Back to Shopping at NorthernBrewer.com

Necessity of Brewing Software

Walked into the LHBS today, no recipe in hand, two guys in front of me, one with a paper recipe and one with a tablet (electronic recipe).

While waiting for them to weigh and grind their grains, one of them asked what I was brewing.

I said that lately I’ve just been formulating my recipes in my head when I get to the LHBS depending on what they have in stock. Not sure he was believing that I could do that and make a good recipe at the same time (As I stood their taking stock of the grains/yeast/hops they had on hand).

I’ve pretty much been doing that for several years. Every now and then I’ll sit at my computer and use brewing recipe software, but most of the time it’s just the ole noggin.

When I get home, I’ll write the recipe down in my brew log and, after brewing and tasting it, I’ll refine it if necessary. Generally speaking, I really enjoy the beers I come up with.

Anyone else do something like this?

What does your brewing software add to your recipe formulation that you can’t generalize or formulate in your head?

Everything. My mind just doesn’t work like that. I need to draw it all out, look at it a few times, tweak it, then order my ingredients. Just how I roll.

Maybe if you want to target a specific style software will help you. I couldn’t imagine not using soft ware to predict color, OG, etc.

That said, If you are brewing beer you like drinking, what’s the problem?

What are you tweaking? What is the benefit of being so precise with the recipe software?

[quote=“JMcK”]Maybe if you want to target a specific style software will help you. I couldn’t imagine not using soft ware to predict color, OG, etc.

That said, If you are brewing beer you like drinking, what’s the problem?[/quote]

I don’t believe any problem exists, just wondering if there’s a big secret with the brewing software, that I’ve been missing.

To me recipe formulation is about knowing your ingredients perhaps more-so than knowing the numbers.

I can see both schools of process working. But I would strongly suggest newer brewers follow established extract and/ or all grain recipes and/ or use calculators until they know what works and more importantly what doesn’t. Otherwise without a smidge of guidance and an attitude of using fast and loose grist choice/s will easily produce at least one if not a bunch of truly dumper beer/s when all grain brewing unless your very lucky in choices made. Extract/ partial is harder to fudge up but many do when poor combo/s of extract types and/ or steeping grains are settled on.

Personally I will use a past beer as guideline or projected grist/ hop needed and punch the numbers for an ability to know with close approximate beforehand and then positive affirmation afterwards that beer/s meet expectations with no large surprises or gaps in OG/TG/IBU/SRM/Mouthfeel and aromas. Also now due to the fact Brunwater and other calculators are helping us target mash and sparge PH, and water mineral contents more closely all is as expected with final quality expectations also.

But this is not to say I haven’t and wouldn’t hesitate to walk into teh LHBS and make a recipe on the fly and/ or change gears quickly if the hop/ grain’s / yeast by some chance is out of stock etc… which is very rare as I shop the Northern Brewer Grand ave store. Buying in bulk also helps minimize this risk especially in regards to hops. If you are a seasoned brewer it is easy to shoot from the hip on all parameters of brewing by feel easily is what the OP ultimately is spelling out.

It really comes down to YMMV, and I would never directly fault a brewers way of process unless it was extremely detrimental to making a drinkable beer such as if somebody in passing said they were going to use 30% 2-row and 70% cara 150 etc…

I’ve used ProMash for years for all-grain brewing and it really helps in a number of ways, especially to dial in your targets, provides various modules that are designed for efficiency and completeness every step of the process from recipe design through carbonating your finished beer, and if you save your sessions and keep good notes provides a good and well-organized backlog to truly understand your system and which you can easily draw from to repeat winner processes and recipes. A few things off the top of my head that I love about getting with mathematical/scientific accuracy, from a single source:

  1. provides estimated OG
  2. calculates water needed
  3. calculates mash volume
  4. calculates mash water to grain ratio
  5. calculates strike temp
  6. calculates predicted IBUs
  7. calculates and shows swatch for predicted SRM
    8 ) calculates ABV
  8. etc., etc., etc.

I agree with ItPossible. I would also add that when I was a new brewer just starting to formulate recipes, plugging ingredients into the brewing software allowed me to see how a given ingredient would change the calculated parameters before I had a real “feel” for it in my head. So that allowed me to avoid trial and error while brewing to some extent.

I’ve also found that continuing to use the software and tracking some of the “numbers” has allowed me to very easily adjust my ingredients to get what I want when trying new processes. Parti-gyles are a good example of this. By using the software and knowing my efficiency and what I’ll get from each running, I can accurately plan what I’ll get even though I don’t do parti-gyles frequently.

But probably the biggest reason I continue to use brewing software is that it keeps all my records in one place, and provides some convenient calculators that integrate in so seamlessly that I can just see the results at a glance.

#1 - the software cannot brew the beer for you. So you do actually have to know what you are doing.

I brewed for years without software just fine.

Then I tried Beersmith, and I would never go back to no software. Just an extra tool that can make your brewday go smoother, and can add to the precision of your brewing. Plus it is actually fun to use.

I tried software for a while but quit using it about a year or so ago. I like my brew log. I always write down the recipes and then tweak from there. The majority of the original recipes came from JZ’s BCS, forums, and BYO/Zymurgy; but now I do much like you described.

I look at this as a creative hobby and I enjoy the end product.

Formulation in my head lets me play with a recipe before brewing. Software lets me check my math. Why does it have to be one or the other?

I don’t believe it has to be one or the other, but other than the math, what is your brewing software adding to the recipe?

Clearly there’s something not being understood about the original question. So let’s turn this around and get a bit more information about your brewing style.

When you make your recipes are you shooting for particular styles? like “Irish Red,” “Dubbel,” “60 schilling” or are you brewing relativistic like, more malty than last time, or really hoppy, or fruity? tell us more about your process.

Because franky, it seems like you’re just shooting down/ignoring the features people are saying they like in the software.

Clearly there’s something not being understood about the original question. So let’s turn this around and get a bit more information about your brewing style.

When you make your recipes are you shooting for particular styles? like “Irish Red,” “Dubbel,” “60 schilling” or are you brewing relativistic like, more malty than last time, or really hoppy, or fruity? tell us more about your process.

Because franky, it seems like you’re just shooting down/ignoring the features people are saying they like in the software.[/quote]

So you’re saying you can’t generalize or formulate the math in your head (doesn’t have to be exact but based on experience you should be able tell where you stand)?

I make many different styles using experience and the BJCP guides.

Sorry, perhaps I’m coming across as terse.

Take Cream Ale as an example,

Experience says that 9 lbs of fermentables produces an OG of about ~1.050, maybe a tad less, for a 5 gallon batch (on my system).

BJCP guide says to use 2-Row, 6-Row, corn and sugar in the recipe.

So we need 9 pounds total:

3lbs 2-Row
3lbs 6-Row
1lb Flaked Barley
1lb Flaked Maize
1lb Cane Sugar (whatever sugar you want, honey, dextrose, etc…)

Hops are generally 2 ounces of low alpha hops could use Tettnanger, Saaz, Hallertau, etc…

1oz of 4.0AAU hops at 60min
1oz of 4.0AAU hops at 10min

The last addition could be split into, up to 4 additions of .25 ounce each, depending on the flavor/aroma you want.

Yeast could be any clean fermenting ale or lager yeast (S05, Cream Ale Blend, Custom Blend, S34, etc…) to style or not.

Alcohol will be between 4.5 and 5.0 depending on the yeast attenuation.

That type of “logic” and “experience” seems to work with any style. I suppose the above may also qualify, according to the BJCP as a Standard Lager.

[quote=“GeneticBrew”]
So you’re saying you can’t generalize or formulate the math in your head (doesn’t have to be exact but based on experience you should be able tell where you stand)?[/quote]

That would be a no.

I can write a recipe on the fly but I would never just go buy the ingredients and go with it. I need to see how it meshes with the style that I’m going for. From there I might need to tweak some grain of hop ratios and see where I’m at. Again, that’s just how MY mind and thought processes work.

I also find it a good record keeping system for when I’m trying to nail down a recipe. I can much more easily see what I have done in the past and what my thought were for future brewing of the same beer.

I use software for a few basic reasons. First, I take time coming up with a recipe. I research blogs, BJCP guidelines, other recipes, etc. I start with a basic recipe and tweak it over a few days, weeks, or even months. No way I could keep that info in my head.

Another reason is all the different numbers that I may be trying to get close too like OG, SRM, IBU, etc. I may have a rough idea of how many IBU’s I’ll get from 1/2oz of Magnum at 60min because I use Magnum all the time for bittering. But if I then at 1/2oz of Citra at 15, 10, 5, flame out and another 2oz of Cascade at 5min, I have no idea where the IBU’s will end up. Maybe they’ll shoot up to over 100 when I was trying to keep them around 75. Same goes for color. Different malts, even different base malts will lend different colors. I can’t predict SRM in my head. Sure I may be able to get moderately close, but why not use some software and nail it dead on when it’s readily available?

Last and probably the biggest reason… my handwriting looks like cereal killer writing. Seriously, it’s terrible. I have trouble reading it sometimes.

Having said all this, if I was asked to quickly whip up a simple recipe like a basic pale ale, Belgian Tripel, dry stout, etc… I could do that off the top of my head. But I’d still use software to track my numbers, specifically gravity, ABV, etc.

To me the software is so much more than recipe formulation. I haven’t been brewing that long so I doubt that I could formulate a recipe on the fly while at the store. I usually start from some form of reference, usually recipes in BCS or other books, and modify slightly from there.

But the book keeping portion of the software is what I find the most useful. I can go back to a beer I made a year ago and see all the mistakes I made or what type of efficiency I got and with what equipment. That to me is very useful in learning and improving my brews.

[quote=“GeneticBrew”]
I don’t believe it has to be one or the other, but other than the math, what is your brewing software adding to the recipe?[/quote]

I need it to do more than math? Brew software is cheap and easier than pencils and calculators. It also keeps my recipes organized automatically, lets me revise more easily, and times my brew day automatically.

Is it necessary? No. Is it useful? I find it to be.

Call me old fashioned but a good notebook and a pencil has never done me wrong.

It would be interesting to see a brewing competition where a bunch of brewers were turned loose on a LHBS and could only use what they found in the store. They could not formulate their recipes with brewing software or calculators. A notebook and a pencil would be the only items issued to them.

It would definitely test knowledge of styles, hops, yeast and water.

Sort of like these cooking competitions on TV, “The Taste” etc…

[quote=“GeneticBrew”]Call me old fashioned but a good notebook and a pencil has never done me wrong.

It would be interesting to see a brewing competition where a bunch of brewers were turned loose on a LHBS and could only use what they found in the store. They could not formulate their recipes with brewing software or calculators. A notebook and a pencil would be the only items issued to them.

It would definitely test knowledge of styles, hops, yeast and water.

Sort of like these cooking competitions on TV, “The Taste” etc…[/quote]
So you view brewers who use software as inferior brewers who could not brew decent beer without their crutch. No doubt there are some who fall into that category–just like there are brewers who don’t use software and brew crap beer because of some shortcoming in their knowledge, skills or experience. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying you brew bad beer. I’m saying your theory is misguided as a general rule.

The guys above have done a good job explaining why they like to use software and you fail to accept valid points. They are telling the software what ingredients to use and how to use them. They are defining and executing the processes used to brew their beer. There is no shame in taking advantage of the modern tools that are available to simplify parts of the brewing process. In the event of a zombie apocalypse the bad non-software brewers will continue to be bad brewers. A lot of software brewers will adapt just fine. But until that happens, who cares? Good beer is good beer whether the recipe is written on a piece of paper or recorded on a disc.

P.S.: I’m pretty sure Denny uses ProMash. Software brewers are in good company.

Back to Shopping at NorthernBrewer.com