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

1 comment:

  1. I used to use Sparge Pal, it did at one time have a functioning decimal point, it went away in an update and never came back, same happened with their for pay Brew Pal software but that one was updated to reactivate the decimal point. Unfortunatley Apple's lockdown on apps doesn't allow you to downgrade to the version that worked because it deletes it from your library.