It has been said that the only way to make progress in life is by tracking what you’re doing. When it comes to homebrewing, the best way to make any real advancements is through a handy little book known as a brew journal.
Yeah, that means you need to write things down when you brew. And we mean everything!
For brewers who are new to the game, however, the idea of taking notes is usually an afterthought. Most are too busy trying to follow each step from start to finish, hoping their first batch to turns out as impressive as they imagine it to be.
Good Beer != Great Beer
There is a difference between making good beer and making great beer. Those who make good beer follow instructions and are able to see the process from beginning to end, but unfortunately for them, that’s where it all ends.
Some might get lucky and make a fantastic brew, but then run into trouble replicating their success. Even worse, they often find themselves unable to pinpoint off-flavors and other issues with their beer.
It’s like having the check engine light go off in your car. Rather than use a code reader to help determine what could be wrong, you start troubleshooting things blindly. In most cases, you could end up causing more problems than if you had utilized the code reader from the beginning.
Here’s the truth: Brewing without taking good notes will prevent you from becoming the best you can be. How can you continue to improve if you barely remember what you did on your last brew day?
That, my friend, where the beauty of a brew journal comes into play.
Why a Brew Journal is Necessary
I know you haven’t been reading for long, but if I haven’t pounded the importance of a brew journal (or beer brewing log book, whatever you wish to call it) into your head, I’m about to offer some more reinforcement.
Seriously – taking copious amounts of notes is something that you have to get used to if you want to make beer that your friends will rave about. Many of the advanced homebrewers I know will agree.
With that said, here are some more valid reasons why you should record everything you do on brew day:
#1 – Helps you identify what you did right and wrong
During brew day, there are a lot of things can that happen. Some things go fantastically well, while plenty of other mishaps are some we wish we could forget.
Except that’s the problem – many of the minor details often get lost in the mix.
Those “minor” details could turn out to be major pain points if you aren’t keeping track of your process every step of the way.
For example, forgetting to time your hop additions correctly could result in a beer that’s too bitter or unbalanced in hop flavor/aroma. Or how about not remembering the amount of yeast you pitched, thus putting it through more stress and causing off-flavors in your final product?
If you’re keeping notes from the day you brew until your beer is bottled, you’ll have a better idea of where to start troubleshooting any problems. It will also be easier to know what you did correctly and what you should work on, thus helping you refine your process and improve your skills.
#2 – Enables you to track minor tweaks and changes in your process
Now that you understand how a brew journal can help you track the good and bad things in your brewing process, it’s time to actually act on it.
This is what I like to call the “research and reflect” part of brewing.
As you know, making great beer takes a lot of patience and constant refinement. Rarely do you knock every single batch right out of the park, especially if you’re new to the game.
If you want to get your process down to an exact science, you need to log every minor tweak your make!
Imagine tasting an IPA you recently brewed, only to realize it didn’t have the hop flavor and intensity you expected. Obviously something went wrong along the way. Looking back at your notes, you find the issue and decide to change up your hop bill on your next batch. Easy, right?
That’s why taking solid notes is worth your time. You wouldn’t have a clue about your hop additions and amounts if you didn’t properly log them. It leads to a poor game of “guess and hope it turns out okay,” which isn’t the path that leads to great beer.
#3 – Gives you an idea how far you’ve come from your first batch
Take a seat and think for a moment about a hobby or activity you do on a regular basis.
Do you remember how things went the first time compared to the most recent? In most cases, that first attempt probably doesn’t compare to how things are now. Whether it’s a hobby, sport, or other activity, the more you practice or train, the better you become.
Homebrewing is no exception. With every batch you crank out, you’ll become wiser, more knowledgeable, and efficient.
Except therein lies the kicker – the only way to grow from batch to batch is to track your progress.
Yeah, that means keeping your notes in that handy little notebook I’ve been talking about.
I know the broken record is sounding off again, but there really isn’t any better way to look back on what you’ve done to see how far you’ve come. There is something humbling about looking back a year or two and reflecting on the good times (and the bad).
#4 – Makes it easier to discuss your process with other brewers who may offer feedback/suggestions
One of the things I love about brewing beer is that out of the many different hobbies out there, the community in homebrewing is strong! Everyone I’ve met is passionate and has a true love and appreciation for what they do.
However, the biggest benefit isn’t just the comradery – it’s the MASSIVE wealth of knowledge that is ready to tap into.
If you do some searching for a local homebrew club in your area (or maybe you’re already part of one, which puts you ahead of the curve), you’ll find many other people just like yourself, and they are ALL looking to share their creations, ideas, and the most valuable thing of all – feedback.
Of course, the only way to get valuable feedback is to know what went into making your beer. Seasoned brewers will be able to identify flaws in your beer from a quick tasting and evaluation.
If your brew journal is nearby, you can jot down some quick notes based on the feedback you receive. It’s also handy to have around for others to review your recipe and offer suggestions on improvements.
Remember – you’re asking others to take their time to give YOU pointers. Don’t be that guy (or gal) that shows up unprepared.
Make Your Brew Journal a Priority
If you are serious about making amazing beer, a brew journal is a must to have in your arsenal. Get into the habit of recording everything that you do. It might be tough at first, but stick with it. Before you know it, the process will become second nature and your beer will reach heights you never thought possible!