Somebody sometime somewhere said something along the lines of “the difference between a good brewer and a great brewer is consistency”. While I may not know who said it, I do know that there is some truth to the statement and that consistency requires documentation. This is why brewers need to take good notes. How else are you going to recreate that perfectly balanced west coast IPA or NOT recreate that drain-pour of a beer that you ended up with that one time?
So, how does one go about taking notes that will help achieve the consistency that we’re after? Below, I’ll break it down.
You don’t need any specialized tools. Just use a paper and pen, a computer or type it on a note-taking app on your phone—whatever that works for you.
Firstly, you’ll want to give your recipe a name. It doesn’t have to be fancy or creative, just something to identify it in the future. It is also helpful to include a version number if this is a tweaked iteration of a previous batch. Record the date that it was brewed and who brewed it (it may also be helpful to note the time that you started and finished your brew day).
The next thing you’ll want to record, and you likely already have in some form or another, is your recipe. Include the batch volume, target and actual ABV, target and actual gravity readings (OG and FG) and estimated SRM. Much of this information will be generated automatically by any brewing software you may use. Otherwise, there are mathematical calculations that can be done but we won’t be able to get into that here.
Make sure the recipe is accurate. If you realize that you don’t have enough of a certain grain and sub it for something else, write it down. The recipe needs to include grain weights, hop weights and schedule, yeast strain (also what form it comes in) and amount, water source and amount, water additions (like calcium chloride or any acids) and anything else that went into the beer.
Make sure you record any other notes that may affect the final product. Some of it may seem arbitrary, but it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Note things like boil overs, if your glasses fell off your face and into the beer, stuck sparge, if you hit your hopping schedule, etc.
You’ll want to record how long it took to chill your wort (and by what method you cooled it) and what temperature it was when you added it to your fermenter and pitched the yeast. Keep track of the fermentation environment and any noticeable changes. Make a note of when you first notice signs of fermentation and when you see high krausen.
Once you take a gravity reading, you’ll want to note that and the date. Then repeat. If you’ve reached your estimated final gravity, check it again three days in a row and if it is stable, you’re ready to cold crash and then package the beer.
I’ve included a copy of the brew log that I use. Keep in mind that it isn’t one size fits all and you may want to tweak it. Mine is actually based off a sheet that a local brewery uses for their record keeping. I changed the sheet to meet my needs.
The most important thing to remember is that you really can’t record too much info. In the end, we want to be able to trace our steps back to identify how we made that awesome beer or hopefully not, but we may need to figure out where things went wrong.
If you think I’ve missed some important thing to note, or that I’ve included information that’s absolutely unnecessary, let me know. Also, let me know if you have any questions that you’d like me to tackle in an upcoming Mash Out column. You can reach me at email@example.com.