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What Brewing Gadget to Get?

Hey all,

When I spend money on brewing, it’s typically for the actual ingredients. That being said, I recently switched to all grain and I was wondering which gadget you all-grainers out there prefer: a pH-meter or a refractometer?

I have a hydrometer, so maybe the pH-meter would be a better idea? Still, the refractometer seems really convenient.

Thoughts?

For me the pH meter is vital. I’m on well water and the pH changes seasonally. I’d have to send out for a water report every couple of months to even come close to accurate mash pH. This is the one I have and I love it!

http://www.hydrogalaxy.com/meters-testi ... AmGV8P8HAQ

A hydrometer works at any point before, during and after fermentation with little effort other than temperature adjustment. I don’t have a refractometer and have always felt there are other things I’d rather spend the money on.

pH meters are a pain to deal with - if you can get away with using pH strips, that is usually good enough and less painful. Refractometer is nice, but not really essential. If you don’t have decent temperature control, that’s what I would recommend you look at.
Or as you just switched to AG, do you have a mill? That will save you a bundle in ingredient costs as it allows you to buy grain in bulk.

I was just addressing the two items the OP mentioned.

I agree with RC regarding temp control. Very important to good fermentation and beer quality. Definitely the first area I would address.

I disagree with RC’s statement regarding the hassles of a pH meter. Keep it in storage solution and check calibration occasionally. Mine is spot on every time I check it.

My grain mill has been more of a hassle than my meter but there is a big cost savings in buying bulk grain.

Really? What mill do you have? What has been the problem?

Barley Crusher. Had it about 8 months. It was great at first but the last couple of months it’s been a real pain. I detailed it in another thread but basically it stopped picking up the grain and took me forever to mill my grist for the last 5-6 batches.

I sent it back to BC a week or so ago and they were going to “make it right.” I’ll update when I receive it back. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt because I know many people are happy with that mill. I don’t like to malign anyone who does the right thing so trying to withhold judgment.

Thanks for the input everyone!

I hadn’t considered a mill. I live a few blocks from Northern Brewer, so I’ve always just crushed grain as I buy it, but buying in bulk makes a lot of sense.

I’m on St. Paul’s water supply, so maybe I can rely on the pH from the monthly water reports? I’ve just heard a lot of people from various forums talk about how vital mash pH is. I’ll probably brew a few batches to see how things taste without the meter first.

Danny that sucks. I once owned a BC and it broke. They were unwilling to make it right so I went with a JSP adjustable maltmill and I LOVE it. I do remember now your issues with it not taking grain. At least they are making right.

Daniel, pH is critical for the mash but not so much the starting water. Personally I use Bru’n Water and have found my mash pH within .01 of what is posted so I wouldn’t spend the money on a meter. If you got a good water utility that you can trust then I would go with that.

I agree with buying ingredients like base malt and hops in bulk. Not only is it cheaper, it makes impromptu brews easy. A couple times per year I will buy a couple pounds of different crystal malts, Munich malt, Vienna malt, etc. With those ingredients on hand your options are endless.

I think another thing to ask is where do you see your brewing going from here? Bigger batches? CFC? Pump?

I’d forget about the ph meter. Just download Bru’n Water and learn to use it. Like Josh, I find it to be spot on. I have a pH meter, but I haven’t used it in about two years except to check my bucket of Star San to see if it’s still good. If you have some money burning a hole in your pocket spend it on temp control as rebuiltcellars said.

Danny - If you hear anything from the Barley Crusher people be sure to post about it. Personally, I’ve never had any success in getting support from those guys. I hope your experience is better than mine.

My prioritized list of brewing stuff:

Six-pack of hydrometers: about $50. (you need lots of them because they are suicidal)
Fermentation temp control: used fridge for $20 to $100. STC-1000 and wiring for about $40 if you do it yourself.
Scale for weighing hops and water additions: $10 - ???
Cheap cooler: $10 to $50 depending on size and color. (Plus $5 for a can of blue paint to increase efficiency)
Immersion chiller: depending on length, about $60 if you shop around
pH control: Ward’s water test + Brunwater (cheap, even if you donate and get the (recommended) advanced version)
Hop screen/bags: $20 - $100 depending on size and source, or bags for pocket change.
Electric heater for boil kettle: do it yourself for about $50
Boil kettle valve: do it yourself for a few dollars if you have the tools
Boil kettle filter: stainless steel scrubber from the grocery store for about $3.00
Pump: about $120 if you shop around
Grain mill: highly variable prices. Keep it clean with a stainless brush from Lowes ($10 ?)
Refractometer for SG readings during the boil: $50 if you shop around.

[quote=“Old_Dawg”]My prioritized list of brewing stuff:

Six-pack of hydrometers: about $50. (you need lots of them because they are suicidal)
Fermentation temp control: used fridge for $20 to $100. STC-1000 and wiring for about $40 if you do it yourself.
Scale for weighing hops and water additions: $10 - ???
Cheap cooler: $10 to $50 depending on size and color. (Plus $5 for a can of blue paint to increase efficiency)
Immersion chiller: depending on length, about $60 if you shop around
pH control: Ward’s water test + Brunwater (cheap, even if you donate and get the (recommended) advanced version)
Hop screen/bags: $20 - $100 depending on size and source, or bags for pocket change.
Electric heater for boil kettle: do it yourself for about $50
Boil kettle valve: do it yourself for a few dollars if you have the tools
Boil kettle filter: stainless steel scrubber from the grocery store for about $3.00
Pump: about $120 if you shop around
Grain mill: highly variable prices. Keep it clean with a stainless brush from Lowes ($10 ?)
Refractometer for SG readings during the boil: $50 if you shop around.[/quote]
Funny how the hydrometers are that way. I find that I’ll use the same one for 2-4 years without any problems, then break it and the next couple within a few months.

3 brewing gadgets that changed my life:

Chiller
Brew pot with valve because I brew alone often
Refractometer… They don’t break, and you can check gravity a million times easily.

Also
False bottom for igloo, expensive but worth every penny.
Carboy hauler
Funnel with strainer insert

Wish I had a long stemmed metal thermometer

Best new thing: my new keg set up!!!

I get periodic deviations in my mash PH from EZ water (most likely my error), so taking a reading gives me an opportunity to make simple adjustments. Milwaukee Instruments is the model I use and like:

http://www.amazon.com/Milwaukee-Instrum ... lwaukee+ph

Just make sure you get 4.0 and 7.0 calibration points if you get a meter. I despise PH strips, they don’t read with precision in my experience, but opinions definitely vary.

I was given a Greenlee 13/16 inch punch for x-mas. Step bits work okay, but this punch is excellent. For all the holes I’ve made for 1/2 nipples (giggity), I wish I would have got one sooner. It made ridiculously quick work on a keg; the edges are perfect without effort.

I’ve had excellent experiences with NorCal lately. Their false bottoms aren’t the cheapest out there, but the craftsmanship is most excellent, you’d never be wanting another. Lot’s of other cool stuff there too, and Jay and his staff are excellent to work with.

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