I have a spreadsheet for my home brewery. I started it last year to help me track the ingredients I was using across all my recipes. I didn’t feel like I had a strong sense of the malts, hops and yeast I was using from beer to beer. I had a fear that I would use some ingredient I thought was new to me without realizing I’d already used it. Best case scenario I would be losing track of my recipe formulations, worst I would use an ingredient I had trouble with previously without remembering those hassles.
Each tab of the spreadsheet lays out all of the beers for a year. Across the columns I have the various malts, hops and yeast. I swapped a yeast strain in a recipe this year because I had this information at my fingertips. I was able to more easily recall how the one strain worked in a few other beers and pick another I knew would work better in that beer.
The spreadsheet has evolved has grown and evolved this year. I now use it to help time out my packaging and preparation of time critical ingredients like tinctures and infusions. My brew days have been reliably following a five week cadence. Kegging those beers, for the most part, has fallen into a nice pattern. The weekend before most brew days, I have been able to keg the last beer so that it is carbonated and ready to share with anyone joining me in making a new beer.
Knowing when a beer will be ready to put on tap, I can juggle future brews around based on what I want to drink at different times of the year. When I started brewing, even when I was only managing the same four recipes every year, I liked the idea of brewing seasonally.
My dark beers were always planned for enjoying during the cold months. My Scottish ale was my first Spring beer. I love hoppy, crisp beers the most during the hot months. The spiced brown ale recipe I created last year turned out to be perfect as the weather in the mid-Atlantic just starts to turn cool.
We are feeling record highs in the DC metropolitan area right now. We’ve had our third heat index advisory in as many days. As I sweat and swelter, enjoying the light, refreshing bite of my best bitter, I am planning out my cool and cold month beers. Coming up soon I will be making this year’s iteration on that spiced brown ale, my Burton ale, and a new recipe for an old ale that will be wonderfully warming through the bitter cold we often see in December and January.
My Spring and Summer beers are quick to turn around, taking just over a month from kettle to tap. My Fall and Winter beers are darker in color and a bit more complex in flavor. Dark malts and other more complicated flavors benefit from more time in the fermenter. A fresh Summer beer is refreshing, a too fresh Winter beer can be undrinkable. Thanks to my spreadsheet, I can see how the extended aging of some beers affects my tap rotation.
My spreadsheet has revealed that I will have a gap in my rotation this Fall. The tap shortage is partly due to a Summer project beer and partly the change over to my Fall and Winter recipes. Thankfully, all my advanced planning means I can also figure out where best to fit in an extra brew day in order to make up the gap.
I made a couple of test batches to help develop the recipe for that Summer project. I brewed both on my own, outside of my usual series of brew days. Each was only two and a half gallons instead of the usual five. They were extract batches rather than all grain only requiring maybe two hours instead of the usual six or so for an all grain batch. Thanks to me meticulous planning, I was able to add in those smaller batches without overloading any given weekend with brewing related work.
I will be brewing solo next weekend to help prevent my tap lines from running dry between now and the end of the year. The recipe will be the same as my last beer with one tweak. I’ll be swapping in a new kind of malt I got as part of my swag bag from Homebrewcon back in June. Every time I brew on my own, I get to focus a bit more on process and technical craft. I have some new fittings I’ll get a chance to work with first on my own before my next open brew day. I picked up the equipment I need to make yeast starters so this will be my first beer to use that rather than just pitching multiple packages of yeast.
In the past when I’ve just made a random beer, I didn’t feel it necessary helped me become a better brewer. Maybe I learned something, maybe I didn’t. I didn’t feel like all of my efforts integrated in a meaningful way. Having a plan, the back bone of which is a steady cadence of brew days, feels great by comparison. I can still be flexible and do one off beers and special projects. All my brewing efforts feel like they feed much more deliberately into how I am developing my craft. I feel like my efforts speak for themselves, I hope those of you who have been able to share in the fruits of my labor over the past few years agree.