The Unrepentant Individual

...just hanging around until Dec 21, 2012

January 4, 2008

New Toys!

Ahh, what would a hobby be if not a money sink? Thus, it was time to pick up some new brewing toys!

The first was actually a Christmas gift from my wife. Over time, I’ve had to buy ingredients in small, even-measurement weights, and then in the cases where I must add 1/3 or 1/2 of the package at a time, could only eyeball it.

So my wife bought me a scale.


This is the first step towards buying bulk ingredients, which is an incredible money-saver. In fact, I’d already be able to purchase hops in bulk, although the current hop shortage makes that impossible. The next step, of course, will be a grain mill, so that I can buy 55-lb sacks of base malt, store and crush it myself as needed, dropping the malt price from about $1.40-$2 per pound to $0.60-$1.10.

The second toy is something that I’ve been needing for a while, more due to my own laziness than anything else.

When brewing (specifically all-grain brewing), it is a good idea to check things like sparge outflow gravity, wort gravity, etc, at various times to make sure the process is occurring as planned. Specifically, one of the main points is to check your OG (original gravity) after the boil, to ensure that the finished wort has the expected amount of sugar. But that’s just the start. Checking sparge outflow gravity ensures you’re getting an even flow of water through the grain bed to rinse your grain, and checking gravity during the boil can ensure that you end at your target OG, even if it means a higher or lower final volume.

With conventional homebrewing tools (a hydrometer), you can only check the gravity of cooled wort/beer. Thus, you can check the original gravity after the wort is cooled and ready to go into the fermenter, and you can check the gravity of the liquid during fermentation. However, you cannot do any of the more advanced checks I mention above. And because I’m lazy, and a hydrometer is more work than my new toy, I haven’t even been doing any of the basic checks lately.

That caused a problem when I tasted the most recent IPA. I believe I had channeling in my grain bed, resulting in a low-efficiency sparge. As such, my original gravity was low, and I think the final beer might be low in alcohol content (and thus too bitter). Of course, I didn’t bother to check any of the gravities, so that’s just my assumption.

Now it’s not going to be a problem, as I purchased a refractometer.


A refractometer measures sugar in liquid, so it will be able to tell me my gravity during the sparge/boil, as well as the OG (it can get close with the gravities during fermentation, but the alcohol throws off the results a bit). It uses a small pipette to remove the sample, so it doesn’t use (potentially waste) as much liquid as taking a hydrometer reading. And its design allows you to measure the gravity of hot liquids, which a (standard) hydrometer simply cannot do, as they’re typically calibrated for 60 or 68 deg F.

The plan is to brew 5 gallons of Milk Stout (new recipe) this Sunday, and 10 gallons of an Amber Ale that we’ve already brewed once and enjoyed. It will be even more fun with these new toys :-)

The Unrepentant Individual linked with Per Request - Equipment Test Report
Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 8:18 am || Permalink || Comments (9) || Trackback URL || Categories: Beer


  1. Nice! I’m curious to see how you like the refractometer. We were really close to buying one, but decided to hold out for a digital one. Which, it turns out, might be a much more significant investment. Let us know how it works out.

    Comment by Jonathan — January 4, 2008 @ 10:02 am
  2. Wow, just wow. So much work for beer, when the G. Heileman Brewing Co. already makes the best beer ever.

    I had some Left Hand Milk Stout recently, pretty tasty. Also had a 6 pack of Nimbus IPA last night, also enjoyable. Finished the night with a great PBR.

    Comment by Nick M. — January 5, 2008 @ 9:14 am
  3. Nick,

    G. Heileman Brewing Company no longer exists. In fact, when they were purchased by Pabst, Pabst didn’t even buy the recipe for Old Style. You can’t even get real Old Style anymore, unless you go straight to Wisconsin

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — January 5, 2008 @ 9:23 am
  4. Brad,

    That’s painful. My worldview has been crushed. In other news, try emailing my at the email address you have, I think I fixed the issue.

    Comment by Nick M. — January 5, 2008 @ 10:28 am
  5. Brad, if you are looking for a good wheat grinder, may I suggest the K-Tec. This is the one that I have and it does a great job. It will grind from fine to course and will grind a gallon of wheat in meer minutes. The Family Grain Mill is also good, but I prefer the K-Tec. I like your new toys.

    Comment by Lucy Stern — January 7, 2008 @ 4:43 am
  6. Nick,

    As I mentioned in another post, the Milk Stout is loosely based on the beer from Left Hand. Perhaps if you ever get out here to visit, you can bring some Left Hand and we can try them side-by-side?


    On an unrelated point, I may be interested in trading some of my homebrew for some Terrapin Rye Pale Ale… I want to taste my own RyePA (which is awesome IMHO) side-by-side with that beer.

    On a related point, my post reviewing the refractometer is here.


    I’m looking for a much more heavy-duty mill. Something that can run through 40+ pounds of barley in a few minutes. They make mills designed for brewing for less than the one you suggest, but thanks for the recommendation.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — January 8, 2008 @ 8:53 am
  7. [...] in my post about my new brewing toys, asked for a review of the refractometer once we used it for the first brew session. Overall, I would say that having both toys made the [...]

  8. Unfortunate that more than likely that scale could be considered “drug paraphernalia” by certain authorities.

    Comment by Sam — January 9, 2008 @ 9:15 am
  9. Sam,

    Yeah, I know. I covered that scenario a while back

    Luckily it’s all stored at my brother-in-law’s place, so I’m not too concerned :-)

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — January 11, 2008 @ 11:52 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.