Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Keeping an effective brew log - what I should have started doing from the beginning

Author David McCullough wrote all of his books on a typewriter. What makes this noteworthy is that McCullough only just passed in 2022, and his last book was published in 2019. His justification was that he never had to worry about one push of a button erasing his work. As I have gone through every published post and inserted recipes, I have noticed more missing recipes than I thought.

Brew sheet from my AHA-finalist Imperial Stout

When I started brewing in 2012, even before I started brewing my first batch, I looked for a mobile application I could use as a brew log. Back then the motto was, "There's an app for that!". At the time storing everything on an iPhone application seemed like the only way to go. Ten years later as our phones fill up with large image files, larger video files, and podcasts, many of us are removing seldom-used apps to save storage space on our devices. 

Eventually, I migrated to BeerSmith and have stored my brew log locally on my PC. There were still missing recipes. Either recipes and batches that were deleted accidentally, or new versions being created without the original version being saved. I also never entered recipe kits in my brew log. Instead, I would keep the instruction sheet and write notes on the back. 

After fully transitioning to BeerSmith, I did a much better job of logging my brew days. This includes more details on my raw materials such as "Muntons Planet Pale Malt" instead of just "UK 2-row Pale", and the Alpha Acid levels of my hops. Over time I have become diligent on logging my brew day measurements. 

Page 2 of brew sheet.

More notes on the back of the brew sheet.

On brew day I used to use the BeerSmith mobile app as a brew day timer and to log my brew day readings. After awhile I found printing the recipe sheet and writing down readings, last-second substitutions, and any other notes from brew day down on paper to be  much easier. As I enter each ingredient, I tick it off of my recipe sheet so I knew it was not forgotten. While I'm brewing, I don't want to fumble around with my phone. There were also a couple times were I slipped my phone in my pocket and the timer would pause.

If I had to start all over again, this is how I would log all of my brews. Professional brewers are required to keep detailed logs for tax purposes. If I were to start a professional brewery, I would make this an SOP for my brewery:

  1. Create my recipe in BeerSmith, or similar brewing software. The recipe would include full details on all raw materials. 
    1. If batch numbers and Certificates of Analysis (CoAs) are available, they will be referenced with the specifications for that batch entered. 
    2. At this time will make any needed adjustments made to achieve desired specifications for final product.
    3. If a homebrew recipe kit, the ingredients will be entered in brewing software. From there I will make any needed adjustments to achieve the kit's target specification on my system.
  2. Recipe sheet will be printed. 
  3. On brew day measurements will be written down on recipe sheet. This includes:
    1. Mash temp vs target mash temp
    2. Mash pH - If measured. Would be measured every batch if professional. For homebrew will use calculated pH.
    3. Final Runnings gravity
    4. Pre-boil gravity
    5. Pre-boil volume
    6. Post-boil volume
    7. Volume in fermenter
    8. Original gravity
  4. After yeast is pitch, these readings and any other brew day notes will be entered into brewing software.
  5. Any post-fermentation gravity or temperature readings taken will be written down on brew sheet and logged in brewing software.
  6. Final gravity reading and volume packaged will be written down and logged in brewing software.
  7. Detailed tasting notes with description of Aroma, Appearance, Flavor, Mouthfeel and Overall Impressions will be saved on brewing software, as well as a hard copy either written or printed.
  8. The hard copy will be stapled to the original brew sheet. Brew sheet and tasting notes will be filed in fire-resistant filing cabinet.
  9. If entered into competition, the judges scores and feedback will be saved on brewing software. Scoresheets will be saved with the original brew sheet and tasting notes. Any emailed scoresheets will be printed.
That last point is an interesting one. I have a lot of paper scoresheets from competitions. Almost none of the scoresheets are dated. Some have cover sheets with the name of the competition the scoresheets came from, while some do not. Mostly all I have to go on is the style, or additional ingredients if the beer was entered in a specialty category. Now, the best I can do is make an educated guess as to which brew was being scored on the sheet.

What I like about this SOP I created is that I can easily look up a batch in my BeerSmith brew log folder, while also having paper copies as backup. Maybe this makes me an old or a boomer, but I still think physical media has value in 2023. Who is to say you won't lose a computer hard drive, a cloud storage solution won't go offline, or your favorite steaming service pulls a movie or show you would like to watch?

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