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What's your take on refractometers?

I ask the above question because i purchased one via homebrewfinds.com and so far I don’t trust it one bit. I ask myself if this is a direct result of what is essentially an Amazon/Ebay purchase vice buying it from Northern Brewer or another hombrew shop. Thoughts? Experiences?

At the rate i’m going, i’m gonna be dusting off the hydrometer for brew day and get my temperature adjustments ready.

IMO:

Great for the mash, pre-boil & getting starting gravity. Once the yeast has started to do it’s thing, I go right back to the hydrometer. I have never had success with the conversion formulas that account for alcohol. I know other people have, but to avoid bottle bombs, the floaty glass tube is where its at.

The only reason I would consider buying one is to take quicker post mash and post boil readings due to having to wait for the wort to cool down to get a more accurate reading. Now, to do this, i take a sample and stick it in the freezer for like 20 minutes and its usually down to the mid 60’s. I take the reading with my hydrometer and dump the sample back into the boil. This might save me a little hassle but I do prefer the accuracy of a hydrometer.

is your refractometer calibrated against distilled water? I’ve rarely been off with mine (maybe once?) but when I have, a few drops of distilled has solved the problem. .

To the earlier points, they are AWESOME for mash/boil/post-boil, but not great once it becomes beer. IME one still needs a hydro.

Make sure it’s properly calibrated. Distilled water should give you a reading of zero. A solution of 20 grams of table sugar in 80 grams of water should give you a reading of 20.0 Brix.

Here is a link to the July/August 2013 issue of Zymurgy. See pages 49 - 53:

http://issuu.com/gillermo/docs/zymurgy_2013_vol_36-04_jul-aug

I had problems with the accuracy of my ATC (automatic temperature correcting) hydrometer until I figured out that it was not really temperature correcting. Now I put my small sample in a stainless steel or ceramic container for a few minutes to let it cool or warm to approximately room temp before putting a couple of drops on the sample glass. When I do that I get an accurate reading, as confirmed by several hydrometer comparisons. I think it’s worth the trouble to be able to get an accurate reading faster and with a much smaller sample than with a hydrometer.

I use BeerSmith’s refractometer tool to correct my refractometer reading for alcohol. Based on several hydrometer comparisons, it’s also accurate.

As far as I’m concerned, simpler is better. A hydrometer is cheap (relative to a good refractometer), easy to use, and works right every time as long as proper procedure is followed.

I’ve stopped using refractometers. I’m certain that my problem with refractometers stems from the difficulty of properly stirring first and second runnings. With a refractometer I get crazy variable readings (optical and digital refractometer), whereas I get consistent readings from the larger sample size required for a hydrometer.

Also my optical and digital refractometers never match–in spite of the fact that they are both calibrated using distilled water immediately before use. This is even true with post-boil samples, which should be properly mixed thanks to the boil.

I’m much happier with precision hydrometers and calculating actual gravity using an app to compensate for temp.

Edit: also my refractometers never match my hydrometers.

KC, I was wondering, what apps are you using for your calculations? I’m glad to see that there are people that like their refractometers, but for my next batch i’m going to use both and make my final judgment.

I use the Beersmith app on my phone. I typically let the samples cool in the A/C in summer or outside in the winter for 10-20 min before I measure.

After checking the refractometer a couple times against a low-scale (0.980 - 1.020) hydrometer, using a correction formula in a spreadsheet, there’s no way I would ever go back to the hydrometer - the refracto is just as accurate and so much easier to use. I put a couple small ceramic cups in the freezer at the start of the brewday for cooling the ounce or so of wort I need for pre-pitch gravity and pH readings, and then for post-pitch it’s as simple as sticking a sanitized stainless skewer into the fermenter to retrieve one or two drops of beer for readings.

For those of you that love your refractometers, do you have a Amazon/Ebay procured (cheap price) or a NB brewer procured refractometer? The reason why I’m asking is because i’m wondering if there is a quality difference.

[quote=“mppatriots”]I ask the above question because i purchased one via homebrewfinds.com and so far I don’t trust it one bit. I ask myself if this is a direct result of what is essentially an Amazon/Ebay purchase vice buying it from Northern Brewer or another hombrew shop. Thoughts? Experiences?

At the rate i’m going, i’m gonna be dusting off the hydrometer for brew day and get my temperature adjustments ready.[/quote]

I have 2. Neither one agrees with my hydrometer, so I don’t use them.

I got one off ebay for cheap, brix only, and its been as acurate as my hydrometer. With sean terrill’s calculator the fgs have been on point with hydrometer also. Its not a crutial upgrade but I now that ive had mine for awhile i prefer it over a hydrometer.

[quote=“Denny”]
I have 2. Neither one agrees with my hydrometer, so I don’t use them.[/quote]
I may be in the minority on this topic, but at least I’m in good company. :smiley:

Bottom line, Buy a digital refractometer as I did over 3 years ago. When sick of using handhelds for multiple reasons.

Best $100 spent as it is totally reliable for mash, pre-boil and post-boil wort and then using Sean Terrill’s spreadsheet for post ferment SG works spot on for me every-time.

Personally, I’m not terribly concerned with exact accuracy, so if my refractometer is within say five points, I’m happy. How far off do you all see your refractometers? My hydrometer broke a while ago, so I haven’t compared.

to easy to use pre fermentation, I always check mine after alcohol is introduced and it is pretty damn accurate

Switched to refractometer at the beginning of the year and I will never go back! I had two hydrometers that always calibrated correctly but gave completely different readings. One gave physically impossible readings, the other gave inconsistent readings. Never had bottle bombs, but mostly because I’d give each batch an extra week.

It took a couple batches before I got the hang of the refractometer. I was getting inconsistent results at first, but then I noticed the samples were not spreading out and there were air bubbles forming on the prism. I learned to spread the sample over the prism slowly before closing instead of just placing a couple drops and my results became consistent.

[quote=“kcbeersnob”][quote=“Denny”]
I have 2. Neither one agrees with my hydrometer, so I don’t use them.[/quote]
I may be in the minority on this topic, but at least I’m in good company. :smiley: [/quote]

And I’m comforted to hear that I’m not alone!

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