Recipe development and Q&A with Brad Smith

YouTube: https://youtu.be/nMI_1-F0hyM

Slides: https://www.readingamateurbrewers.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Recipe_Design_New.pptx

On Thursday 13th August we held our 5th “lock down” online meetup, and were joined by a guest of international acclaim within the home brewing world – Brad Smith – the designer and owner of BeerSmith brewing software. I think it is safe to say that the odds of you not being aware of this software if you already home brew are low to none, but if you are unfamiliar, there is a link at the bottom of this write up so you can check it out.

Now you might well be asking, “why did Brad Smith join a UK home brew club for an online meet up?” – and the answer is two-fold – firstly, Brad Smith is a very nice man, and secondly our treasurer, Jerry, is very persuasive. I think it’s important to also mention before we get into the presentation that Brad made BeerSmith as a hobby project for himself in the first instance, and that home brewing has been a hobby for him which has developed into a retirement pastime – Brad has a PhD in computer engineering and five degrees. He was a fellow at Draper Labs at MIT, was a rocket scientist for many years, was in the air force and ran the Phillips space lab in Albuquerque where he was director.

Brad joined us from Virginia, and spent close to 2 hours of his afternoon with us, firstly presenting on “beer recipe design,” and then he answered a number of specific questions from RAB members and other meeting guests who joined us for the session. The presentation covered recipe design in a great deal of detail, and can be watched in its entirety in the linked YouTube video below. This was also our biggest online meet up to date, with over 50 attendees at the peak, including guests from other home brew clubs, due to the prestigious guest.

If you haven’t tried BeerSmith, or even more crazily don’t use brewing software, it’s time to change that. Visit http://beersmith.com/ and you can take it for a spin for 21 days for free. Finally, keep your eyes peeled for future RAB events as Brad also offered to join us again for another presentation in the future.

The YouTube recording of the meet up can be found here

Slides from the presentation can be found https://www.readingamateurbrewers.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Recipe_Design_New.pptx

And below is the full text transcript from the Q&A session that took place after Brad’s presentation:

[RAB] What’s the one thing in your experience that can make or break a recipe?

[Brad Smith] Oh boy, well you know technique is important, but I mean if you got that basic thing down then I think probably the next important thing is just just flavor balance you know, getting the right balance of hops, malt and everything else in the beer is absolutely critical. I try really hard when I’m sitting down with a new recipe to think about what I’ll do – for example a lot of times I’ll sit down and make a list of, you know, here’s all the grains I could include in the beer, here’s some of the hops I might use as a candidate for the beer and then I start throwing things away because you know the simplicity rules apply so I want to get rid of as many things as I can and have the finished beer be as simple as possible so I think that’s absolutely critical – simplicity in the beer – and having the right balance of hops and malt in the beer when you’re finished. You can also look at things like the bitterness ratio which is very useful. The bitterness ratio is just bitterness divided by the gravity points, basically, in the beer and it’s very easy to calculate. You can look it up online but it gives you an idea of the hop balance of the beer. Like if I’m making something like an English ale, yeah they’re moderately hoppy, but they’re not overly hoppy, so the bitterness ratio is only going to be you know maybe a little over 1.0. If I’m making a super IPA it’s going to be much much higher, and if I’m making a continental ale it’s going to be quite lower than that – so those are the kinds of tools that I use to help me.

[RAB] What book or reference did you really rely on when starting out brewing?

[Brad Smith] I think I mentioned I started in 1987 and at that time there were only a handful of books out. The one I had was Charlie Papasian’s ‘The Joy of HomeBrewing’, and I still have it. I have the first edition which is very interesting to open up these days. I actually pulled it out a couple months ago, for a recipe it’ll have like the quantity of malt or malt extract and it’ll have a quantity of hops, but the hops will just say boil or dry hop and that’s it. It doesn’t say how long, it doesn’t say when, it doesn’t say how and there’s no bitterness units, and then a lot of the gravities are estimated or even unknown in some of the some of the recipes, so that was interesting. Interestingly, the only other books available were a couple books out of the UK because [in the US] we didn’t legalise home brewing until [later] and I believe people in the UK were brewing well before that and I had a recipe book from Dave Line as well.

[RAB] Have you got experience of using midnight wheat in place of dehusked carafa etc. and where does that fall in terms of the harsh zone?

[Brad Smith] Unfortunately, I have not played with midnight wheat but midnight wheat, typically wheat is going to be less harsh because it does not have the high tannic content that barley does in the husk so I would expect, just guessing here, but I would expect it to be quite a bit less harsh than a comparable barley wheat.

[RAB] What in your opinion is the difference between whirlpool and dry hop editions, have you ever compared throwing everything into the whirlpool versus splitting between the two?

[Brad Smith] So, the difference between whirlpool and dry hop, what you’re trying to do here – let’s just explain what you’re trying to do. So you’re trying to get aroma oils from the hops into the beer right, you’re trying to get them to go into solution, and aromatic oils by their very nature do not like to go into solution because if they like to go into solution they wouldn’t be aromatic you wouldn’t be able to smell them right? They would just stay in solution. Does that make sense – you’re trying to force these substances that really don’t like to go in solution, into solution and there’s two primary ways we do that. One of them is with heat and then the other one is of course with time. In the whirlpool what you do is you’re using the temperature to try and force it into solution, in the dry hop you’re really using contact time to try and force it into solution so that’s how I like to sort of think of those two. Now if you actually go substance by substance you can look up the vapour point, for example, for the major hop oils and you’ll find out that there are certain hop oils that are more susceptible, more practical for dry hopping than for whirlpool hopping. For example a lot of the hops here in the US have very high myrcene content, and myrcene is one of the major hop oils, it’s that piney finish that you get from a lot of the Pacific Northwest hops here in the US, and it’s a major component a lot of the IPAs, but myrcene is interesting because it has a fairly low vapour point. So if I want to preserve a lot of myrcene in the hops, if I’m using some of these hops that are high in myrcene I’m actually better off either dry hopping it or whirl-pooling at a lower temperature. Now there’s other ones like geraniol and linalool that have a slightly higher point so I can get away with using some of those in the whirlpool if you will, but you’re definitely gonna, I mean you can try the experiment, I’ve done it before, but you get a much different effect if you use the hops in the whirlpool versus in the dry hop and a lot of that has to do with how susceptible the different oils are to each of those techniques.

[RAB] How was Randy’s banana beer?

[Brad Smith] So I had Randy’s banana beer, after he did this at home he actually made a commercial batch of it and he saved a bottle for me and I had it at one of the events we were at. It was, it was not bad. It was not great either. Randy has some amazing ideas and you know not every one of them is going to turn out fantastic, it was, you could taste the banana and it was kind of subtle though, and you know overall it wasn’t a beer that i would want to dive into over and over and over again, but it was interesting. He had some interesting stories to tell about doing on a commercial scale. I think he was trying to heat up [the banana’s] and I believe he heated it before, or fried it or something before he added it, but you can imagine trying to do that, with several hundred pounds of bananas, which is effectively what he did to create the commercial match. But you know I love talking to him because he’s just full of great ideas and always finding these interesting ingredients, spices and you know he travels a lot to South America and finds these interesting fruits and then brings those back and makes beer with them. A lot of fun.

[RAB] I’ll just say there is actually an English brewery, I think it’s Wells, that does a banana bread beer so that’s maybe a bit similar?

[Brad Smith] So yeah okay [that’s] probably a little different actually. I mean I imagine your banana bread’s a little different.

[RAB] What are your top three books if you had to choose just three about home brewing?

[Brad Smith] Well John Palmer’s new edition is really, really nice. It’s got a lot of information packed in there. I’d probably pick that as one of them. I actually am a big fan of Mastering Homebrew as well, it’s not necessarily an advanced brewing book, but I think Randy did a great job particularly discussing flavours, and some of the concepts that even I’ve got in this presentation in the Mastering Homebrew book. He also did a great job of covering a lot of techniques and things in it. The other thing I like about Mastering Homebrew is it’s very approachable, so I mean even if you’re a fairly new brewer you can pick up Mastering Homebrew and learn quite a bit about home brewing fairly quickly. Also I mentioned that Randy is a graphic artist, so his stuff is always beautifully illustrated. Another one I really like, and it’s an older one, Ray Daniel’s book and I’m trying to remember the… it’s what’s Ray Daniel’s classic book… help me out guys… Designing Recipes or something…

[Someone from RAB] Designing Great Beers?

[Brad Smith] Yeah, Designing Great Beers. What I like about it, and it’s quite dated now, I’m not saying it’s the top book in the world, but what he did was he took the top rated beers from beer competitions basically, and then he laid them out by style and then he did an analysis of it. It contained you know this much of this ingredient, this much of that ingredient and I just found that whole approach to be fascinating. Of course I’m an engineer so that’s sort of my approach to beer brewing I guess. I’m kind of analytical but I found that approach to be fascinating and one of my favourites. Another one I’d probably mention is Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing just because again it’s packed with great ideas. So, those are some of my favourites.

[RAB] In your opinion what’s the most fun or forgiving style to brew and also maybe the hardest to nail and get right?

[Brad Smith] Well I mean it’s hard to go wrong with an English pale ale to some degree. I mean just a simple English pub ale and the other reason I say that is because it is more forgiving in terms of, you know, if you get some off flavours into it it’s not necessarily going to ruin the beer. Does that make sense? So I think that’s one of the easier brews certainly to start with. If you want to work with harder beers, arguably almost any lager is difficult to do. especially in a home brew setting. First of all to do it properly you usually have to have a fair amount of equipment, you know, refrigeration and such, and the other problem is mostly particularly any light lager is it shows the flaws. So if you make a very light lager and you’ve got even a little bit of DMS in it, or something like that, which is sort of the cooked corn flavour, that flavour is very apparent in the lager so I would argue those are some of the hardest ones to brew actually. Even beyond an English ale, a lot of dark beers are also very easy to brew because, again, if I make an Irish stout I can get a whole bunch of things wrong and it’ll still taste like an Irish stout because it’ll be completely overwhelmed by the roast barley flavour.

[RAB] Do you acidify your sparge water, or are there times where you would or wouldn’t depending on the type of recipe

[Brad Smith] You don’t need as much acid in the sparge water because it’s at the end of the mash. It does help though, there’s one reason to do it, and that [is that] it’s really more of a problem I should mention for commercial brewers and home brewers. A lot of us don’t sparge to the point where we have this problem kick in but what happens is if the pH of the runnings coming out of the mash tun get much above six it’s called over sparging, if you will, and if the pH of the runnings get above six, effectively what happens is you start to extract a lot of tannins out of the mash itself. So these are a lot of the sucking of tea bag flavours, it’s not as big of a problem for most home brewers because we’re brewing on such a small scale we use proportionally, usually, more grain and we’ve got much smaller systems that we’re working with and usually a little bit less efficient systems so it’s fairly rare at the home brew level that you’re actually going to push it up above that six, but at a commercial level it can happen. The main reason you’d want to acidify your sparge water is to prevent that happening. What you’re doing is, you know, the pH of the mash itself is going to go up as you run more and more water through it which makes sense right – you’ve got these acidic grains and I’m slowly pulling part of the grain away, if you will, into the wort by running alkaline water through it right. So what happens is as you’re sparging the pH is always rising and you just want to keep it below six, and one of the tricks to keep it below six of course is to just acidify your sparge water a little bit, and again, it doesn’t require as much as the main mash, but a little bit so it delays that point where you cross that six range a little bit.

[RAB] Do you have any thoughts on the continuously hopped beers like Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA, and how would you enter that sort of recipe into BeerSmith? Is it worth it given the hop oil boil-off you mentioned earlier?

[Brad Smith] That’s kind of a three-parter! You’re probably gonna hear from me very quickly that I’m not a big fan of it because of the reason I just mentioned – when you get down to minutes you’re not really doing anything except adding more – first of all you’re adding more vegetal material, and second of all you’re adding some bitterness to the hops but you’re not getting so much [of the] aromatics out of it and the problem is – if I had enough vegetal material and you’ll see this in a lot – I don’t know if you have the same IPA craze going on over there [in the UK] but I sample a lot of commercial IPAs that have almost lawnmower flavours to them and a lot of it is this crazy over hopping, or like you know “hops is good so more hops is more good,” you know, and in fact it’s not the case. Most of us can only perceive hops to like a 60 IBU, 70 IBU threshold and then anything over that is just really bitter, and the problem is as you start driving it up more and more and more you’re just adding vegetal material, so again, I could probably achieve the same IBU level with a single hop edition, with a lot less hops, earlier in the boil, so let’s say even a 60 minute hop edition and I’m going to say I’m going to get the same IBUs in there and instead I’ll take some of those hops that I was going to use for this continuous hopping and push those into the whirlpool or the dry hop where they’ll be used to much more effect and it’ll add some aroma to it, and the combination of those two will be more powerful. I would argue that continuous hopping, as far as how to do continuous hopping in BeerSmith, I can’t think of an easy way to do it other than just a bunch of really small additions or something like that. But it’s not really a technique I recommend.

[RAB] What’s your view on the short mash / short boils – similar to what you’ve previously mentioned with Brülosophy with their short and shoddy series

Yeah I did an interview with Marshall [from Brülosophy],a couple episodes back on the BeerSmith podcast. We had him on doing short and shoddy. First of all, short mashes are very supportable, and the science supports it too and the reason is because as I mentioned [during the presentation] that most of the malts we’re working with today are what’s called highly modified, which means they have a massive amount of enzymes in them, and as a result as soon as you start to mash in that thing, you know, at the right temperature that thing will start to convert and you can do a simple iodine test – you can get a little iodine from the pharmacy and put a couple drops in into a little sample of the mash, put it on like a white plate for example, put a couple drops of iodine in it, and if it runs – I think if it runs clear – if it doesn’t turn colour then the sugars have already been converted. So there’s a really simple test you can do, and I’ve done this a number of times at home and I see sometimes in as little as minutes the mash is literally done because I’m working with a large percentage of pale malt usually, a small percentage of speciality malt and it converts very very quickly. As far as a short boil – the only real concern I’d have – and I’m assuming you’re still doing at least you know like 15 minutes or 20 minutes to get the thing sterilised if you will. The big concern with that is primarily something called DMS. DMS is sort of a cooked corn off flavour that can show up in the finished beer if you don’t boil it long enough. They usually recommend a 90 minute boil gets rid of 70 or 80% percent of the DMS, but again it depends on what style you’re brewing. If I’m brewing an Irish stout do I really worry about DMS? Probably not. It’s a little bit of cooked corn flavour in the middle of this giant, really dark beer right, so I probably could get away with a 15 minute boil and it would probably be just fine. Now if I’m making something really subtle like a Kolsch or a lager, am I gonna do the longer boil? Probably I am because I’m concerned – and it’s not it’s not that you’re gonna have a massive amount of DMS in your beer – but that the beer is subtle enough that it might make a difference if that makes sense. So yeah, it’s all a matter of what you’re brewing and how much would it matter, but I have had beers with DMS in them, and yeah you can taste it – it’s subtle but you can taste it. It just depends on what you’re brewing.

[RAB] You mentioned you use lactic acid – it seems that Japanese brewers have a preference for phosphoric, have you experimented between the two?

[Brad Smith] I personally haven’t just because lactic acid is really widely available here in the US in the brew store so you can walk into any brew store and get lactic acid. Phosphoric acid works too though, you can even use acetic acid, and citric acid, and there’s a whole bunch of acids you can use. I know citric acid is used by some commercial brewers, so I mean almost anything that’s going to drive the pH down is probably acceptable, but I just know lactic acid is very very easy to work with and you’re talking about you know 10 / 20 millilitres in maybe a 10 gallon / 38 litre batch, it’s not a lot. And it’s not enough to affect the flavour of the beer, so that’s what I use. But I think BeerSmith calculates it. You can do phosphoric of course, you can also use acid malt if you’re a purist, but acid malt is effectively the same thing – all they do is they take the malt and they sour it, and when they sour it it creates lactic acid, you know the bacteria creates lactic acid – when you add lactobacillus to your beer it creates lactic acid so that’s all you’re really doing is adding some lactic acid anyways.

[RAB] This one might be slightly leading, but do you despair at the current fad for extremely hoppy IPA style beers when there are so many more styles that can be brewed?

[Brad Smith] Well I’ve talked about this more than once on the podcast, I’m not a huge IPA fan, and one of the frustrations I have is I’ll go to a brew pub now and I’ll order – I think I told you I enjoy a lot of the English styles – and particularly I enjoy a lot of the dark beers, so I’ll order something like a porter, and instead of a porter I will get a dark IPA, and it’s frustrating to me when I get that as it’s not really what I wanted. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate an IPA, but yeah I don’t really fully understand the fad when there are so many great beers out there, but I can tell you for a fact that over half the beer craft beer produced here in the United States are IPAs, and that is the bulk of the business right now. So it sells. Is it the same in the UK? I really don’t know.

[RAB] So yeah there’s still a fair number of the traditional styles being made but yeah it’s IPA, the American style IPA is pretty big, especially this east coast stuff, New England style.

[Brad Smith] Yeah I mean those are those are nice to have, they are enjoyable but it’s not – for me it’s not the end-all be-all. I know a lot of people enjoy them though.

[RAB] When it comes to bittering hops, does it matter much what you use? Do you get much flavour coming through?

[Brad Smith] Yeah it does matter what you use. You’re going to get a different flavour characteristic out of each of the bittering hops. Interestingly, doing that – I mentioned the aroma rub where you take the [hops] and you put your nose up into it, it does actually give you a pretty good idea of, a hint at least of the bittering flavour of the beer [will be]. And each hop is very distinctive, and I’m sure if you’ve made a number of beers you probably already know that, for example, something like Northern Brewer, which is used in Anchor Steam Beer, it uses traditional English hops, it is for me very distinctive – I can taste the beer and automatically – literally if I taste a beer with that hop in it I can go ‘bang’ that’s that, you know? Some hops are very distinctive like that for me. But yeah, I mean the hops you choose for bittering are very important and it does, you know your beer is going to reflect the character of that hop.

[RAB] Have you ever tried to grow your own hops, or to harvest wild yeast?

[Brad Smith] I have not. So I’ve had a number of wild beers. I haven’t actually made wild beers myself just because I’m not a huge fan of them. I’ve sampled a bunch of them. They’re interesting but just don’t really float my boat I guess. As far as the other half of that, it was growing hops. I have not grown hops myself but I do have a lot of friends that grow hops and I’ve gone over and seen them, and taste them and everything, they’re very interesting. One of the challenges though is it’s just hard to dry out hops properly and store them for very long so a lot of times if you’re working with fresh hops you almost have to go with sort of a wet hop approach to it, but it is fun to do. In fact we have a whole bunch of, I don’t know what the rules are, but I guess the laws here – I live in Virginia – and they have these things called farmhouse brew houses, and they get, I forget what it is, but they get some kind of special license from the state because they’re so-called farmhouses, so you see these fairly large craft beer complexes that have like half an acre of hops attached to them because of this this tax law that they have or whatever. It’s kind of interesting.

[RAB] Do you always mash out, and does it make much of a difference?

[Brad Smith] If you open some of the really old books that I’ve got in my library, the mash out at one time was done to so-called “stop the mash” or whatever, stop the enzymes, but it doesn’t really do that. I mean it just slows them down. The enzymes have a temperature range at which they act. The reason you would do a mash out today is primarily for viscosity. Actually, what you’re doing is you’re – as you heat the mash water up, or as you heat the sparge water up – enough you’ll get a better flow through the mash tun itself. So the time I would do a mash out is usually when I’m working with an adjunct like wheat or something that’s non-barley, oats, something like that, that are fairly thick. You know, the oats and wheat have a high protein content so they tend to thicken your mash and you can end up with a stuck sparge, so what you do instead is you do a mash out which raises the temperature of the whole mash tun before you start your sparge, and effectively what it does, it reduces the viscosity so that the wort will flow better through the mash tun. So that’s really the primary reason for doing it. If I’m brewing an all barley beer and you got your system tuned correctly for barley, there’s almost no reason to do a mash out, honestly, so I would say the vast majority of beers that I do which are mostly all barley, I don’t do a mash out, but if I’m working with something like wheat, like I’m making a wit that’s forty percent unmalted wheat which is very thick and syrupy then yeah I’ll go ahead and do a mash out.

[RAB] Some brewers are more worried about water treatment than the recipe, would you suggest newer brewers worry more about water or recipe to begin with?

[Brad Smith] Well definitely the recipe, you know I think I mentioned that point one was just make sure your water’s in the good range. I think a good example is one time I lived in the mountains in New Mexico, and we had a well and the water was absolutely horrible, you couldn’t even make orange juice or coffee out of it, that tasted you know even remotely reasonable so that is not water that I would use for brewing. In fact I’d either get distilled or bottled water usually when I had the brew out there. So yeah you want to make sure your water is good enough, but if it’s good enough no I not the first thing I would worry about at all, in fact I worry about, probably as a beginning brewer, the first thing I would probably worry about is just sanitation, making sure you keep everything as clean as possible up front, and then I’d probably worry about, you know, start working on process issues like making sure you’re creating the beer in a consistent way, using the system that you have, keeping it clean, keeping it fresh. Things like pitching enough yeast, those kinds of things probably have a much bigger impact, at least initially, on your beer, you don’t have to go crazy on water chemistry and everything. We made beer for many, many years without knowing anything about mash pH you know, once you’re you’re able to make good beer, and you’re able to make good beer consistently then yeah – now I start worrying about some of these subtler things like mash pH, or adjusting my sulfate to chloride ratio, or whatever, and those are really more advanced topics.

[RAB] In BeerSmith, how often do items get updated, the add-ons specifically, and the example given is the new Lallemand Verdant yeast, I don’t know if you’ve seen that over in the US, it’s just been launched here

[Brad Smith] I try and update them as often as I can, a lot of people don’t know a lot of the add-ons do get updated because I have manufacturers send me files and so on quite often. But I published a hop and yeast update just recently which I think has all the latest hops in it. I think it’s called hop update 2020 and yeast update 2020, as add-ons, and that was just done in the last couple weeks. I think I captured all the major manufacturers, Lallemand, White Labs, Wyeast etc are in there, but I do try very hard to update those. I’ve even got a friend of mine who’s helping me out doing a lot of those now to keep up to date with them, because there’s constantly new malt producers coming out, and yeast producers coming out, it’s a challenge.

[RAB] What is the most underutilised, or unknown feature in BeerSmith that you think people need to know about?

[Brad Smith] You know there’s so many little subtle things in there… Personally I think the tools are underutilised. A lot of people don’t know there’s tools there you can use that do all kinds of interesting things, like you can adjust your mash temperature if it’s off, you can adjust your gravity if it’s off – and these are just quick little calculators that you can use if you’ve got a problem – you can weigh your keg and figure out how much beer is left in it, so there’s all these little tools that are quite useful. Other than that, there’s these subtle things like you know a lot of us have two monitors, now you can do things like if you hold down the shift key and double click on something it’ll actually open up in a separate window, so you can compare two or three recipes side by side if you get the screen space, so I mean there’s a there’s a whole bunch of little tidbits like that. Here’s another one, you can do math inside of any field, you can actually type a math expression into a field and it’ll automatically convert – when you hit the tab key – you can do the same thing with units, people don’t even know that you can… so let’s say I’m working in Celsius and somebody gives me the temperature in Fahrenheit, I can just type in degrees F and put the ‘F’ after it and it’ll convert it to Celsius, if that’s the one I’m working in. Or if I’m working in kilograms and, you know, I want to do English units, you can do the same sort of thing, so there’s a couple of tips.

[RAB] At what point did BeerSmith change from being something you use personally to something you thought other home brewers could really use, and was it something you started building for yourself?

[Brad Smith] Absolutely, I started building it in 2002, and originally it was just a tool I was going to use for myself, but I enjoyed doing it and so I just kept adding to it. Then I think it was the fall, October of 2003 was when I actually launched the first version. I did have a number of homebrewers help me, both local and some online. There was one guy in particular who was in Australia I think, his name was Steve… I forget his last name at the moment, but he actually contributed a lot, he had a lot of great ideas and just kept saying ‘oh you ought to add this’ and ‘you ought to add that’ and so he helped me get – a lot of those people helped me – get the first version out in 2003, then I think version 2 came out. It was really a hobby for many years, making a couple hundred dollars a month off of it, that kind of thing, for many, many years and then I think it was in 2008 I started doing a lot of the internet stuff, doing a lot of writing and podcasting and all that stuff, and that really helped propel the business forward. In 2010 I actually retired and so now I’m out of my regular day job and I’ve been doing this for years which is great, I feel very blessed to, you know, make beer software for a living. I literally had people from my old job – I had one of my bosses for my old job, met up with him one day and he goes “hey Brad, what are you doing?” I said “I’m making beer software!” and he says “no what are you doing for a living” [Laughter]

[RAB] When is a good time to get into temperature controlled fermentation, and getting the most from that setup?

[Brad Smith] Well I would argue there’s things you can do up front that help maintain the temperature even if you don’t have a temperature control system. So for example one of the tricks I used to use is obviously you want to try and find a cool spot in your house that’s dark, you don’t want to expose your beer to sunlight, sunlight actually ruins beer pretty quickly. But you can do something simple like wrap your carboy, or your bucket in a couple of wet towels, and as long as you keep wetting the towels and changing them out every 12 hours or so, you can actually drop the temperature of your fermenter by several degrees, and you can also stabilise it because it’s not going to fluctuate as much because it’s somewhat insulated by these wet towels. I mean that’s a good example of how you can do it on the cheap if you will, now when you talk about actually spending money to get a temperature control system, or a keezer, or they got these new fermentors that have, you know, I think SS Brewtech has one, you can run it through an ice bath or through a fridge or whatever, it’s got a little coil and it’ll pickup water, it actually cycles water through the system and controls it, I mean those are really really nice and they are very useful. You know the time I’d probably really invest in something like that is particularly if you get interested in lagers, because you can make a lager without temperature control, but it’s a lot harder obviously, I think that’s important if you dive into lager brewing. The other point I would guess is it’s a matter of how far you go in the hobby, beer brewing is like anything else, you can spend whatever you want on it. If you’re a casual brewer who brews every couple of months, or brews during the winter or something, you probably don’t need to spend a million dollars on equipment. For many, many years all I had was an igloo cooler, in fact until, I don’t know, like five years ago, all I had was literally an igloo cooler, and I had a big pot, and I had like a turkey burner – propane burner – that I used to make beer, and I made great beer for years and years and years on that. But you know, you can spend what you want on it. If you want to go out and buy a top of the line Blichmann system and a stainless steel fermenter and all this other stuff and they have – prices have come way down on those things – that’s certainly something you can do. So I’m not sure if I answered your question, but I think it’s – when the hobby gets to the point where it’s worth making that kind of an investment, that’s probably when you’re going to do it. Does that make sense?

[RAB] Are you thinking of adding a report to BeerSmith so you can print labels?

[Brad Smith] So some people have already done this, you can actually make custom reports in BeerSmith in html format, so if you have enough creative energy you can – and people have done this – you can create a label in html format, and then you can enter those as a custom report in BeerSmith – you just add them, under the options – report section there’s a way to add the custom reports, and you can print the labels out that way, so it is possible. I haven’t gotten into the label making system myself just because I think it’s a little bit more of a niche thing. I made labels for some wine and mead I made, but I just did it in Microsoft Word. I thought it was quicker, but I mean you do have that option with the custom reports if you wanted to do it in the software.

[RAB] What did you study for your PhD?

[Brad Smith] So a lot of people don’t know this, I have a PhD in computer engineering, I actually have five degrees, I have three Master’s degrees. I was a fellow at Draper Labs at MIT, I was a rocket scientist for many, many years. I was actually in the air force, and I ran the space lab in Albuquerque called the Phillips lab in Albuquerque. I was a director there for a number of years. So I launched satellites and did that for a long time, and this is my retirement job. So it’s been great. I did that for 24 years though, I did satellites, space stuff, AirForce stuff for 24 years, and then decided to retire and do this. I wanted to do something different.

[RAB] Thanks for joining us Brad. It’s been absolutely fantastic and we do appreciate you giving up your time. When we announced we were having you on there was a lot of interest and it was seen as a big draw for a UK club to get you to join us.

[Brad Smith] I appreciate you having me on, thank you and thanks to so many people for coming on and listening. I’d be happy to do it again too, I’ve got a bunch of presentations I can do. Good luck with the rest of your meeting.

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