I think it’s important to have good brewing software if you want to brew a variety of good beers.
I know that for thousands of years people have been brewing beer without the benefit of a glorified pocket calculator, but my answer to that is “Would the beer they made have been better had they access to MacBook Pro?” Maybe not. They were brewing in pots in sheds with cows. They measured temperature by putting the kettle on the fire and going for a walk of a pre-determined time. The yeast came from a “magic stick”. Some of them even spat in the beer to get the fermentation going! What they needed was a thermometer and an awareness of the existence of microbes. Thankfully science came to the brewing world…
Creating a recipe is a balancing act. You have ingredients which will affect your original and final gravities. They will also affect the colour of the finished beer. Then you add hops on top of that. How much bitterness for how much time in the boil? You CAN calculate all these numbers by hand. Some people do, and that’s cool, but it’s not for me. Having brewing software to do all the heavy lifting makes me happy.
There are some other good reasons for using brewing software:
- You have a record of all the recipes you have ever brewed (batch by batch) so you can reproduce beers that worked particularly well.
- Most brewing software allows you to manage your inventory of grains and hops. This might seem like ridiculous overkill when you are starting out, but if you turn into a serious brewer, you start to buy your base malt in 25kg sacks, and your specialty malt by the kilo. You do start to lose track of what you have on hand. You can also see what you can brew based on your ingredients
- You can spin off duplicates of recipes and tweak them to see what effect adding certain ingredients will have. Of course it won’t tell you what the beer will taste like, but it will show you if you are affecting the bitterness, alcohol content or colour. And if you’re moving too far away from a defined style (if you’re shooting to hit a style, that is)
- On brew day you can record the specific gravities into the software. You can see if you are hitting your numbers, what your efficiency is, and if you aren’t hitting your numbers what effect this will have on your beer. The calculators are handy too.
Yes, you can do all of this in other ways, but having it all in one place is a good thing
If you’re serious about brewing good beer, and you want to be able brew those beers again (important) then brewing software makes life easy. There are online versions, and they work perfectly well (some of them are even free), but you have to be online to use them and they are generally SLOOOOOW. You can’t usually add your own ingredients, or add in a bunch of different versions of grain that are available to you (often the ingredients are very US-centric, for example).
There are is also free brewing software that you can install on your Mac or PC. Some of these work pretty well too, but they aren’t usually as polished as a commercial offering (not always the case, so it pay to check them out).
I took the plunge and spent NZ$45 and bought BeerAlchemy. I’m glad I did and would be happy to recommend this software to anyone that owns a Mac (and wants to brew). I think the Mac version is 1,000,000 times better than the iPad version too.
The interface is very Mac-like and easy to use. A tool bar runs down the left side giving access to your recipes and the other parts of the software. Recipes are easy to build from lists of pre-defined ingredients (you can add/remove any ingredients you like to the list of what’s available). Out of the box the lists are pretty good, but I have added in all the NZ malts and hops to mine.
Recipes & Batches:
In Beer Alchemy there is a difference between a “recipe” and a “batch”. Think of it like a negative and a photograph, or a sheet of music and a performance. Your recipes are the “ideal” set of ingredients and processes. You make a new batch and it inherits the ingredients and processes from it’s parent recipe, but then you are free to change/tweak those based on ingredients you have available, or processes as they actually went on the day. Mashed for 30 mins instead of the full 60 mins? Change the batch to reflect that. Sometimes you alter a batch out of all recognition, and if you want you can promote a batch up to become a full recipe, which can then spawn its own batches. It’s a clever system.
I mentioned before that I thought I would never use this, but now I am buying my ingredients in bulk, it’s a bit of a lifesaver. I put in all the ingredients I purchase. If you put the cost of those ingredients in then it will even tell you how much a batch cost to brew (usually it’s about NZ$20 for 23L not bad for lovely craft beer). Once you have actually brewed the batch in question you can hit a button to remove the amounts you specified in your batch out of your inventory. As long as you are good at putting the ingredients in, and updating the inventory based on your batches it’s a very accurate indication of what you have on hand.
This area is another way that brewing software makes life easy. Different brewing systems have different volumes, rates of evaporation etc… Say you make a recipe in your own system. It’s a complete cracker, so you decide to brew with your mate on their bigger system so you have have a keg each of this delicious beer. By setting up your mate’s system as a profile in BeerAlchemy you can simply adjust one setting and the software will recalculate the amount of grain and hops to give you the same numbers and proportions as the smaller batch. You can take a recipe from your system, adjust it for your friend’s system and then send them the recipe, all adjusted and ready to brew, provided you know their volumes. It works the other way too. If I want to take one of my Brew in a Bag recipes and adjust it down to brew in the Grainfather then it’s a 2 sec job (maybe a little more beacause I tend to go through and set all the amounts to nice, round numbers). You can use the profile area for other purposes too. You could set up a 90 min boil profile, to make sure your numbers are adjusted for the longer boil etc…
There’s a lot more info on BeerAlchemy available on the site, as well as a trial version to download. I’ve had to ask support questions in the past and the developer is pretty quick to respond. All in all it’s a good product from a developer who brews, and is worth supporting. I’m not affiliated with the software in any way. Just a happy user.