Ben Stange on January 8, 2015 1 Comment Keeping a Brewer’s Log: The Key to Making Better Beer? Every brewer wants to make better beer. Whether you are a casual brewer or someone who hopes to go pro, you want your beer to be the best it can be every time you brew it. One of the most important things a brewer can do in order to become a better brewer is to keep good records of their batches. The media in which you store the records is irrelevant. You can have equally excellent results whether you keep records in specialized software, such as Beersmith, or you keep records in composition notebooks or a three ring binder. How you keep records is not nearly as important as the information you record. Recipe Formulation and Recording At a minimum, a brewing record needs to start with the recipe and some information about the batch. A brewer should begin by answering these questions about his or her beer: Free Download: Click Here to Download a Free Homebrewing Log Sheet What style is the beer you are making? How many gallons will it make? Is the recipe all-grain or extract? What are the ingredients I will need to make the beer? What is the process for brewing the beer? What can we calculate about the beer before brewing so we know what to expect after it is finished? What is the expected Original Gravity? What is the expected Final Gravity? What is the expected Alcohol Content (ABV)? How many IBUs can I expect? What color will it be? If you are using a recipe provided by another source, you can base your information on the assumptions made by that author in most cases, but your results may vary depending on mash efficiency, rate of boil off, and other variables. If you are building the recipe, some of these questions can be answered very easily, but some will require some calculation. For that reason, it can be very helpful to utilize brewing software during the recipe formulation process. There are many different applications available which can assist with recipe formulation, such as BeerTools.com and Beersmith.com. Keeping Track on Your Brew Day Once you have formalized your recipe, it can be very handy to have it on paper during the brewing process, even if you use software for record keeping. While software and mobile applications are great for record keeping, it is wise to keep them away from the boil! It can be very helpful on your brew day to have a template for things to record as you move through the process. I have taken the time of creating an example template for you to use if you would like. Before you begin your brew day, write down the preliminary information about the recipe, and take the time to double check your inventory to make sure you have everything you need before you fire up your kettle or mash tun. There are few things worse than discovering halfway through your brew day that you do not have enough hops or yeast to finish the recipe. Once you’ve written in the recipe and expected results, keep track of the data points of your brew day, especially noting anything that differs from the expected procedure. Some brewers even like to record the weather on their brew day. Make sure to take your gravity readings and record the temperature of the wort when you pitched your yeast. You should also note if you used a starter, smack pack, or dry yeast and whether it was rehydrated first or if you used a starter. When the brew day is over, read through your notes and make sure there isn’t anything you’ve forgotten to include about the brew day. During Fermentation Fermentation is arguably the most important place for a brewer to be consistent. Our partnership with yeast to produce beer is dependent on the brewer’s ability to provide the yeast with an optimal environment for doing its job. photo credit In order to be as consistent as possible, fermentation temperature control is key, but so is recording the temperature at which your beer is fermenting. If you are using a refrigerator or keezer, make sure to record the primary and secondary fermentation temperature set on the thermostat and note any issues experienced during fermentation. If you are fermenting an ale in your closet, consider purchasing a thermometer that sticks to the side of the fermenter and displays the current temperature. While recording gravity throughout the fermentation process would be ideal, it is often not worth the risk of contamination to repeatedly open a fermenter and check the gravity with a hydrometer. It is often a better practice for the home brewer to wait until fermentation stops and simply record a final gravity. If you have a fermenter that is ported, however, it is a good practice to take a small sample for a hydrometer or a refractometer. The refractometer is preferable for this, as it only requires a drop of your wort to calculate its current gravity, while a hydrometer will require significantly more. At a minimum, you should record the original gravity before you pitch your yeast, the current gravity any time you move it to a new fermenter, and the final gravity when you are ready to package it in bottles or a keg. While Packaging When your beer has completed fermentation, proceed with bottling or kegging as normal. Make a note of the method of packaging (bottled, naturally carbonated keg, force carbonated keg) and the relevant details, such as quantity and type of priming sugar or temperature and pressure of the force carbonation. Again, it is very important to record anything unusual that happens during packaging, as this may help you track off-flavors later on should something be contaminated. Record the final quantity of beer after packaging, as well. Beer Evaluation Your record keeping should not end with the production of the beer. You will not know how to improve your beer if you don’t record the results of how it turned out. This is the most pleasant part of keeping good brewing records, but it is also possibly the most important. For my beer log template, I have adopted a scoring system based on that used in the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) home brewing competitions. This will help me score the beer as I see it and really pay attention to the different details of the beer. You may prefer to use a different evaluation method, or you may just prefer to write down your impressions. How you do this portion is not nearly as important as that you do it. Be brutally honest with yourself about any off-flavors or problems you encounter in your beer. Try to identify what the potential cause was and make a note of it for future batches. It is wise to set aside a few beers to use for evaluation purposes and sample them over time so you can get an idea of how the beer changes over time in the packaging. Once you’ve evaluated the beer, think about what you’d like to do differently if you were to make the beer again. If you love it as it is, make sure to note that, too. And next time, try to replicate the process as it was recorded. Making great beer consistently requires consistency in record keeping. Keeping records of every batch will help you easily identify the root cause of any difference, good or bad, that you may have between batches. The more detailed your records, the more likely you are to be able to isolate the difference between batches.