Thoughts on hydrometers?

Discussion in 'Beginners Brewing Forum' started by SabreSteve, Jul 9, 2020.

  1. SabreSteve

    SabreSteve Well-Known Member

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    Hey so brand new here. Have talked about brewing for years but have always had an excuse (usually money) to put of getting started. This year I found myself with an assortment of Father's day gift cards and no idea what to spend them. Decided to take the plunge and finally do it. Got what I think is pretty decent setup for right around $75. Put it together myself as opposed to buying a kit. All that's really left is to go shopping for my ingredients which I plan to do this week. Found recipes for a Hefeweizen and a Dunkleweizen and will probably decide while shopping for ingredients. In the meantime I've just been checking out the forum here and trying to soak up as much information as I can. The only real question that I've seen contrasting thoughts on is should I have a hydrometer if I'm using a tried and tested recipe and not experimenting with my own? It stands to reason that if I follow the same fermenting time as the recipe under similar conditions I should be fine right? But I've also seen on here that the only way to truly know if it's done is to take gravity readings with a hydrometer. I typical would ask my father-in-law but he's a pretty laid back brewer (he told me it wasn't essential that the fermenter be a food grade bucket) so I can guess his response. I do plan on buying one eventually and upgrading and adding to my setup over time. My question is just whether I actually should have one for my first couple brews or if I can go ahead without it?
     
  2. Megary

    Megary Well-Known Member

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    If you plan on bottling, I would definitely make sure your fermentation is complete. Whether that’s from a hydrometer, refractometer, Tilt, or some mystic understanding of yeast...it doesn’t really matter. The last thing you want are over-carbonated bottles.
    If you don’t take a FG reading, you are kind of rolling the dice. At the very least make sure you let fermentation take its good old time. Maybe 2-3 weeks.

    That aside, while it’s not essential, it is pretty good form to measure your gravities along the way. It helps with understanding the ins and outs of your grain crush, mash, fermentation...basically your whole brewing process. A bit more important if you are all-grain brewing, but good practice nonetheless.

    Good luck (either way)!
     
  3. thunderwagn

    thunderwagn Well-Known Member

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    Just my opinion, but I think if you're going to be a homebrewer, a hydrometer is a must have piece. Dirt cheap piece of mind.
     
  4. Nosybear

    Nosybear Well-Known Member

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    Ditto. The others are simply fancier versions of this basic tool. Brewing without it is similar to carpentry without a ruler.
     
  5. ^Tony^

    ^Tony^ Active Member

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    As someone who has bottled every batch since I started brewing, I say a hydrometer is essential to making sure your fermentation is done and avoiding bottle bombs at the least.

    I have done recipes by the book perfect and STILL had delays reaching FG. If I would have bottled according to kit instructions I would have had bottle bombs or crappy beer at best. The instructions are more of a recommendation or a guild in my opinion. So many things can effect your brew session and fermentation have nothing to do with a recipe. Temperature, water, cleaning practices, where you store your fermenter, etc are just a few. If things don't go perfectly every time (and they rarely do) then you are basically brewing blind.

    Like Thunderwagn says, a basic glass hydrometer is about $15 in most places...dirt cheap piece of mind. The rest....negotiable.
     
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  6. SabreSteve

    SabreSteve Well-Known Member

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    I was planning on fermenting atleast 2 weeks I could even go 3 as I've heard weizen yeast tends to be very active. Is it possible to leave it too long before bottling? I also plan on doing atleast 2-3 extract with grains brews before I even attempt all grain. Of the options you mentioned for taking the gravity is their one you consider most effective
     
  7. SabreSteve

    SabreSteve Well-Known Member

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    Seems important but then I don't get why I've seen some sites says it's optional "but recommended" like a bottling bucket (which I did go ahead and get anyways.
     
  8. Trialben

    Trialben Well-Known Member

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    Mate the amount of half arsed brewers i know that never take gravity readings is staggering! I take OG and FG readings on every single brew even those that I couldn't give a dam about I still do it's just part of the process.

    I'll say it like this why do it in the first place if your not prepared to give it your best crack;).
     
  9. Semper Sitientem

    Semper Sitientem Well-Known Member

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    When I first started brewing I didn’t have a hydrometer and thought the same as the comment you made about “as long as I follow the recipe, My results should be the same.” The fact is, you can most likely never replicate the exact process. There will always be minor differences In the process that result in a different outcomes, sometimes minor and sometimes major.

    Eventually, when I did purchase a hydrometer, I said to myself “I should have gotten one of these a long time ago.“ My process improved along with the quality of my beer. Like previous posts have mentioned, they’re cheap and it can help you avoid mistakes. I have recently started using a refractometer, which I like so far.

    Regarding your question about fermentation time. I routinely leave my IPAs In the fermenter for 2-3 weeks and darker beers for 3-4 weeks. Like mentioned previously, a FG reading is important for bottling.
     
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  10. SabreSteve

    SabreSteve Well-Known Member

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    Not trying to do anything thing half-assed tbh. Just wasn't on my original supply list, which my wife would probably tell you I over thought and over researched. It was just that the first few pages or articles I read on getting setup for a first brew either barely mentioned hydrometers or said that they were more important if improvising a recipe than following one. Then I come here and I see OG and FG in every single thread and it's like holy crap should I have bought one of those?
    I basically I was ready to go. That's the main reason why I wanted to know if I could do a brew or two without one and not risk having the quality suffer. It's not the end of the world though shouldn't delay me more than a few days at most
     
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  11. SabreSteve

    SabreSteve Well-Known Member

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    Is a refractometer better? Is it significantly more expensive?
     
  12. 4Bentley

    4Bentley Active Member

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    If anything it gives you bragging rights. At some point your friends are going to ask you about the alcohol content . Then what are you going to say. :)
     
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  13. SabreSteve

    SabreSteve Well-Known Member

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    Honestly I'd probably tell them to shut up and drink I see your point though
     
  14. Nosybear

    Nosybear Well-Known Member

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    Not better, just different. A refractometer uses far less beer for a sample but once fermentation has begun, you have to adjust the reading to account for alcohol and its higher refractive index. Simple enough to do, there's a calculator here on Brewer's Friend that will do the job for you, you just have to remember to adjust or your readings won't make sense.

    The primary measuring tools for a brewer are volume (graduated pitchers, including measuring cups), weight (a set of scales to measure grain and smaller "gram" scales to measure hops and brewing salts, gravity (a hydrometer or refractometer), temperature (a cooking thermometer accurate in the brewing "range". A pH meter is helpful but not necessary for a beginning brewer.
     
  15. SabreSteve

    SabreSteve Well-Known Member

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    Yes I'm all set on all of those except the PH meter.. I'm assuming a regular food scale is accurate enough, nothing special needed there? I have a floating thermometer I purchased from a winemaking supply site through Amazon. So right now I'm actually borrowing a kettle from my dad to defray some of the startup cost but will eventually have to buy my own. How much of and advantage is it to have one of the "fancy" brew kettles with a built-in thermometer as opposed to just using a floating one?
     
  16. 4Bentley

    4Bentley Active Member

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    You need a thermometer that measures in the middle of the mash. A floating one may not get there. make sure the scale is in tenths of ounces especially for hops. I would buy a hydrometer before the PH meter. I bought a PH meter after a couple years and rarely use it.
     
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  17. Mark Farrall

    Mark Farrall Well-Known Member

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    You'll get a skewed response asking on a homebrewing forum. No you don't need the hydrometer/refractometer to make beer, but you do to make your beer better. I didn't have one for my first brew, went and bought one for my second. There's just so many questions that you ask about how to do things better next time that you need the gravity readings to answer.
     
  18. Semper Sitientem

    Semper Sitientem Well-Known Member

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    +1 on the PH meter. It’s such a needy tool (constant calibration and storage in a specific solution). I used mine a few times and that was it. Too much time that didn’t really affect the quality of my beer.
     
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  19. Megary

    Megary Well-Known Member

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    If you are brewing standard 5 gallon batches, I would recommend a hydrometer. Super simple to use. Like Nosy said, a refractometer is great for small batch brewing because it requires such a small sample and every gravity reading wont be a precious, measurable amount of beer.

    3 weeks isn’t too long to ferment a beer but there certainly is a limit to how long you can let a beer sit on a yeast cake. I have no idea what that number is...6, 7, 8 weeks?? I don’t know of any home brewers that want to take on that experiment though. :)
     
  20. Nosybear

    Nosybear Well-Known Member

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    Your scale should be good enough if it's accurate to 0.1 ounce, as long as you're not using it to measure brewing salts-i'm assuming you aren't treating your brewing water just yet. When you start treating water, you'll need more accurate measurements. The thermometer is good enough for now. One day you'll want more accuracy and faster response. A hydrometer and a sample jar are all you need for gravity. Most other factors we control with our processes.
     

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