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If you ever watch The Food Network, you’ve probably seen MasterChefs in action. They have the ability to make up recipes on the fly based on their ingredient list and flavor profiles.
We wouldn’t recommend approaching brewing in the same way. While there may be room for occasional improvisation in your brew, it is always good to have a recipe designed before you start brewing. Good beer is usually the result of control and precision, and while it is fun to experiment, it is also very important to take notes on small changes in your batch of beer.
You don’t want to skip any important steps in your brewing process. If something out of the ordinary happens, you may have only a short window to correct the error before you run the risk of ruining your batch.
These are just a few reasons why it’s important to keep a beer journal during the brewing process. Just as pilots use pre-flight checklists, this habit will help you stick to the plan and makes sure no critical steps are skipped over.
It’s also useful to have past records to compare the next time you try the same recipes. This is important because if a brew doesn’t turn out tasting as good, a beer journal can allow you to examine and tweak the recipe until it’s perfect. Without any notes, you won’t know where you went wrong - or what went right, if you just made a great beer.
Beer Journal TemplateSome brewers go into more detail than others when recording data points during the brewing process. Below is a list of points to consider as a minimal guideline:
Brew date for the beer.This is important information because it helps you track and remember your own personal brewing history (“Boy, I really brewed that beer three years ago?”). It can also provide crucial clues to any fermentation aberrations and timing of dry-hops, diacetyl rests, etc.
Name of the beer.This may be the name of the recipe you followed or the new name you give the beer. It is also good to have a version number – this is helpful when trying to dial in a recipe and tweaking variables.
Cleaning Checklist.It cannot be overstated how important it is to keep your brewing equipment clean and sanitized throughout the entire process. It helps to create a checklist of items you will need for each step of the process as a way to make sure you have cleaned and sanitized each before use.
Volume of the batch.Was it three gallons or five? Unless you make the same size batch every time, it can help to remember how much you brewed.
A list of the ingredients you used and their amounts.This is probably obvious, but it helps to capture as much detail on what you used to make your brew. This should include all types of grains, hops, water chemistry, and yeast.
Gravity measurements.If you want to know the alcohol level (alcohol by volume) of your beer, you’ll need to keep track of your Original Gravity (post-boil) and your Final Gravity (post-fermentation). The tool used to measure these gravity readings is called a hydrometer.
Total boil time for wort.This variable will depend on the kind of beer you’re making, but it’s helpful to remember.
Boil time and hop additions.These factors determine how you achieve the flavor, bitterness, and aroma in your beer.
Temperature of the wort when you pitch your yeast.The temperature will be dependent on the style of beer and yeast being used.
Notes and observations from the fermentation process.A lot can happen during fermentation, including things getting “stuck.” It’s also important to log how long you ferment your brew as a way to know whether its safe or not to bottle.
Post Fermentation or “Final Gravity” Reading.Final gravity is compared to the post boil gravity reading to determine the ABV. Also, you won’t know if fermentation has finished without this number.
Racking to keg or bottling date.Depending on whether you decided to do a secondary fermentation or simply move on to bottling, keep track of when you did it.
How much sugar was used in the bottling process.Adding too much sugar during bottling can lead to problems, including the potential for “bottle bombs”. Keep track of how much you use and be consistent.
Comments on the taste of your finished beer.Tasting your finished product is (hopefully) the best step of the brewing process! You should keep track of tasting notes, smell, body, and comments your friends pass along to you as well. Also make notes as the beer ages; a lot of beer tastes better with some time in the bottle.
Overall thoughts on mistakes and what you could do better next time.While we might think our memory is perfect, it isn’t. Take a few minutes to reflect on what went right with this batch and the brewing process. What would you do differently next time?
Brewing Software vs. Handwritten Brewing NotesWhile keeping a written beer log is an ancient tradition, many modern brewers have embraced the digital age by turning to their laptops and devices to track their brewing progress.
One huge advantage of using online brewing software is that it can automate calculations for you throughout the brewing process - for example, IBUs, PH, or ABV.
While there are many resources online that are effective and cheap, many brewers prefer BeerSmith as their all-in-one system because it keeps everything organized in a single hub. Not only does the software walk you through each step of the brewing process, it also times each stage for you. It’s like having a digital brewing coach.