Brew Tips: Brewing Logs

Brewing logs are a dry topic, I know.  Sorry.  But, they are of the utmost importance at all levels of brewing, from beginner to professional.  They let you track not only what you did wrong (which is frequently only remembered if spectacularly wrong), but also what you did right, which is pretty much never remembered.

brewing logs

What to track:
In short: Everything.  No one likes taking notes.  But the more you write down, the easier it will be to debug problems with your beer, recreate that magical perfect brew, or nail down brew system parameters like water usage rates and brew-house efficiency.

  • Beer batch number, name, and type
  • Batch size/ type of brew (brew in a bag, partial mash, extract, all-grain, etc)
  • Malt/ Fermentables: Type, quantity, maltster.  Even malts of the same name (pilsner) can vary dramatically from maltster to maltster, or even be entirely different products (chocolate).
  • Hops: Amount, type, specified alpha and other acid quantities, time of addition, country of origin, calculated IBUs (and IBU approximation method: Tinseth, Rager, etc), and storage length and conditions.
  • Yeast: Brand, type, amount, how it was handled (rehydrated, starter at high krausen, cold-crashed starter, from an old cake, shipped during a warm month, etc).
  • Priming sugar/ Force carbonation pressure: Type and amount of sugar, target volumes.
  • Gravity: Target, after boiling and cooling, final.  Calculating the target and actual brew house efficiency for reference is helpful.  Runnings and pre-boil gravity , if you brew all-grain.
  • Additives: Yeast nutrient, spices, clarifying agent, etc.  How each was prepared, if applicable (spices crushed or whole, for example, or how irish moss was re-hydrated).
  • Water adjustments and resulting profile: Salt and acid additions, as well as where and when they were added (strike, mash, sparge, or kettle); filtration, dilutions, etc.  I also like to keep the final calculated water profile so I know for what I was shooting.
  • Other calculations: Ex: water amounts and temperatures.  Keep the results and the parameters used in calculations, so you can test your assumptions and dial in your system.
  • Play-by-play: Record the date at the top,and time of each step in the brew.  This way you know how long the mash took, when ingredients were added, etc.  When you first start brewing, record every detail, including when you draw water (if the night before, for example), how you clean things, etc.  As things become routine, you will get a feel for which details are less important and can be a bit less verbose, only recording changes to these routine mundane tasks.  Note important parameters like mash, pitch, and any other temperatures, how the fermentation is progressing, fermentation temperature (as well as the ambient temperature in your fermentation space), and anything else you do to your brew.
  • pH: Water, mash, final runnings, post-boil, and post-ferment.
  • Tasting notes:  The first time you crack open a home brew, take a moment to do a semi-formal tasting and record details about appearance, aroma, taste, mouthfeel, and your overall impressions of the beer.  This will help connect process and ingredients to results, and identify possible improvement areas.  Periodically doing additional tastings is also a good idea to track how a beer changes as it ages.
  • Propane use: If you only have one tank, or if you are just curious how long a tank lasts, weighing the tank before and after the brewing session can give you a good idea of the amount consumed.

How to track it:
There are many ways to keep notes as you brew, but you should try to be consistent once you find a way you like.  If you use a computer program to put together your recipes, you may find it convenient to simply keep all of your information with the program of your choice.  I personally find these programs to be too restrictive for note taking.  Also, there is the ever-present danger of a hard drive crashing, taking with it years of brewing experience.

My personal method is to use a new MS Word file for each batch.  I have a basic template that I follow with minor adjustments for each brew to keep things consistent.  I keep all the files in a single folder, and label each file <batch number>_<beer type>_<name>.docx to keep them in order for easy access.  I then mirror this folder to a USB drive and another hard drive for safe keeping.  For maximum security, multiple copies in at least two separate physical locations is best: a back-up copy on another hard drive on the same desk will protect against hard drive failure, but not theft or natural disaster.  Many free cloud-based options are available as well, such as dropbox.

If you’re more of a pen and paper sort, make sure to get a quality bound notebook or journal that will stand up to a beating- no loose pages or scraps!  Spiral bound books will lay flat and open, but they don’t store as well.  Basic Brewing sells a log book specifically for keeping brewing notes (though I have never used it personally).  Use water-proof ink or pencil so the inevitable dunking or splashing won’t be disastrous.

How do you track your brew?  Is there anything you find useful to note that I didn’t mention?

– Dennis,
Life, Fermented

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About Dennis
Home brewer, home chef, garage tinkerer. Author of Life Fermented blog.

2 Responses to Brew Tips: Brewing Logs

  1. The Stickrods says:

    Great article! I prefer to use Excel and just add worksheets. Info you provided was great!

    • Dennis says:

      That certainly works, too. You could do a lot of your calculations right on your recipe sheet this way, if you wanted, which is nice. But, it seems like it might be a bit restrictive on note taking and formatting. Thanks for reading!

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