Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Brewing Software Review: beercalculus.com

Freeware website at beercalculus.hopville.com
Free recipe repository at hopville.com
Overall Grade B+

Hopville.com is an online beer recipe site, and Beercalculus is Hopville's online homebrew recipe calculator. You can join for free and save your recipes on the site. They become part of a searchable/browse-able recipe collection. Once you're a member you can save recipes under your own ID, or as 'anonymous.' Or you can just use Beercalculus without saving anything. Surprisingly, the site is not supported by advertising or subscriptions.

One of the big pluses for Beercalculus is that you don't need to install any software. All you need is a reasonably modern browser. The site has been around for a while so the software is fairly mature, and development is fairly active. As this review is written the strike water and other mash calculations are in re-development. Right now, you can enter grain temp and mash thickness in the current version. With any luck, they’ll add the ability to enter a variety of other variables in the next release.

Another plus is the wide selection of predefined ingredients. You can chose from 457 fermentables, 324 yeasts, 143 hops, and a bunch of miscellaneous ingredients. In part this is because there are a lot of options to choose from in real life and in part this is because there are multiple listings for the same ingredients. For instance you'll find "Columbus", "Columbus (Tomahawk)" and just plain "Tomahawk." You can decide whether you want to use "Crystal 60" or "Caramel 60" in your recipe. And so on. You can even add your own by searching for the missing ingredient, then clicking the link to add it. As the site says, "If you'd like to add a missing malt, go for it."

Yet another plus is the ease of use. You start on a page that presents the spectrum of known malts & other fermentables, hops, yeast, and miscellaneous ingredients. You can choose metric or US units. If you go with US, you can add your malt in pounds AND ounces. If you disagree with their values for ppg of °L, you can edit the entry for your malt or extract. If you fail to select a weight it will prompt you before you attempt to save the page. You can adjust the alpha acids if your Cascade hops are 5.7 rather than the default 5.5, and you can select leaf, pellet, or plug. The miscellaneous ingredients can be entered as ounces, pounds, teaspoons, tablespoons, liquid ounces, or gallons. One minor quibble is the lack of an "each" setting for things like Whirfloc tablets.

You start with "No style assigned." It's handy, though, to choose a style early on, because Beercalculus will give you guidance on how to achieve it. With no ingredient selected, the selection of "American Amber Ale" will produce the following guidance for the BJCP American Amber style:
• OG should be at least 1.045
• FG should be at least 1.010
• IBU should be at least 25
• SRM should be at least 10
• ABV should be at least 4.5

If you overshoot on an ingredient, Beercalculus will tell you the recommended maximum. IBU calculations for Garetz, Rager, Tinsleth, and an average are available.

You probably owe it to yourself to do some research as to what ingredients are proper for an American Amber, and Beercalculus will help you with that as well. For example, if you add Biscuit Malt, mouse over your entry, and click the 'info' link you'll see the following:
Use for English ales, brown ales and porters. Adds a biscuit like flavor and aroma. Can be used as a substitute for toasted malt.

For Cascade hops you'll see:
Use for: American ales and lagers Aroma: Strong spicy, floral, grapefruit character Substitutes: Centennial Examples: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Anchor Liberty Ale A hops with Northern Brewers Heritage

When you're done adding ingredients, click on the Process tab to add steps to the brewing process. You'll see times for hop additions and so on.

If you've signed up as a Hopville user, you can save your recipe after you've added at least one fermentable and one hop. And you can export your saved recipes as BeerXML. One more minor quibble is that you can only save all your recipes, rather than saving just one recipe at a time if you prefer. I wanted to give Beercalculus an "A" but the recent downgrade on process-related features nets to a B+. Still highly recommended.

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