Legends in Brewing: Brad Smith

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Brad Smith is a legend in the brewing world. If you don't know him by name you know him by product. As the creator of BeerSmith, the most popular and widely used brewing software on the planet, his name should be known by all brewers who successfully use his software every brewday.
Brad has been brewing longer than some of us have been alive. Back before all the television shows, back before the craft beer revolution, there was a man sitting back and waiting for good beer to take it's spot in the limelight. A man who put in the work to make others successful. That man is Brad Smith, and he joined us for our latest installment of Legends in Brewing.

Austin: How did you start brewing?
Brad: I started brewing in 1987 shortly after finishing college. I started mainly because I wanted to brew international and darker beers that were not widely available at the time. The craft beer revolution had not happened yet, so commercial options were still very limited.
Austin: What was your reaction to the craft beer revolution? What did you study in college? Do you have a background in programming?
Brad: I was thrilled to see the craft beer revolution happen. Even in college I enjoyed a wide variety of beers that simply were not available to most beer drinkers. Now I can walk into the supermarket and choose from 100 or more craft beers in just about every style. This is a huge improvement.
I studied Computer Engineering in college, and yes I started programming in college and continued to program in my first few jobs after college.
Austin: What's your favorite beer?
Brad: My all around favorite is probably Bass Ale as it stands as a classic English Pale. I'm also partial to many English and Irish stouts and porters, and I tend to drink darker beers in the wintertime. Some of the new craft beers produced today are simply outstanding.
Austin: Have you attempted to clone any? If so how did it turn out?
Brad: I have tried to clone several pale ales and Porters with mixed results. The pales came out reasonably close to the targets once I matched the hop variety and grain bills, but Porters are a bit more elusive due to the complexity of some of the best porters.
Austin: What's one piece of your brew setup you can't live without?
Brad: My kegging system. Once I moved over to kegging it saved me a ton of time as I no longer had to carefully wash and sanitize a bunch of bottles or spend hours filling them. I waited many years before buying a keg system, but once I did I've never looked back.
Austin: Can you break your kegging system down component by component?
Brad: My keg system is pretty standard - I have a 10lb CO2 tank, a lot of 5 gallon soda kegs, and a variety of taps. I originally used picnic taps, but also have some forward lock door taps. My kegs are mounted in an old fridge - usually three at a time.
Austin: What's the worst product you've ever used?
Brad: Without naming names, I would say most of the inexpensive American style lagers that are mass produced and widely distributed today. I just don't like them much - don't like the taste (or lack thereof), and often will forgo a beer if these are my only options to drink.
Austin: Why do you homebrew?
Brad: My reasons have not changed much over the years. Even though I can now buy many great craft beers in the styles I enjoy, I still like to brew my own beer and enjoy sharing it with friends. The creativity is part of it, along with the satisfaction of making a beer that tastes great and one that people can appreciate.
Austin: What was your last homebrew?
Brad: I brewed a milk stout - but its still in the fermenter awaiting kegging.
Austin: What's your homebrewing style - extract, partial mash, all-grain, biab, or ?
Brad: I primarily brew all grain these days, usually with a traditional mash cooler setup. However last winter when we had a long string of bad weather I did brew a few small BIAB batches on the stove because it was not practical to do them outside. John Palmer and I also brewed some extract and partial mash beers last Spring when we were shooting our new "How to Brew" videos. One of the ales came out pretty good overall.
Brad Smith and John Palmer discussing "Five Tips for Brewers"
Austin: What's it like to work with John Palmer? Do you sit in awe of one another?
Brad: We've actually known each other for at least 6-7 years, so we were pretty comfortable with each other. John was a pleasure to work with - he is a professional and has a great attention to detail that I sometimes lack so he had some great suggestions both in creating the script for the DVDs and also when we actually filmed the videos.

How to Brew

Austin: Tell us about one of your most memorable homebrewing experiences.
Brad: Other than a few boil-overs and exploding bottles early on, I would have to say my favorite experiences these last few years have been attending the National Homebrew Conferences. If you've never been to NHC it is simply an amazing event - with thousands of passionate home brewers who want nothing more than to share and talk about their home brewing. Every year that I go it reinvigorates me to try to do more in brewing. The highlight for me is definitely club night - sampling hundreds of truly innovative home made beers is an amazing experience.
Austin: What was your favorite beer from the 2014 NHC? Have you ever personally entered a beer?
Brad: I found a few amazing stouts and porters, though I don't recall at this point which booth they came from. All of them were at homebrewer's night which generally is the highlight of NHC every year. There are just so many great beers all in one place that its impossible not to find something you really enjoy.
I'm not much of a competitor as far as brewing. I do occasionally make some good beer, but I'm not as consistent as the top brewers and honestly I've not found time to perfect each recipe as you need to do when competing.
Austin: Describe the perfect beer - style, aroma, flavor, etc.
Brad: My perfect style would probably be an English style Porter. It would have a dark color, perfect balance of hops and malt, with a nice roasted complexity from a mix of roast and chocolate malts. Naturally I would use an English ale yeast to give it plenty of body, a hint of fruity esters, and smooth finish. English hops of course - probably East Kent Goldings which is one of my favorites.
Austin: What's your dream brew rig, and how would you assemble it?
Brad: Many of you will be shocked to hear that I still brew primarily 5 gallon batches - as I like the variety. However if I had room to set up a dream system it would probably be a three tier RIMS or HERMS setup, either 10 or 15 gallons, likely from my friend John Blichmann (who makes beautiful stainless equipment). Of course I would have it computer controlled and tied into BeerSmith.

Image courtesy of BeerSmith.com

Austin: Can you tell us more about the early days of BeerSmith?
Brad: It started out as a tool just for me to record my recipes. Some friends liked it and over the next year or so I slowly developed what became BeerSmith 1.0. Originally I was not planning to create a product but it slowly evolved into one.
Austin: Did you design it alone?
Brad: I did, but one of my first beta testers, a gentleman named Steve Nicholls, was very active in providing suggestions and ideas for new features.
He is perhaps the unsung hero for BeerSmith 1.0 as he gave me some great ideas the really improved the first version.
Austin: What was the inspiration?
Brad: I simply was not happy with the software available for beer brewing at the time.
Austin: Do you have any advice for brewers looking to branch out into commercial brewing endeavors?

Image courtesy of BeerSmith
Brad: While I've never started a brewery, a lot of my friends have. My advice would be to make sure you have enough money up front, and also make sure you have a good marketing/business plan and not just a collection of recipes. Once you go "pro" you'll be running a business - and the business will succeed or fail based on your business skills as much as your brewing skills.
Austin: What is the one piece of advice you wish someone would've giving you when you first started?
Brad: When I started back in 1987 there was almost no good information on how to brew. We had a handful of books, some with dubious advice - much of it bordering on folklore. Today, in contrast, there are a ton of great resources available in books, online, from discussion forums and on video. Take advantage of these resources - books like John Palmer's "How to Brew", the hundreds of articles I've got hosted on my BeerSmith blog and newsletter, and forums like HomeBrewTalk. John Palmer and I just finished two "How to Brew" videos as well - one on extract brewing and one on all-grain. These are amazing videos - we shot over 3,500 individual video shots to assemble them and show you every step in the process. Take advantage of all of these resources and you'll have a huge head start on making great beer.
***
It's the day before Thanksgiving here in the US and I have to say I'm thankful for Brad Smith. One of the people making the brewing world a better place, please join me in raising a glass to this Legend in Brewing.
Salud!

 
Good read and thanks for all the great info, Brad! I love your podcasts! Just watched the mead one this afternoon!
 
I like using your software to tweak my recipes as well as fleshing out ideas. It's a great tool for that. Brewing in your mind as Denny says. I was a programming student in the early 80's myself. I & two other buds in class came up with the idea of using little pictures on the "title page" to execute programs in '83. I even got to play around with the original mouse The Microsoft guy built. It was about the size of an electric train transformer. Keep up the great work & thanks for the quick help with my software questions. You've got great service!
 
when I started home brewing in '99, I rarely took notes. after getting BeerSmith 1 and now 2, my note taking has become immaculate compared to what it was. this was a great interview. thank you for showing us a little behind the brewer!
 
"However last winter when we had a long string of bad weather"???
I thought you lived in the South Bay area? We don't have bad weather.
Good interview and great product.
Thanks
 
Brad, you are a legend. I bought your software not long after I started brewing, and I don't know where I would be without it. And I know many, many of us down here in New Zealand use it. It is THE standard. Keep up the great work!
 
I purchased BeerSmith when I was first learning to brew all-grain. It was extremely helpful in learning to brew for me as it helped me visualize and put everything together prior to brewday. Having all the calculations performed for me allowed me to focus on my process and not get overwhelmed by all the numbers.
 
Great read and thank you Mr. Smith for creating such a great program!
Also in regards to him living in California I am pretty sure he lives in Clifton, Virginia which makes him almost a neighbor to me!
 
First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to all! Thank you Brad for creating Beersmith, I bought a license for it a year ago and have enjoyed it ever since. I tried all the free programs out there and none offered the features and ease of use that Beersmith has. It marked another milestone in my brewing experience. The Cloud feature makes those last-minute trips to the LHBS non-stressful- I have all the recipe info I need on my smartphone. Thanks again Brad, and Homebrewtalk!
 
Great interview, Brad is a great contributor to homebrewing and and I greatly enjoy his podcasts. Brewing Software certainly makes recipe formulation / modification easier, and is a great time saver.
 
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