Displaced Geek

Just a city geek and father coming to terms with being replanted in farm country

Recipe Site Showdown Part 2: Search

Previously: The Setup

Recipe Search: It should be easy to find existing recipes by common criteria such as style, ingredients, and ABV. 25 points possible.

What good is a collection of all the best recipes in the world if you can’t find the one you want?

In a perfect world, we’d be able to find recipes by:

  • BJCP style
  • arbitrary text
  • ingredient
  • ABV
  • brewing style (all-grain, BIAB, etc)
  • ability to filter / sort results

so those are the subcategories we’ll score on. 0 – 4 for each yields us a total of 24 possible points for search. Everyone gets one point to “round” the ideal search score to 25.

First up is Hopville.
Right at the homepage, we’re greeted with a persistent search box conveniently located up in the banner. It’s accessible without logging in, which is convenient, but how well does it work?
Since there’s no explicit search by style, we’ll type a style into the search box. Let’s go with ‘English IPA’.



As we can see, we’re getting results that don’t match our style. Searches for ‘Belgian Pale Ale’ return results including Cream Ale and ‘Dark Lager’ search results include American Lager recipes. Clearly the phrase isn’t taken as a whole. A search for ‘Old Ale’ produces only two correct results in the first four pages. So if you were planning on searching by style, there’s a strong possibility you’ll have to wade through extraneous entries. Annoying, but there’s hope. Based on discovering this page, it’s obvious that search by style is possible, just not implemented. The image above also shows how easy it is to filter by brewing style.

I was unable to find a way to search by ABV.

Alright, so…

Hopville Search Score Breakdown:

BJCP style sort of (1/4) Styles are available to browse by
arbitrary text sort of (2/4) Questionable results when searching more than one word
ingredient sort of (2/4) Is your ingredient more than one word? See above.
ABV No (0/4)
brewing style sort of (3/4) You can filter your results by brewing style.
filter/sort results sort of (2/4) filter by brewing style is available
Actual Score: 10/24
Weighted Score: 11/25

Hopville‘s search box is powerful but clumsy, and clearly not as intuitive or useful as it could be.

Now, Brewtoad.
Although Brewtoad‘s relative small number of recipes compared to other sites ( <3000 ) makes it difficult to test search comprehensively, we’ll give it a shot. At first glance, it appears that Hopville & Brewtoad are long lost siblings separated at birth, and they share all the same DNA. And while that isn’t actually true, Brewtoad‘s search box looks and behaves remarkably similar to Hopville‘s, which isn’t promising. That is until you realize that Brewtoad isn’t about search, it’s all about filter. And while this distinction is in no way immediately apparent to a new user, after a short time working with it, I’m left to wonder if the guys at Brewtoad are doing themselves an injustice by not eliminating the search box altogether.

I decided to search for ‘saison’ because I like saisons, but also because my first two style searches yielded a total of six results. Alright, 64 results, we can work with that.

Brewtoad provides a wealth of information with a simple mouseover.


Here we get to experience one of Brewtoad‘s nicer features. While we have only name / style immediately visible, a wealth of additional information is less than a click away. A simple mouseover gives us OG, FG, IBU, & ABV. It’s provided in an immediately digestible format, as well as with numerical values, allowing you to mouseover several recipes and almost subconsciously know which one you’d like to click on. There are also various sorting options, including brewing type, ABV, and just about every other criterion you could want. For you less visual people, there’s an option to view a text list of your results, which can be sorted in exactly the same manner.
Additionally, while I’ve not seen it written down anywhere, the icons representing the recipes appear to be shown in an approximation of the brew’s color, which is yet another cute feature that, while unnecessary, is certainly clever, well-implemented, and something you’d quickly come to appreciate if you were a regular user of the site.

As well as recipes, Brewtoad instantly lets you know what your search returned out of its database of fermentables, yeasts, hops, & users, which is certainly nice, but at the moment fairly irrelevant, as the fermentables list is remarkably incomplete, and the yeast descriptions are boiled down until they’re hardly useful. And while searching by yeast is possible via the description popup, (which is certainly useful for anyone who like me has dedicated a section of their fridge to yeasts) sedarching *for* yeasts is made difficult for anyone who knows what they’re looking for, because a direct search for ‘WLP565’ yielded zero results, so if I can’t find the yeast by name, what’s the point?

Now at this point, I was about ready to simply move on, but as I mentioned earlier, while Brewtoad’s search is in no way remarkable, their preferred method of finding recipes is no less than incredible.
As I’ve already beaten to death above, Brewtoad is all about filter. So in order to find an extract saison recipe between 5 and 7 percent using honey as a fermentable, all I have to do is click ‘recipes’ on the side, and filter the entire database down using a few clicks. The filters are checkboxes, not radio buttons, which means any combination you can think of is available.
(How they can have 12 different kinds of honey, but no Special B Malt listed in their fermentables database, I don’t know. But that’s not search, so we’ll deal with that another time.)

Brewtoad ‘Search’ Score Breakdown:

BJCP style yes (4/4) Checkboxes allow for searches of multiple styles at once
arbitrary text sort of (2/4) Search is available, but doesn’t always produce desired results
ingredient yes (3/4) Many common malts missing from database
ABV yes (4/4) Decimal min-max entry boxes are ideal
brewing style yes (4/4) Checkboxes allow for searches of multiple styles at once
filter/sort results sort of (4/4) I doubt anyone could do filter better
Actual Score: 21/24
Weighted Score: 22/25

Despite its ineffective search box, Brewtoad‘s recipe finding capabilities are incredibly robust.

Next up: BeerTools.BeerTools' recipe database has lots of search options.

If I’m perfectly honest, this site was the inspiration for even having a search category. Before I found this search page, in order to find a high alcohol Saison made with honey, I was trying all sorts of search patterns with lots of &&s to get the results I wanted from other sites. Frequently, I resorted to using Google’s “site:” search. But as you can see, BeerTools provides us with a whole host of options to design our search.

A few arbitrary searches in, and I’m convinced that the text search is perfect. Not only do the searches produce results, but they do so faster than any other site so far. Rather than the other sites feeling slow, BeerTools seems quick. But more on that later. The search by feature uses dropboxes, which is nice if you’re frequently fat fingered like me, but after Brewtoad’s checkboxes they feel restrictive. If I want to knock out a quick extract recipe, but I’m willing to do partial mash, I need two searches. mildly annoying. If it seems like I’m moving the goalposts, too bad.

The results are displayed in sort order determined at search time, and sort options include most anything you’d want to sort by, including ABV, favorites, and whether or not there’s an ingredient kit available for purchase.

BeerTools Search Score Breakdown:

BJCP style yes (4/4) Available to via drop-down
arbitrary text yes (4/4) Excellent text search
ingredient yes (4/4) Available via drop-down
ABV sort (1/4) Searches can be sorted by ABV
brewing style yes (4/4) Available via drop-down
filter/sort results sort of (2/4) Sort options are available at search time.
Actual Score: 19/24
Weighted Score: 20/25

BeerTools has excellent search capabilities, but is a slight letdown after using Brewtoad.

Finally BrewersFriend

As we quickly see, BrewersFriend uses a combination of drop-down, checkbox, and arbitrary text to provide you with a wide range of search options. Most importantly, the multiple brewing styles can be selected, allowing for the combined partial mash / extract search I mentioned earlier. A few things jumped out as I was trying to put the site through its paces, though. The ‘style’ drop-down doesn’t have all the BJCP styles, but only the main headings. As a result, witbier and saison are missing from the list, but both contained under Belgian and French Ales. This is less a hindrance than an annoyance, but worth mentioning. While there is no explicit search by ingredient, searches for honey, Special B, and Saaz all produced the results expected.
Your results are presented in a text table that can be sorted in a number of ways, although the ‘batch size’ sort option is severely broken, and sorts by the numberical value of the batch size, irrespective of the unit used. Color is immediately available in the list view, as are IBU, ABV, and several other key points.

BrewersFriend Search Score Breakdown:

BJCP style Sort of (2/4) Major style categories vailable to via drop-down
arbitrary text yes (3/4) Text search appears comprehensive
ingredient sort of (2/4) Single ingredient search by arbitrary text search
ABV sort only (1/4) Searches can be sorted by ABV
brewing style yes (4/4) Available via checkbox
filter/sort results sort of (3/4) Sort options are available but far from perfect
Actual Score: 15/24
Weighted Score: 16/25

Lots of small quirks keep BrewersFriend‘s search from approaching the leaders.

So as far as finding recipes is concerned, Brewtoad is the standout, with BeerTools close behind, BrewersFriend showing promise, and Hopville bringing up the rear.

Next time: Recipe Creation

Written by Peter

January 18, 2013 at 1106

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  1. […] Previously: Part 2 Search […]

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