The Unrepentant Individual

...just hanging around until Dec 21, 2012


January 8, 2008


Per Request – Equipment Test Report

Jonathan, 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 brew day an unqualified success.

First, of least interest to anyone, is the scale. Given that we don’t have a grain mill, it wasn’t used for measuring grain. The recipe was generated with the intent of using even 1-lb increments of grain, so we ordered what we needed and didn’t have to measure. However, it was important for hops. The recipe for the stout called for 0.5 oz of Magnum and 1 oz of East Kent Goldings, two hops that we only had available in 2 oz bags. In addition, I realized that the alpha acid content of the Magnum was lower than what my brewing software expected, and I suddenly had to change the weight ot 0.6 oz. Also because the alpha acid was lower on the amber’s hops than expected, I added 0.5 oz of Magnum to that recipe in order to bring it into the correct range. These are things that I could only do with a scale, so it came in handy.

Even more useful, though, was the refractometer. I was able to keep tabs on my gravity during the sparge and boil, in order to ensure that I was in the range I wanted to be. Jonathan, in an email, asked if I thought it would make “better” brew. I said no, not necessarily, but it would allow me to make my brew more consistently and monitor the process while I still had a chance to change it. The amber nearly hit our targets exactly, without any special help, so I doubt the refractometer made any difference whatsoever on that batch. However, the Milk Stout started life slightly low in gravity, so I knew that it would be helpful to extend the boil, even though it might reduce my total volume of beer, in order to hit my targets. I boiled a good 40 minutes to drop volume before I started counting down the intended 1 hour of boil time. Thus, I probably got a bit of a low yield on the batch, but it was a lot closer to the intended original gravity.

As with anything, the first time using a refractometer had a few learning steps, but it is still about as easy-to-use as a hydrometer, and given that you can sample liquids at any temp, much more useful. I was able to purchase it quite cheap on eBay, so there’s really *NO* reason for an all-grain brewer not to own one.

Does a refractometer improve your beer? No, understanding brewing is what makes better beer. However, a refractometer allows you to understand where you beer is at any point in the process, and thus can allow a competent brewer to adjust to changing conditions on the fly. It’s not a substitute for having a full understanding of the process, but it’s a tool that gives you greater ability to change the process before making a mistake.

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 7:15 am || Permalink || Comments Off || Trackback URL || Categories: Beer, Technology

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