Saturday, February 12, 2011

Software Review Roundup: Free iPhone Beer-Finder Apps

If you want to look at free iPhone Apps to help you brew beer, check out this review instead. Along with the apps for homebrewers, the Apple iTunes store has a bunch of beer-related apps. They seem to fall into three main categories:
  1. Beer Rating / Location Apps
  2. Beer Games, mostly Beer Pong, Darts
  3. Promotion / Advertisements
It's kind of tough to work up the motivation to review anything but the first group, but it turns out that there are plenty of apps in that category to review. Locating beer leverages the GPS functionality of the iPhone working with Google maps, so lots of devs have tied into it. The results are somewhat mixed, with only two of these apps (at most) worth installing for most people.

Tap Hunter   Grade: A
This app opens with a main navigation screen that lets you look for Beers on Tap, Breweries on Tap, All Locations, Nearby Locations, and View Map. It also lets you Change City, which is important because Tap Hunter works only for selected cities: Denver, Boulder, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego, Seattle and Vancouver. 'Beers on Tap' lets you select from an extensive list of beer, with an indication of how may pubs in your selected city have that beer on tap. 'Breweries on Tap' does the same thing, but starts from a more compact list of breweries. Selecting a beer takes you to a page for that beer, and from there you can select a pub that is pouring it. The pub page will tell you how recently their tap list has been updated, which ranges from over a year in the worst case to minutes ago in the best. You can also call the pub, view its location on the map, get directions based on your current location, or view their website if they have one. You can even alter the map directions based on using a car, public transportation or walking. If you live in one of the cities where it's available, this app is for you.

Beer Button   Grade: B
This app consists of a big red button that you "push" to locate beer. Actually, you're searching for "Liquor Store" by default, so you're not looking at your best option for finding good beer unless you live in one of the states or provinces where beer is only sold in liquor stores. Go to the settings screen, and change that to search something more relevant. You'll need to scroll down past the ads to get to the two settings: "Button Label" and "Search Term." When I changed the search term to "beer" the map stopped showing any liquor stores for my search, and instead showed a few of the breweries, pubs and bottle shops in the area. But it also missed plenty of them. It looks like the maximum radius from my current location is five miles, and the maximum number of pins dropped on the map might be 10 because I can't seem to find more than 10 of anything near me. If you know the name of a pub you're in great shape. Once you select a location by tapping a pin you can use Google Maps functionality to get directions, so searching for "Uber" and getting directions was quick and easy. It also works great to find stuff that has nothing to do with beer. This app would be great if they made it easier to change the search terms.

Guinness Pub Finder (US)   Grade: C
When this app starts up it will prompt you to enter your age, because Guinness cares about under-age drinking. Then you get a good, long look at their logo. Along with being a beer locator, this app schools you on how to pour a Guinness (there are six steps) how to measure the head on a pint of Guinness, and some facts on how alcohol is made and so on. Now on to the main event... finding a pint. You get good visual cues for this; instead of dropping pins on the map they drop tiny pints. It looks like the Guinness folks keep good track of who has their products on tap because here is an amazing number of 'pints' that show up on the map. In fact, when I zoom the map out too far the application complains that there are "too many pints" to display. This app will obviously work best for those folks who are interested in Guinness products, but where there's one beer there's probably more. Then again, the other beer might be Bud Light. Once you select a location by tapping a pint you can use Google Maps functionality to get directions. Using the Search bar at the bottom of the screen appears to have no intelligible effect on the search. The info icon doesn't work at all.

Beer Cloud   Grade: C
This is the Swiss Army Knife of beer finders. You can search by Beer, Brewer or Barcode. There is a Beer Style feature that lets you pick a style (Ale) then by Category (IPA) finally subcategory (American IPA) to get a list of brands. Unfortunately the list is truncated and and ends alphabetically in the C's. Once you find a beer, you can "Find this beer" and there is generally good information about the beer, but the list of West Coast beers is rather thin. From the beer screen you can also navigate to the brewer screen to get more info, from the brewer you can find other beers they brew. The drill-down navigation is is a little sketchy, and there is no visual feedback that to indicate that my 'tap' is being processed, so I frequently end up with multiple screens that need to be closed. There is a Sommelier feature which lets you pair food and beer. Looks like a good Dubbel would go well with my beets. The bad news is that the "Find this beer" feature didn't appear to work for me... I couldn't find any results for any beer I tried to locate, including Budweiser. The app directed me to a web page because I got "Fewer results than expected." Turns out that it only has data for the District of Columbia, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. It would have been nice to make that a bit more obvious. I have no idea how good the results are in those areas, but if you don't live there skip this app.

Beer Map   Grade: D
Given the name I wish this app could tie into the Beer Mapping Project, but that's not the case. Instead it suffers mightily from a lack of data. When I look for "Beers Near Me", it comes up with one lone entry: Hair of the Dog Adam at The Stumbling Monk. I've already increased the search radius to the max (10 km) so Adam is my only choice in the Seattle area. I guess I could add a review which would potentially double the number of beers found in Seattle? While they probably had Adam at the Monk at some point in time, I have no particular faith in the notion that they still have it there today. When I go to the Map I can see the location of the Monk. A tap on the pin reveals the ratings page for the Monk but no directions for getting there. If there was more than one beer in the list, and if there was a price entered for that beer I could sort the list by Price, Rating or Distance. When I search for "RedHook", no hits. Searching for "Adams" gets me one beer named "Samuel Adams." The design of this app isn't too bad but it looks like a lot of guys need to get out there and rate beer with Beer Map to lift it out of the pit of despair.

Beer Me LITE   Grade: D
This app lets you find beer by Current Location, Zip Code or City and State. At least in theory. When I tried to search by City and State the app crashed three times in a row. Finally, I entered "Seattle, WA" including the comma, and that helped. Sorta. I got a dialog box saying something like, "Where are you? We can't find any beer at that location." The first time I used the Current Location search the app reported that it couldn't determine my Current Location accurately. Things worked better the second time, and gave me pretty much the same results as searching by Zip Code. The list of pubs was pretty good, but I got results from 30 miles away, while overlooking a lot of closer opportunities. In Seattle. There are no settings so you can't narrow your search radius. For the taverns that did show up, there is a screen that lets you map their location, call them on the phone, or visit their website if one exists. I'd be a lot happier about this one if I could use it to find beer in Seattle.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Caramel and Crystal Malt Reference

When I started taking a closer look at caramel malt, I was amazed by the number and variety of malts I found. I built this list to capture that variety. This is not an exhaustive list of all the crystal/caramel malts available, but I hope it gives you a better idea of the possibilities. Some of it seems to just be marketing. For example, Briess appears to market their Crystal Malts under both the names of "Crystal" and "Caramel." I've combined those under the numbered Crystal malts where possible.

It's interesting to note all the malts that weigh in at about the same color. Aromatic Malt, Caravienne, Crystal 20, and Honey Malt are all at about 20°Lovibond, and yet I view them as being very different. I wonder how much of that perception is valid.

Malt names names aren't necessarily descriptive. For example, CaraAmber is darker than CaraRed and Caramel Pils is four times darker than CaraPils. Different maltsters use the similar terms differently, so (caramel) Aromatic Malt is nothing like CaraAroma. I haven't used many of these malts yet, and I certainly haven't done any research on their characteristics, so the descriptions below have mostly been adapted from information provided by the maltster.

1.5°Carapils (Dextrin)Pilsner malt steeped to add mouthfeel and improve head retention.Briess
1.8°CarafoamBrand-name for Carapils clone made by Weyerermann.Weyermann
Caramel PilsAdds subtle caramel flavor, and is not a substitute for Carapils.Castle
10°Crystal 10Candy-like sweetness, mild caramel. Contributes golden hues. Use 3-7% in Pilsners, up to 15% in other beers.Various
10°Golden Naked OatsHuskless oat crystal malt. Exotic ingredient for subtle nutty difference.Simpsons
11°CarahellUse 10-15% for increased body, improved aroma, improved foam, full round flavor and deep saturated color.Weyermann
19°Aromatic MaltUse up to 20% to provide a rich malty aroma and flavour to amber and dark beers.Castle
20°Cara 20LAlso known as Caravienne.Castle
20°CaraRedAdds a red color, used for Red or Scottish ales.Weyermann
20°Crystal 20Candy-like sweetness, mild caramel. Contributes golden hues. Use 3-7% in Pilsners, up to 15% in other beers.Various
20-30°Honey MaltSimilar in style to German "brumalt", but adds honey-like taste and residual sweetness. Best used in brown ales, porters, and stouts.Gambrinus
21°CaravienneBased on Vienna Malt. Caramel aroma and toffee flavor, adds gold to light amber color. Can contribute mouth feel, foam, head retention, and extended beer stability.Castle
23-31°MelanoidinUse up to 20% for improved flavor stability, fullness and rounding of the beer color.Weyermann
27°CaraAmberUse up to 20% for improved flavor, stability, fullness and full red color.Weyermann
30-37°CaraMaltImparts a light flavor and a slight red hue, contributes dextrins and adds to foam stability.Simpsons
34°Caramunich IUse 5-10% in dark beer, 1-5% in light beer, pale ale for increased body, heightened malt aroma, full round flavor and deep saturated color.Weyermann
40°Crystal 40Sweet caramel, toffee. Contributes golden hues. Use 3-7% in Pilsners, up to 15% in other beers.Various
45°Cara 45LImparts a rich caramel-sweet aroma and toffee-like flavor, adding golden to light amber color to beer. Contributes mouth feel, foam, head retention, and extended beer stability.Castle
45°CarawheatA caramelized huskless wheat malt that promotes fullness and emphasizes wheat aroma.Weyermann
46°Caramunich IIUse 5-10% for dark beer, 1-5% for light beer for increased fullness, heightened malt aroma. round flavor and deep, saturated color.Weyermann
47°CaramunichUse 5-10% for dark beer, 1-5% for light beer for increased fullness, heightened malt aroma. round flavor and deep, saturated color.Castle
50-60°Medium CrystalAn English crystal malt that imparts a gold to copper-red color and caramel flavor and increases foam stability. Simpsons
57°Caramunich IIIUse 5-10% for dark beer, 1-5% for light beer for increased fullness, heightened malt aroma. round flavor and deep, saturated color.Weyermann
60°Caramel MunichCaramel, roasted, malty. Contributes amber to red hues.Briess
60°Crystal 60Sweet, pronounced caramel. Use up to 15% depending on the style.Various
60°Organic C-60LSweet, pronounced caramel. Use up to 15% depending on the style.Briess
70-80°Dark CrystalThe long kilning of this malt imparts a strong reddish hue and a roasty edge along with malty sweetness.Simpsons
80°Crystal 80Pronounced caramel, slight burnt sugar, raisins, prunes. Use 3-5% in amber and red beers, up to 15% in darker beer.Various
80-100°Crystal RyeSweet and malty with warm bread-crust flavours.Simpsons
90°Caramel 90Pronounced caramel, burnt sugar, raisins, prunes. Use 3-5% in amber and red beers, up to 15% in darker beer.Briess
120°Crystal 120Dark caramel, burnt sugar, raisins, prunes. Use 3-5% in amber and red beers, up to 15% in darker beer.Various
120°Organic C-120LDark caramel, burnt sugar, raisins, prunes. Use 3-5% in amber and red beers, up to 15% in darker beer.Briess
130°CaraAromaAdds color, aroma. Typically used for altbiers, stouts, bocks and porters.Weyermann
130°Extra Special MaltToasted marshmallow, toast, mild coffee, prune. Dry, woody. Use in Belgian dark and high gravity beers.Briess
147°Special BUse up to 10% to produce a deep red to dark brown-black colour and fuller body. Imparts a rich malty taste and hints of of raisin, nut and plum flavor.Castle
160°Extra Dark CrystalFor use in dark beers to add dark fruit flavors and aromas as well as color. Simpsons
375°Carafa IAdds color and aroma, typically used for schwartzbier, dopplebock, and used in other dark beers.Weyermann
430°Carafa IIAdds color and aroma, typically used for schwartzbier, dopplebock, and used in other dark beers.Weyermann
490°Carafa IIIAdds color and aroma, typically used for schwartzbier, dopplebock, and used in other dark beers.Weyermann

"Typical Analysis, Malts and roasted barleys", Briess, 10/2009
Briess Malt
Castle Malt
Dingeman's Malt
Gambrinus Malt
Simpson's Malt
Weyermann Malt

Friday, February 4, 2011

Brewing Software Review: BrewTimer for iPhone

Available at the App Store for $1.99
Overall Grade B+

Updated Review for v1.1
BrewTimer is a simple little app that lets you set up named alarms for the specific "Steps" for brewing a beer. Start by creating a new Timer for your beer recipe, save it, and then select your new Timer from the list so you can add alarm times for the individual Steps. Enter alarms your various timed brew day Steps like hop additions. The alarm I need to create for most recipes is the one for the Whirfloc tablet. I'm religious about all the hop additions, but for some reason I seem to miss Whirfloc on too many beers.

You can set up multiple recipe Timers, which is handy if you'll be re-brewing a several different beers over time. Or you could set up some generic Timers with three hop additions, two hop additions, etc. and reuse them for various brews.

You can have multiple recipe Timers running at once, which would be more useful if there wasn't a a 120 minute limit on the "Boil" which also controls the overall Timer duration. It would be handy to have something over 120 minutes so I could add reminders for all my brew day tasks like "Start heating sparge water." Times greater than two hours would also be handy for the folks who want to brew a traditional Scottish Ale with a long boil for kettle caramelization.

The alarm functionality has been improved from the previous version which only provided a short, soft chime in background mode. You now get a persistent alarm that you need to turn off, regardless if the app is open or not. Unlike the earlier version, you won't be able to miss this one. Along with the alarms you set up, there will be one final alarm that sounds when the boil is done. This app is going to be a handy little helper for me on brew day. I try to chip away at multiple things (the honeydew list) in between my brew day activities, so it will be great to stop worrying about the clock.

If you're upgrading from a previous version, you might have a little difficulty. The upgrade from Version 1.0 didn't fix the alarm functionality for me. I had to delete BrewTimer, then download and install the new version. Not a big problem, and since I had already paid, the second install was free.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Software Review Roundup: Free iPhone Brewing Apps

If you check the Apple iTunes store you'll find a variety of free and paid software to help you brew beer, or at least I found a number of them. Some were tough to locate. This roundup looks at the free options I found - let me know if you found more.

Sparge Pal   Grade: A
This is the iPhone version of the mash and sparge calculator available at The design, fit and finish are great. It's clear that you're looking at gallons or degrees or hours or whatever. This guy could give lessons to the other beer app developers on how to build a great-looking and intuitive application. Defaults in gray, my entries in black. Since I'll be entering numeric data, the telephone pad pops up when I tap one of the fields so I can enter numbers I need.
Tap the Info icon to go to the second screen, which has settings for Grain Absorption, Mash Tun Loss, Boiloff Rate, Boil Loss, Wort Shrinkage and US/Metric measurement. The second screen also has Field Descriptions, which will help you understand the intent so you enter the right values for you system. All in all, a nice bit of freeware.

HomeBrewTalk Mobile   Grade: A
The "Mobile" edition provides iPhone access to the most? active homebrewing forums on the Internet. I like this interface to HomeBrewTalk, it seems to be nicely adapted to the iPhone. It's much more readable that trying to navigate the same web pages in the browser on your phone. You can set up alerts for threads you you want to follow.

Beer Alchemy Viewer   Grade: (Unrated)
Looks like I need to acquire a Mac and the full version of Beer Alchemy in order to review this freebie, so I'm not going to be able to do it justice. I downloaded and installed it, and the settings look to be very comprehensive. Along with the standard settings like Units and IBU calculation formulas (Tinseth, Daniels, Rager, Garetz), and the less common formula options like Color (Morey, Daniels, Mosher, Viggiano) there is also a section for entering your local water chemistry. The hops section is also nice, with adjustments for Mash Hops, First Wort, and so on. The rest of the app requires me to sync with Beer Alchemy on my Mac (which I don't have) so I'm blocked at this point. If you like Beer Alchemy this app seems almost required.

The Brewer's Recipe Calculator   Grade: A-
This isn't really an iPhone app, it's a website that has been optimized for iPhone use. But... you can set it up to pretend to be app by opening the website in Safari on your phone, then 'Adding' it to your Home Screen. You can check it out from the browser on your computer to get a general idea of how it works on the iPhone although it does work better on your phone. It includes a Recipe Calculator, a Specific Gravity/Brix Calculator, an Alcohol/Calorie/Carbohydrate Calculator, a Water Profile Assistant and a few User Submitted Recipes. It also includes extensive (and welcome) set of Calculator Instructions. Most of it works very well, but there's just way too much scrolling when I'm looking at a full recipe on my phone.

BJCP Styles   Grade: A-
The BJCP Styles app is an iPhone version of the 2008 BJCP Styles, with the same content as the web and PDF versions. They've done a nice job of porting to the iPhone, and I find it handier and quicker to access my phone version of the Style Guide than to use the web, and much handier than the PDF. The app is very responsive, you can search for words and see them highlighted in your search results. You can copy sections of text to paste into email or whatever. There is a cute pop-up magnifying glass, but the ability to change the font size would be more useful.

HBCalc   Grade: C
The visual design of this app is unfortunate. The Times Roman font on a dark orange background is very 1995 Internet, and is tougher to read than it needs to be. The overall look is cluttered and disorganized, and the abbreviations everywhere don't help. I'm guessing that "lB" really means "lbs."? HBCalc includes a standard but noisy 10-key calculator. You'll want to turn off the key clicks if you find a reason to use it. There are three main sections: Gravity, Grain and Mashing. The Hydrometer Temperature input doesn't appear to affect the Gravity-related calculations. The Grain section is a bit tough to decipher, and now that I've figured it out I probably wouldn't use it. The Mash section is simple and seems to work well but lacks any input for mash tun thermal mass.

BrewLab   Grade: C-
Cool icon, and the interface has some nice parts to it. I especially like the spinners that come up to let me chose pounds and ounces. But there are problems. AA values for the hops are all hard-coded, and you can't adjust the batch size. There is only one Crystal malt, which turns out to be C60. And what's this "Add to Cart" button? Does it save my recipe? Zowie! I'm in the middle of placing an order with in Woburn MA. $31.93 for 10 pounds of malt, 2 ounces of hops (they round up) and a packet of dry yeast. Nope, I'm probably not going to do that.

Beer Talk  Grade: D
This isn't exactly a brewing app, it's a collection of videos. Some are about brewing beer, the rest about tasting a particular beer. My rating is based on watching just two of them, so your mileage may vary. I watched the video on how to brew a partial grain dry stout. It's reasonably informative and moves along at a good pace. However, "our host" stuffs way too much malt in the bags he uses for steeping. He cinches them down tight, and warns against letting malt fragments getting out, as that could spoil the taste of the beer! At the end he blames the light color of his stout on the fact that he used some chocolate malt instead of all roasted barley, rather than realizing that only a fraction of the malt goodness actually got 'out of the bag.' I watched a second video that I thought would be about a stuck ferment, but was more about "What makes my airlock bubble?" It turns out that airlocks are like the pressure release valve on a pressure cooker, and they keep your fermenter from exploding. But beware of any negative pressure on your airlock, because that will suck the liquid from the airlock back into your wort? Well intentioned but not entirely clueful.

BrewSmarts   Grade: D
For some reason I need to create a Login ID before I can get started. OK, done. As I start to use this app I have the nagging feeling that it was created by somebody who has never brewed beer in their life. I need to "Switch Context" to add malt to a recipe, then "Switch Context" again to add the hops. UI elements are small and the screens a cluttered. I need to select the maltster and the malt? And although I've entered the batch size, malt, hops and yeast, it can't tell me what the OG will be. I have to enter that. There's a help message that says once I enter the OG it will tell me the IBUs. Hmmm. Time to delete this one. If you want a look, you can find the web version at

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What are Crystal and Caramel Malts?

Caramel Malts are a family of malts that are roasted when the grain is green (i.e.: still wet from the malting process), rather than waiting for the grain to dry completely by kilning it before it is roasted. Most are made from barley, but rye, oat and wheat versions are also available. A few are dehusked to reduce harshness and bitterness. Beeston maltsters has provided the following description of the process for creating caramel and crystal malts:
Beeston's caramalt and crystal malts are all produced from green two-row malt using the following method: The surface moisture is dried off at about 122 °F (50 °C) for approximately five minutes. The malt is then stewed at approximately 149-167 °F (65-75 °C) for about 40 minutes to stimulate the conversion of starches to sugars (crystallization). Drying and curing then takes place at about 176 °F (80 °C) for another 40 minutes, depending on the color required. The final drying and curing temperature varies among products; curing is typically done at about 275 °F (135 °C) for approximately two hours, depending on the color required. The darker the colors, the more intense the flavor.[1]
When they say the malt is 'stewed' there isn't any stew like you would see cooking in the kitchen. Instead the malt is being 'baked' and the stewing process goes on inside each kernel of grain. If the malt was stewed in water that would be mashing, and much of the sugar would rinsed out of the malt. But the stewing process has a similar saccharification effect like mashing, converting some of the starch in the malt to sugar so it can be caramelized during the curing process.

Caramel Malts are available in a range of colors from 1.5°Lovibond (Cara-Pils) to about 500°Lovibond (Carafa III), almost the full range of malt colors. The caramel family includes all the malts beginning with "Cara", all the malts with "Crystal" anywhere in the name, plus a bunch of specialty malts such as Melanoidin. They contain little to no enzymes due to the roasting process, so you will need to mash them with a base malt. The recommended proportion for most caramel malts ranges from no more than 10% of the mash to 30%. As with most other advice on caramel malts, it's hard to come up with one rule that applies to all.

The "Crystal" name appears on several sub-groups in the family of Caramel Malts. The name of many crystal malts includes a number such as Crystal 60, which indicates the relative darkness, or they may have a color descriptor such as "Dark Crystal."

What is the advantage of the crystal or caramel malts? They typically produce strong, sweet flavors that can range from toffee to caramel to raisins to chocolate depending on how long and how hot they were roasted. They can be steeped without mashing to extract their flavor. Some of the sugars in these malts caramelize during kilning and become unfermentable, so crystal/caramel malts will increase the body and final sweetness of your beer.

There seems to be some confusion around crystal malts. I was recently asked what the numbers mean. I've also heard or read advice like "Use some crystal", "Use a caramel malt instead of crystal" or "Crystal malt tastes like iced tea." Let's take those one at a time.
  • Crystal malt is available with a numbering scheme that ranges from 10 to 120. Those numbers refer to Degrees Lovibond (°L), which is a scale that measures the color of beer and other liquids. The newer SRM and EBC methods have replaced it for finished beer, but Lovibond lives on for malt. When you look a the malt you won't see a huge color difference between Crystal 20 and Crystal 60, but the color differences will come out when you steep them in hot water.
  • If you get a suggestion to "use crystal malt", they're probably talking about Crystal 60, or possibly Crystal 40. The term "crystal" is somewhat ambiguous when used without a way to include the color. Crystal 60 is the most widely used crystal malt, so I think that's your best bet if you lack other information. If you're looking at a recipe that has been around for years, go with Crystal 40.
  • Crystal is one of the Caramel malts, so you probably won't accomplish much by substituting caramel for crystal, unless you substitute another specific caramel malt for a specific reason. For example, Briess Caramel 40 is simply Briess Crystal 40 by a different name.
  • One or more of the crystal malts might add a taste like iced tea depending on your personal taste appreciation, but we're talking about dozens of malts with a full range of flavors, not just one malt.

1. Beeston Crystal Malt