Sunday, March 22, 2015

QBrew 0.4.1 - Overview and Review

QBrew is a free home brewing recipe storage and calculation program.  You can use it to create and modify beer recipes, calculate expected gravity, color, and bitterness levels.  You can also use it to make corrections for your hydrometer based on the sample temperature and hydrometer calibration temperature.  In this post, we'll take a look at QBrew and how it works.

For this review, I've supplemented QBrew with the November 12, 2014, version of The Screwy Brewer's QBrew database information.  This adds many ingredients to the default database and makes QBrew considerably more useful by eliminating the need to manually enter the properties for various home brewing ingredients.

QBrew Supported Platforms

QBrew is available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linm environments.  It requires a very low amount of computing hardware, so pretty much any modern PC or Mac should be able to run it.  It's a 285K download

QBrew User Interface

When you first launch QBrew, you'll see a window that looks like this:


The "Title" field is where you'll enter the name of the beer recipe you're about to enter.

The "Brewer" field is where you'll store your own name or brewery name.

"Style" allows you to select the beer style you're brewing.  The list includes many styles that you would probably try to brew, including (but not limited to) American IPA, Belgian Dark Strong Ale, Irish Red Ale, and many more.  Selecting a style loads the standard characteristics of that style.  For example, selecting Belgian Tripel loads this information:


Loading this information can help you as you tinker with the recipe.  You'll be able to tell if, for instance, switching on variety of hops for another will make the beer too bitter (or not bitter enough), if swapping one malt or extract for another will make the beer too dark or too high gravity.

The "Size" field allows you to set the size of the batch you want to brew.

Perfecting a Recipe with QBrew

Let's imagine that I want to brew a Belgian Triple, since I've already selected that style.  I have an existing recipe that I'm planning to use as a starting point, but let's say that I also want to make some tweaks to that recipe, since I thought it came out too sweet the last time I made it.  I'll start by entering that recipe exactly as I last brewed it.  

I enter the title "Belgian Tripel v2.0", my name, and a 2.5 gallon batch size.  (In case you're wondering, I chose the size because I'm still trying to perfect the recipe.  Later, when I have it down, I'll scale it up.  The small batch size allows me to experiment without wasting lots of expensive ingredients.)


My recipe starts with 1 pound of Munich LME, which QBrew classifies as a grain.  I click the grain tab and the "+" button in the lower right.  


QBrew adds only "Generic" grain.  Double-clicking on the Generic name displays a drop-down list of grains and extracts in the database:


I select "Briess LME - Munich" from the list.  I also add in 4.75 pounds of Pilsen LME, 1 pound of Clear Candi Sugar, and 0.2 pounds of D-45 Candi Syrup which is comparable to Amber Candi Sugar.


Next, I need to add my hops.  I click the Hops tab and the "+" button three times since I use three different hops additions in this beer.


Then, as with the grain items, I select the varieties, enter the amounts, adjust the alpha acid levels, and boil times to fit my recipe:


Now, when I look at the recipe characteristics at the top of the window, I see how QBrew estimates that this recipe will turn out relative to the Belgian Tripel guidelines:


QBrew immediately shows a few problems with my recipe.  Based on the general characteristics of a Belgian Tripel, mine has way too high a gravity.  I decide to reduce my Clear Candi Sugar to only a quarter of a pound and reduce the Pilsen LME down to 4 pounds.  QBrew calculates the new characteristics instantly:


That change got my gravity down to where I wanted it.  Reducing the grain bill also increased the relative bitterness of the hops, which has taken the recipe from 19 to 21 bitterness units.

My recipe color is off, too.  I decide to alter the recipe a bit more:


That's gotten me into the right gravity and color range for a Tripel, but my bitterness is still a little low:


Now I'll adjust the hops amounts to the following:


This gets my recipe close to the right guidelines for a Tripel, but QBrew says my alcohol content by volume is still too low.  (A Tripel is usually in the 7.5% to 9.5% ABV range, so mine's slightly low.)   I increase the Candi sugar to 0.75 pounds.  This brings me in line on all the qualities:


With my recipe finished, I tell QBrew I'd like to save it and then print it out. The printout looks like this:


The printout shows me the ingredient list, boil times for the hops pellets, and the expected gravity, alcohol content, etc.

Calculating Alcohol by Volume

QBrew includes a tool for calcuating the alcohol by volume of your recipe.  You provide the original and final gravity readings, and it will tell you the alcohol content of your beer;


A minor complaint I have is that the tool doesn't pull in the Recipe Gravity from the currently-loaded recipe.  However, this is easy to see in the window behind the calculator and easy to enter, so that's a pretty minor complaint.

Hydrometer Correction

QBrew also includes a tool for correcting your hydrometer readings:


Enter the temperature of your beer sample, the calibration temperature for your hydrometer (found in its documentation), and the reading you're getting from the hydrometer and the tool will calculate a corrected reading.

Database Editor

The final tool in QBrew is the Database Editor.  This allows you to add ingredients to the database, modify the description or characteristics of items within the database, and remove items you don't ever intend to use.  This enables you to tailor QBrew a little to your needs.



Configuration Options

QBrew also has a number of other configuration options accessible through the Options menu.  You can configure the look-and-feel, enable or disable autosave and autobackup, change measurement units from US to Metric, change your Mash efficiency and Steep yield, and set recipe defaults.  Again, all this helps you to tailor QBrew's behavior to suit your needs.

Conclusion

For a free product, QBrew is remarkably powerful and easy to use.  You're able to enter and save recipes, adjust them to see how your changes should affect the finished beer, tailor the information to your batch sizes and efficiency levels, etc.  

Compared to some of the commercial products on the market, QBrew lacks several features that you might find useful, such as being able to scale the size of the batch (i.e., automatically scale a recipe from 5 gallons to 2.5 gallons), calibrate refractometer readings, store recipes in the cloud, calculate carbonation, and other features.  Home brewers with more advanced skills and needs may find QBrew a bit limited, but most beginning and intermediate brewers will find it quite useful for storing and adjusting recipes.








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