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So I drink a lot of beer (go figure) and I try to characterize it each time. How much carbonation there is, what color it is, mouth feel, what specific flavors are involved, how hoppy it is, how malty it is, and many other things. Many of these things correspond to things that can be measured numerically or are at least partially determined by commonly measured things (like how mouth feel and specific gravity are related but not the same)

Currently I don't brew beer but am looking to get into it. I plan on measuring all these values as I brew. However that doesn't give me much of feel for the numbers until I have a good few brews, involving many variations of these values, under my belt.

What would be nice is if I could get some reference that could explain these properties for various beers. For instance IBUs of different beers are mentioned quite a bit and now I have a vague feel for how hoppy a beer will be based on the IBU rating (though, IBUs seem a bit inconsistent to me). I don't however have a feel for measurements of things like specific gravity, color, clarity, foaminess, and other things.

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    It's going to be incredibly difficult to 'get a feel for the numbers' without actually brewing some beers (as you seem to suspect). Also, to be quite honest you won't be measuring much besides gravity, you'll mostly be calculating (things like bitterness, carbonation, color) and evaluating (things like mouth-feel, carbonation, flavor, aroma, foam). Not that you shouldn't be as thorough as you care to be (you absolutely should) but unless you're sending samples off to a lab with pretty sophisticated equipment, you won't be more than guessing, albeit in an educated way. – Franklin P Combs Aug 7 '15 at 15:23
  • Ah, concern is well placed. I like to engineer things and so do my friends. For instance I'm going to be brewing with a PID controlled heater/cooler for precise temperature control. I've already started to design a device to measure SRMs and ESBs. Certainly I can't do everything (no clue how to measure IBUs) but I might be measuring more than the average brewer. – Jake Aug 7 '15 at 15:52
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    Still this answers my question I think. Why not post it as an answer! – Jake Aug 7 '15 at 15:54
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To expand on my comment above:

For most homebrewers, unless you're willing to drop some serious money on lab equipment, your measurements will be mostly limited to weights, volumes and specific gravity (and pressure, if kegging). Most of the numbers you'll be dealing with outside these things will involve calculations based on a best-fit equations for most brewers' setups and not for yours in particular.

An example: you may calculate bitterness for a hop addition based on a 31% utilization, but you have no way of knowing your particular brewing process gives you this utilization number. The wort composition, pH, vigor of boil, fermentation, &c., can all affect hop utilization, and these are different for every system (they may even differ for you between batches). Typically commercial breweries (and those homebrewers inclined to pay for it) will send samples brewed using standard procedures to a lab to resolve the true amount of bitterness compounds in the finished beer and thus the proper utilization number, and use this result to calculate future additions.

This is not at all to say that you can't gain meaningful insight by closely tracking your process and using these best-fit calculations. It's just that you'll be using your senses of taste, smell and sight to evaluate how close a fit they are to what you end up with. In this sense you are very much getting a feel for the numbers because it's something that you have to practice quite a bit, since you are using comparisons between calculations and sensory evaluation instead of measuring.

That being said, my favorite reference for calculations remains this book, though it's not really appropriate for the first-time homebrewer. Something to keep in mind, though, if you have a very analytical perspective.

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  • Amazing answer! I'll see if I can't get a glimpse of the book before I buy it to see if I'm at all ready for it. – Jake Aug 9 '15 at 20:49

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