pH Meters - use them or not?

Discussion in 'General Brewing Discussions' started by Michael_biab, Nov 13, 2020.

  1. Michael_biab

    Michael_biab Member

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    Hi All,

    I've been all-grain (BIAB) brewing for a couple of years now and have been pretty happy with the results in terms of taste. I use Brewer's Friend to calculate my mash pH before brewing. However, I have always had mash pH come out significantly lower than the expected pH from the software. I'm using Columbus, OH municipal water filtered and treated (1/2 campden tablet) to remove.any remaining chloramines just in case. I am aware that pH strips (even ColorPhast which is what I'm using) are systematically low and need an adjustment, but it still comes out 0.5 or more too low even with a few points of adjustment added in. So, I am considering the purchase of a pH meter.

    What I want to know is whether anyone really bothers to adjust pH in practice? I've read that you're best off to calculate/estimate beforehand with your recipe, and then adjust going forward if you brew that recipe again. This is mostly because it's difficult in practice to adjust mash pH too much even with adding acid or bases to the mash. I don't frequently brew the same recipe over and over (just a few times will I brew the same thing in any given year), so I don't know that I really need to adjust pH too often.

    I should add one more thing. I like to keep the brewing process as simple as possible. Over time, I've found that additional gadgets or steps don't just have a dollar cost, but also can make the process too complicated, too bothersome, etc. Too many brewers I've talked to have given up the hobby just because of time, costs, and other complexities and I am actively working against that to brew every month if possible and keep enjoying the hobby. I will use a pH meter if necessary but wanted to know people's thoughts who had more experience with it than me.

    What are your thoughts?

    Thanks so much in advance!
     
  2. ^Tony^

    ^Tony^ Active Member

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    I bought a pH meter and used it all of 3 or 4 times when I got it and then once a season after that. They are a pain in the ass to calibrate and you have to store then properly or they get out of whack fast. Kind of a waste of money really. If you want to buy one, get a used one if you can find it.

    I have found that pH is pretty forgiving for most styles. Mashing with a 5.1-5.8 is usually okay; I aim for about 5.4 in the mash and my beers turn out well. Pretty wide margin of error. Darker beers absolutely should have an adjustment because the darker malts are more acidic than the lighter malts and it is really easy to go below 5.0 or so with a stout. So stouts and porters will most likely need some pickling salt or baking soda added to bring the pH up during the mash. I don't brew dark beers often at all so I know the theory but I have not done it enough to give you more than the "it happens so be aware" mention.

    IMHO: you're better off getting your water tested. If it is heavy water (high mineral content, especially calcium) then your pH is being strongly effected when the grain pH is interacting with the minerals. If it is soft water (very few minerals) then you may need to ADD some to keep your pH in the good zone. You could just use RO or spring water and add brew salts to adjust it. I use RO and adjust with brew salts and Brewers Friend calculator is usually spot on that way...I don't test pH any more as a result.
     
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  3. Semper Sitientem

    Semper Sitientem Well-Known Member

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    +1 to all the above.
     
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  4. Hawkbox

    Hawkbox Well-Known Member

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    Agreed, I have 2 (I got one at an auction) and to use them is a hassle. If you have a decent water report the math from there should be close enough for our purposes.
     
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  5. thunderwagn

    thunderwagn Well-Known Member

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    I can't even remember the last time I used mine. I suppose everyone's use is different, but it's probably the least used items I've ever purchased for brewing and it wasn't cheap.
     
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  6. Hamner Brewhouse

    Hamner Brewhouse Active Member

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    I have one & used it twice. I agree with the others, they are kind of a pain to use. I've mostly used my city's water report & BF's water calculator to figure out how much lactic acid to get to my desired pH.
     
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  7. Craigerrr

    Craigerrr Well-Known Member

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    I have one as well, haven't used it for more than a year.
     
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  8. Yooper

    Yooper Administrator
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    I use mine on new recipes, where I’m unsure what the pH will actually be. I use my own RO water, which never changes, except when I make my stout recipe where I use tap water (which may change a little, not that much).
     
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  9. Megary

    Megary Well-Known Member

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    I have one and have used it twice and then shelved it. I’ll echo some of the above sentiments that it is a nuisance.

    But I think it’s something I should use and there is another accessible level to brewing that is reachable with proper pH management. It just feels like to me, that in this hobby you can get 80% of the way to the top of the hill with reasonable effort. And that 80% can make damn fine beers and medal winning beers. However, chipping away at that last 20% will help repeat those successes with greater ease. Proper pH control (and I mean something beyond a water calculator) might only be 1 or 2% of that last 20%, but it’s something. Whether or not it’s worth it is an individual question, one I’m struggling with myself.

    I would recommend that you use a pH meter for as long as it takes you to feel comfortable predicting mash pH with whatever brewing software you currently use for water adjustments.

    Good luck!
     
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  10. Michael_biab

    Michael_biab Member

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    Thanks for all the thoughtful replies on this topic. Great advice. I think I'll stick with using Brewer's Friend to calculate and trust that. Thanks everyone!!
     
  11. Craigerrr

    Craigerrr Well-Known Member

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    I will add that I use Brewfather for recipes, but that the pH predictions from Brewers Friend and Brewfather are so close that you could say they are the same. I just trust the software, and have had good results with both.
     
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  12. Ward Chillington

    Ward Chillington Well-Known Member

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    Absolutely! Along with @Megary and like John Palmer says, "It's a robust system" .Once your in the ballpark, you're close enough. What's that mantra again?? RDWHAHB

    I have a meter as well as paper and I use them to check my well water so I at least have a known starting point which fluxes between 6 and 7 and I have no idea what would make it change but it does, After about a years worth of trying to keep records, I have an idea where things are and I'll make an additive adjustment for dark brews if my starting point pH warrants it. I don't check every step as that's just gonna drive me crazy.
     
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  13. philjohnwilliams

    philjohnwilliams Well-Known Member

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    I have one and like others herehave said I used it a few times to check that the pH estimates from the brewing software was accurate (it was) and haven't used it since. With dark beers to avoid a pH drop due to the dark malts you can mash without them, then once you have your conversion done you can add the dark malts for a few minutes.
     
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  14. Nosybear

    Nosybear Well-Known Member

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    I use mine religiously, every brew, every step.
     
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  15. HighVoltageMan!

    HighVoltageMan! Well-Known Member

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    I use mine nearly with every brew. Yeah calculators can get you close in the mash, but that’s only the beginning. How about pre-boil pH. Too high and the wort suffers, gets dark and loses flavor. Post boil pH? Is the yeast going to suffer from a pH too high or is the bitterness going to be too sharp? Lastly the pH in post fermentation can be adjusted, especially after dry hopping. pH needs to be tracked the entire brew to get the most out of the work you put into it. You may not care, but your beer does.
     
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  16. Trialben

    Trialben Well-Known Member

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    I used one early on but as above become all to aware that calibrating and keeping it in storage solution was a PITA!

    I've toyed with the idea of getting a replacement ph probe and testing PH on my regulars just to appease the mind but then again there are all them other goodies I wanna buy that just seem more appealing to me;).

    Scratch the itch by all means...
     
  17. BOB357

    BOB357 Well-Known Member

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    I used mine quite a bit for several months until the probe took a dump. It sat around for a couple of years before I sent it to the circular file, BI use RO water and make adjustments using brewing software. I shoot for 5.4 and haven't had any problems that I'd attribute to pH. Have considered getting another meter, but can't justify the cost when everything indicates the brewing software is doing the trick.
     
  18. ^Tony^

    ^Tony^ Active Member

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    Some for a meter and not. Sounds like the making of a pH meter buy and sell!
     
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  19. Hawkbox

    Hawkbox Well-Known Member

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    I operate on the policy that brewers made beer for centuries without one, and I've done fairly well so far.
     
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  20. Ward Chillington

    Ward Chillington Well-Known Member

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    Not a poke Hawk...I kinda feel the same way but your comment has incredible irony in it that caused me to recall the origin of pH and given that ....maybe we should be using them at each step! The Dane that came up with the concept did so while working at Carlsberg Laboratories....yes that Carlsberg. He got a Nobel Prize for it and was laughed at by his colleagues because they didn't think a brewer worthy of such a thing...check him out!! Søren Peter Lauritz Sørensen
     
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