    1.00 oz, Pellet, 0 minutes

Ale yeast                     1.00 unit, Yeast, 

Recipe Notes:

Batch Notes:

I have to admit to some prejudice, since I've used this program for over 20 years. It doesn't have a lot of bells or whistles, but it does a good, basic job of aiding in recipe formulation.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Last Night, And This Week

Yesterday, for the first time in a month, I was podcasting. I missed it. I don't have any illusions of fame, or fortune, but I know there is a small, loyal, audience that looks forward to my ramblings. I find that gratifying.

This week, I plan to start reviewing free brewing software. As I started combing the internet, I noticed two things. There's a lot of free stuff out there. So far I have three software packages and four websites, and I may not be done, yet. The other thing I saw was that this review idea has been done, many times.

However, these reviews have all chosen one piece of software as "the best", and not even the same one. I think that misses the point entirely. Every brewer works differently, and has different needs. It's a bit presumptuous to think that one piece of software is going to be the best for everyone.

So, with that in mind, I have no intention of telling you which is "best". I'll look at what's different, what's  the same, what I like or don't like. But, the decision to use or not use a particular product should be yours. I just want to help you see what's out there, where to find it, and what it can or can't do.

Tomorrow, I plan to have the first review up on the blog. What I'll do is simple. I have a recipe I've used for years, which I know works. I'll input that recipe into each program, and see what happens. I think it'll be interesting, and fun.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

You Make What? Podcast Restarts Tonight

After a month off, I restart my podcast tonight. I've missed it, and I'm glad to be back. I had originally taken the time off to try and get my financial house in order. Well, it didn't quite work. I'm just as poor as I was at the end of May. But, I did have some good ideas, which still may bear fruit.

Tonight on the show, I'm going to go back over a couple of those ideas. This blog, and the other one I'm doing, will be the topic. I'll talk about some of the links I've found, experiments I've done, what I hope the future brings.

I hope you'll call. Ask a question, make a comment, let's talk about beer.

Call-in number - (714) 459-3925