Displaced Geek

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

Recipe Site Showdown Part 3: Recipe Creation

NB:I’ve decided to remove BeerTools’ recipe calculator from the showdown, as the free version has proven too limited for my use, and the goal was to find the site that I plan on continuing to use in the future. I’m sure it’s a great tool for those who can use it, but it’s not right for me.
From this point forward, we wil be comparing BrewersFriend (free version), Hopville, & Brewtoad.

Previously: Part 2 Search

Arguably the most important category, users should be able to import, create from scratch, & modify existing recipes as their own. Granularity of ingredient selection, assistance in matching style, and ability to “tweak” are key to this category. 50 points possible.

Since I was planning on working out an amber ale recipe anyway, I’ve decided that’s how I’m going to test the recipe creation functionality of these sites – a completely new recipe from the ground up.

My goal is to create a balanced 5 gallon partial mash American Amber Ale. I’ll be using The Brewmaster’s Bible as my recipe style guide.

Armed with the simplest partial mash amber ale I can come up with, we turn to BrewersFriend first.

First we’ll change our recipe to partial mash from the brewing method drop-down, and adjust our quantity to 5G. Then we’ll select American Amber Ale from the appropriate drop-down, so the little ‘Matches Style’ checkmark will know when to turn green.

Since I’m unsure exactly where the recommended 2-row Harrington is from (it sounds British, but that doesn’t count), and our malts are listed by geography, we need to do some searching. After a significant amount of scrolling, I can see that I’ll be making an adjustment right off the bat and using American Pale 2-row. No big deal, but I would’ve liked to be able to search the ingredient list. As soon as my first selection is complete, the stat bar updates with our beer’s relevant details. When entering your data, remember that your beer’s info doesn’t update until you’ve moved to the next field. A closer look shows a triangle that we can click to unfold the banner, showing a wealth of information.

BrewersFriend's "Wall of Text"

BrewersFriend’s “Wall of Text”

My personal favorite part is the fact that it displays the ranges of your selected style as well as your current value. This means I can see that my 7lbs of Pale 2-row got me to within 12 points of the target gravity range. 2lbs of Amber LME will put us right in the middle of our range, while helping us get closer to our desired color. Very convenient. The specialty malts listed in the Brewmaster’s Bible are Victory, Munich, Crystal 40, Special, & Dextrine. I decided to go with the combination of Special & Victory, so we’ll add 8oz of each. That gives our gravity & ABV a set of nice green checkmarks, but only one of the four different color formulas gives us its approval. The other three are exclamation marks, indicating we’re a bit too light. Increasing each of our specialty grains to 12oz is apparently perfect for our little experiment. (Whether or not it makes a good beer is another question altogether)

Hops are added in the same way, as are yeasts, and “other ingredients”. There’s an option for custom fermentables, & hops are entered manually without the aid of drop-down boxes, so they’re customizable from the get go. Your yeast also has a few tweaks like attenuation & pitch rate.

NB: While there is a ‘mash steps’ section where temps, time, and type can all be set, it has no effect on your recipe’s calculations.

The recipe creator as BrewersFriend presents it is a no nonsense, by-the-numbers, recipe *calculator*. You can create and tinker with your recipes as a guest, and you can even save them if you’d like, although unassociated recipes are deleted once the session expires.

Don’t feel like creating a recipe completely from scratch? No problem. Tinkering with other member’s recipes is as simple as clicking on the ‘clone’ tab, and picking a new name for your copy of the recipe.

Already created your recipe somewhere else? BrewersFriend also includes a BeerXML Import function. Despite the voluminous “Notes and Limitations” listed on the import page, my BeerXML 1.0 formatted recipe imported with no errors whatsoever.

A Note About Brewer’sFriend Free Trial Accounts:
While a free account will suffice for everything we’ve done up to this point, there are a few things to consider. ₣ree accounts cannot delete recipes. While you can edit them out of existence, you cannot simply overwrite them. This means you can only use the import or clone functions 5 times in total. After that you’ll be informed that to import or clone another recipe, you must first delete one, but since you’ve reached your max number of allowed recipes, and don’t have delete privileges, you’re SOL as far as importing is concerned, unless you upgrade your account, and will have to manually alter one of your five existing recipes.

Now before we can take this test recipe to the other sites, we need to determine BrewersFriend‘s score. For your first 5 recipes, I’d give it a score of 45/50. The drop-down method of selecting ingredients, coupled with the inability to search is really the only thing wrong. Of course once you’ve filled your 5 slots, you lose clone & import functionality, and as such, the score I’ll be using for comparison is 30/50.

Alright – over at Brewtoad they take an altogether different approach. Instead of a slew of numbers for your range & current values, we have a set of pretty sliders representing your beer’s details on the right of the recipe page. They update after every keystroke which is unnecessary, but neat when you’re unsure exactly how much to add of a particular ingredient. Additionally, when adding ingredients, you can easily see each ingredient’s color and ppg without adding it to your recipe. Again, unnecessary, but neat. The method for adding ingredients is a “smart” search box that updates matches as you type. (In quotes because it’s really not all that smart.)

Brewtoad is so purty.

Brewtoad is so purty.

Ingredients must be added in the units provided, pounds for fermentables, & ounces for hops, which is fine, but can be frustrating when you have a complex grain bill. (What’s 11ounces in decimal again?)

As far as modifying other users’ recipes goes, it’s just as simple as it should be. As long as you’re logged in, you can select “brew variant” next to any recipe, and you’ll be instantly taken to the recipe creation page with a copy of the recipe you wish to clone, sans title. Yet another neat little feature presented when you do this is the continual connection with the original recipe. Once you’ve completed your tinkering and saved the new variant, your recipe will always say “A variant of by “. Whether this is a good thing or not is up to you, but it’s certainly neat.

Users can import BeerXML files, and when I imported my X1 Stout XML, it encountered no errors, so that appears to work as advertised.

Final score for Brewtoad? 40/50. As nice as all the visual aids are, I’d like to have the actual target values for my style visible while I’m adjusting my recipe, instead of being behind a click that takes over the entire screen. Additionally, ingredient selection was repeatedly difficult due to the “smart” search box, and an ingredient database that is absurdly granular in some ways, while in others being oddly incomplete. While I have a feeling Brewtoad will blow away the competition in the “social” categories, for creation it’s pretty average.

Finally it’s time to work on our brew using Hopville‘s ‘Beer Calculus’.
As we select our style, a list of what our beer’s stats should look like pops up right beneath the style. Okay, as a starting point I can live with that. Ingredient selection is done via a series of drop-boxes. One for pounds, another for ounces, one to select how the ingredient will be used, and a “smart” drop-down, that allows you to scroll through OR manually enter, and let it search (a process that is virtually instant). Now up to this point, you’ll notice that the “Recipe Type” field is simply a question mark, and you are unable to change it manually.

Hopville's text/image balance gives a lot of information without seeming cluttered.

Hopville’s text/image balance gives a lot of information without seeming cluttered.

However once you enter your ingredients, you’ll see it change, and be automagically selected based on the recipe. In addition, as my ingredients have satisfied the unfulfilled style requirements, they’ve been disappearing. Once all the requirements are met, as we’re accustomed to, we’re treated to a lovely green checkmark.

The table to the right of the fermentable ingredients displays a large amount of information, aside from our basics. There’s a slider that represents the malt/hop balance, and our value is marked by a carboy colored to our beer’s shade. In a smaller & lighter font than the primary information, we’re treated to estimated gravity ranges, our color in EBC, and a few other tidbits. A similar setup next to hops allows us to fiddle with the formula used to calculate IBUs.

It’s honestly very hard to find any fault with Hopville‘s recipe creation, so I’m not going to try. You can clone any recipe on the site without having to be logged in, which is nice I guess, but since you can’t save a recipe without logging in, not very useful. Of course, it’s just as simple when you are logged in, so no points off for that.

Unfortunately, as of their new hardware rollout last year, Hopville has been lacking BeerXML import functionality, so that isn’t possible at the moment. If it wasn’t for that, I think they’d get a perfect score, but unfortunately, I’ll have to knock them down to 40/50. So close.

Alright, I guess that wraps up recipe creation. Come on back for the grand finale, where we’ll break down sharing, look and feel, ease of use, & anything else I can think of before determining a winner.

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Written by Peter

January 28, 2013 at 1619

Posted in Homebrewing

Tagged with , , , , ,

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