Life's too short to drink bad beer so, with Oktoberfest in mind, let your smartphone take the strain of finding – or brewing – something better.
BeerSmith 2 Mobile Homebrewing
Android, iOS, £5 or £2.49 for a Lite version
For the beer lover who also enjoys the creative element, not to mention the cost savings, there is a whole raft of apps designed to assist the homebrewer in engineering a better brew. If you are one of the many using BeerSmith, which is probably the top desktop software program for homebrewers, you may already know that there is also a BeerSmith app available for iOS and Android.
The app integrates with both the desktop version and the BeerSmith cloud service, so you can store, create or edit a recipe on your PC, then open it on your phone to log your brewing session. The apps include timers and alarms to keep your brew on track – they won't teach you how to brew, but they will help you make sure the process is done as accurately as possible.
If you are not already a BeerSmith user, or if it seems a little pricey for the novice, there are several free alternatives that offer many of the same capabilities. For example, BrewR on Android can create recipes and is file-compatible with the Qbrew recipe calculator and brewing tutor, which is free for Windows and Mac OSX. Similarly, Brewing Assistant for Android and iPhone can sync with the Brewology101.com cloud service to both save and share recipes. You should also find plenty of brew logs and homebrew calculators on the various app stores.
Bit By Bit Studios
Fiz: Brewery Management Game
£1.76 Android, £1.99 iPhone
If you have ever fancied running a brewery yourself, here is your chance – and without having to do all that tedious boiling and cleaning, too. Fiz simulates a microbrewery, albeit very US-style, and gives you the chance to hire and fire staff, choose recipes, research sales outlets, try different pricing and so on. Dotted around the screen are various items of brewing equipment, including that essential item: the sofa, where the staff watch TV while they wait for their next job to start.
The characters gain experience and skill as the game progresses, and as you play you start to realise how their skills apply to the various tasks involved in brewing. You can also attempt to create new beer recipes and you begin to see how the different ingredients combine. Every so often the game also throws a challenge or tip your way to keep you going.
In an authentic representation of the real thing, the game's brewing process is rather tedious – your little characters wait for processes to complete, then move the work-in-progress from station to station while uttering gnomic phrases. So in an attempt to give you something more interesting to do than simply watch, the authors have added an extra element – mice periodically run through the brewery, and if you splat them you win a small reward.
Despite these near-pauses, the game can be surprisingly engaging and you might find yourself wondering how better to allocate tasks to your staff, or whether you should have pushed that last brew for higher quality at the expense of volume. It also helps that it is a straightforward app purchase – there are no in-game purchases, just 20-plus hours of play, and it randomises if you start again so you should get a new game.
69p on iPhone
Foodies have been matching food with wines for years, but beer and food matching is currently far more fashionable – and far more interesting, given that beer is in many ways a more complex drink than wine. Yet given the number of restaurants and other places running beer and food matching classes, there is a surprising shortage of apps covering the topic – outside the US, at least.
Fortunately, while Beer Match does not appear to have been updated in a while and is only available on iPhone, its content is still pretty good. It lists 31 beer styles from around the world and over 500 foods, plus a few dozen cheeses. Pick either the beer, food or cheese list, choose an item, and see the suggested matches.
The pairings are interesting, matching some beers with a wide range of food while others have only a few suggested matches. Incidentally, as a simple starting point, beer sommeliers suggest that you look either for complementary or contrasting flavours, but some pairings go quite a bit further than this.
Sadly, you can't say the same for the app's design – there is no search feature, so you are in for a lot of scrolling if you want to match with venison or walnuts, and the app's feckless designers have put distracting background images on every screen, which will make it hard to read for some people.
Still, Beer Match is a useful introduction to the subject. However, if you don't need to be able to match beer with food on your phone but just want to learn more about the subject, maybe to help plan a dinner party, there are several good sources on the web that you can use instead.
Want to get technical about the intricacies of beer styles? Then you need a copy of the 'Beer Judge Certification Program' style guidelines. Written (in the US, naturally) for the use of judges in brewing competitions, these list dozens of styles with explanations of what makes them the way they are, plus usually a potted history of each and some guidance for brewers.
This official BJCP app takes those guidelines and packages them in an attractive and easy to use form, with the addition of a full-text search facility. It also includes the BJCP's guidelines for judges and a neat quick-jump navigation bar along the edge of the index.
For Android users, there are several free apps to do much the same thing, although all of them lack those judging guidelines. BJCPdroid from Transmutable Explorations works well and has a useful search facility, but it also carries ads (unless you are a BJCP member). If you prefer your apps without ads, then Dana Cordes' BJCP Guidelines is probably the most attractive and usable of the others on the market, although it lacks a search.
At the time of writing, the BJCP 2014 updates had been drafted but not yet finalised, adding several old but newly-recognised styles such as Leipziger Gose. Once those updates are final, all these apps will no doubt also be updated.