Thursday, June 28, 2012

Brewing Software Review:

Free-to-use website located at
Overall Grade: D

I wanted to love Brewtoad, I really, really did. The logo is great, and I liked the devs I talked to when I met them at NHC. Parts of Brewtoad are very good, but the website is full of ups and downs. Lots of parts are missing, and some of what is there is pretty marginal. Overall, they're off to a good start, but not entirely ready for prime time yet.

Starting a recipe is easy. I like the list of styles is organized to match the BJCP styles, but this might turn out to be a detriment for people who could easily find "Dunkelwizen" alphabetically, but don't know that it's part of BJCP Category 15 — German Wheat and Rye Beer, and thus about halfway down the list rather than being near the top.

The steps you need to go through to "Add fermentables" are downright painful. To get started click on the "Add fermentables" link, which brings up an ingredients window as a modal dialog. The first page gets only halfway through the "B" ingredients, so you'll need to scroll to the bottom of the page to get to the "Next" button. After four more "scroll and next" combos I realize that "Crystal 40" doesn't even appear as an ingredient. I also realize that the only way to add Rye Malt and maintain my sanity is to use the search feature, but fortunately the search works well. It would be handy to be able to click on page 8 or 12 or whatever, rather than just next, next, next.

Adding an ingredient with an amount turns out to be a multi-step process. First you need to click the "Add fermentables" link, then search for the malt you want. Next click on the "Add" button, the click on the "Add and Close" link which doesn't really add anything, but it does close the ingredients dialog. Now that you're back on your recipe page, locate the new ingredient, and add the quantity. Whew! I'm not sure why they didn't give me a way to enter the amount right next to the Add button.

You'll need to go though similar processes to add hops and yeast, but the hops and yeast lists are thankfully much shorter. I was disappointed to see that I couldn't search for "1056", I had to search for "American Ale" instead. I also found that if I go to the last page for yeast, close the dialog and reopen it, I'm still on the last page but the "Previous" button no longer appears, so I'm stuck.

Adding hops was 'interesting.' Brewtoad doesn't identify the calculation (Tinseth, Rager, Garetz, other?) used for determining bitterness, so I'm not sure how relate that to calculations from other brewing software. The bitterness level also turned out to be inconsistent with one recipe showing 38 IBU on the recipe edit page but only 23 IBU on the saved recipe. It took several rounds of adding and removing hops to get them to agree with each other.

It's easy to add your own custom ingredients, but there are a bunch of extra values to enter that don't seem to be used anywhere. You can import BeerXML, sort of. I had "Hallertauer" and "Hallertau" hops on a recipe, both with AA values of 4.6. One got imported as 7.2, the other at 4.5. Not surprisingly, the resulting recipe was "Not to style." It would be great if they could preserve recipe fidelity.

Brewing calculation features such as strike temperatures, hydrometer correction, converting Brix to OG are MIA. Almost every existing feature of BrewToad works well except for the myriad of problems associated with every existing feature. Unfortunately, I can't recommend it at this time. I wish them well but the BrewToad devs have a long road ahead of them.

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