BeerSmith Tutorial P2: Beyond Recipe Design By: Ben Bakelaar

In the first part of the BeerSmith tutorial, we simply entered a recipe. Today we are going to look at the rest of the screens associated with the recipe, and then in a future third post, we’ll get into the details about the printed brewsheet, which contains a lot of information.

We left off with the “Recipe Design” screen.

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You can tell you are in the Recipe Design screen because of the highlighted icon, which I’ve put in a green box. Today we’ll review the rest of the screens associated with your recipe – “Yeast Starter”, “Mash Details”, “Fermentation”,  “Water Volumes”, and “Notes”. Each screen gives you valuable information and calculations that you can modify to maximize your brewing potential and record keeping. But first… there’s one more area on the Recipe Design screen.

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The “Style Guide Comparison” is probably one of the best features of BeerSmith! I use it all the time when I am designing recipes from scratch. Simply put, it has all of the BJCP categories (www.bjcp.org) already entered. You simply select your style, and it reviews your ingredients to tell you how close you are to the style. If you haven’t looked at the BJCP style guide yet, it’s definitely worth spending a few hours perusing. Styles aren’t everything, but they serve a purpose – you know exactly what you are going to get, and so can either test your brewing prowess by attempting to “brew to style”, or attempt to specifically create a beer that you already know the taste of. To the right, you’ll see some quick summary statistics for your recipe – how much grains and hops are in it, the bitterness ratio, gravity, batch size, efficiency, and cost. You can click on the little “?” icon to get more details on any of the fields. And finally, at the bottom, you have a “quick” view of your mash. You can ignore that for now, because we’ll be getting to the “full” screen in just a few.

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The next part we are going to look at is the “Yeast Starter” screen.  You’ll find it to the right of the “Recipe Design” button – refer to the red highlighted area in the first graphic if you’re lost. This screen is designed to help you figure out the proper amount of yeast cells you need in an ideal scenario. I know a lot of brewers who use www.mrmalty.com to calculate the same information. This is not an area I’ve used much myself, but it’s good to know it’s there. Right off the bat, I notice some strange information – it says I need 182.8 billion cells, yet I am only getting 5 billion in a typical White Labs vial. Creating a 1 liter starter will yield me 30 billion cells, but that’s still nowhere close to 182 billion. I suggest you simply ignore this number for now – everyone has used just 1 White Labs vial and been fine. That being said, starters are a great idea for the advanced brewer. And if you really want to know more about it, do some Googling. You’ll start finding discussions (and equations) about the true science and engineering of fermentation, which is quite interesting, but again from a homebrewer’s perspective, it’s not really necessary. So you can safely ignore this entire screen if you’d like. Moving on…

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The “Mash Profile” screen is extremely detailed. If you haven’t picked up this common theme yet, let me repeat – ignore most of it! The advanced brewer can play to his or her heart’s content, but for the average homebrewer, you simply want a few pieces of information in here. First off, a lot of times recipes will come with a recommended mash temperature. You can double-click the “Mash In” row to change both the step temperature and time. The other primary piece of information you want here is your water additions. Note it says “Add XXX quarts of water” in the “Mash In” box, and below “sparge with XXX gal water”. In this case, a 3 gallon mash and a 5 gallon sparge should yield the pre-boil volume you need to end up with 5 gallons in your fermenter. And that’s all you need to know for now. Mashing and configuration of this screen could take up several more posts, so let’s just focus on the basics.

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The “Fermentation” screen is similar to the “Mash Details”. There is a TON of information here. Most of this is about recording measurements that you may or may not take, depending on how interested you are in record keeping. As far as calculations, you might be interested in the “Estimated Pre-Boil Volume”. I find that I am always missing this number, which means my mashing and sparging volumes are not correct. The reason I know I am always missing this number is because I rarely end up with 5 gallons of beer in the fermenter! It’s something I’ve been working on, but I’m just not good about measuring liquid volumes. If you have one of those awesome brewpots with the sightglass, that makes it a lot easier. One more piece of information you’ll be interested in is the “Estimated Original Gravity”, which you’ll find about halfway down the screen, under “Into Fermenter”. Theoretically, if you do the exact mash addition, exact sparge addition, and boil off exactly what the software expects, then you should end up with exactly 5 gallons of wort that has a sugar content defined by the estimated original gravity. In practice, you’ll often be above or below this number. No worries there! It’s a normal thing.

The “Water Volumes” screen is a little less intimidating. You start with a simple number, the total amount of water you’ll need during the course of your brew. It then splits it out into the mash addition, sparge addition, and calculations showing your expected boil off and cooling losses. This is all really interesting stuff to think about, and remember the goal is to yield the beer you planned to brew. Most homebrewers, including myself, are not this specific. We’ll just go with the flow based on some best guesses and starting numbers. But if you have the focus and drive to record and measure throughout your brewday, by all means do! Think of it as a tweaking process. You are not likely to hit all your target numbers the first time, but after you record your own measurements and compare them to the calculated estimates, you can troubleshoot what went wrong, and make adjustments for next time.

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And we’ve finally reached the end! The “Notes” screen needs no further explanation. I do tend to use this, even if I don’t do many measurements or follow much of the calculations. I’ll write down when certain events happened during the brew, so I can better estimate how long my future brewdays will be. I’ll also try to write when I rack it to secondary, or keg or bottle it. Tasting notes would be another great idea to include here, especially as your brew continues to age and evolve.

OK that’s all for this week! Look for more tutorials in the near future. As always, hit me up on Twitter @beerbyben with any questions, or leave a comment below and I'll respond!