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Home Brew Forums > Home Brewing Beer > Equipment/Sanitation > Thermapen, Refractometer, or pH Meter?
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Old 01-04-2013, 07:33 PM   #21
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I ferment in buckets and to check a gravity reading I pull off the airlock, insert a straw through the hole and remove enough beer to check with the refractometer. If you feel the need to check a sample 3 days in a row before bottling, repeat the process. It saves me having to pull the lid off the bucket to get a sample.
Holy CARP!!! You are a genius. My little plastic pipette stopped working, hole in the bulb, and I was sanitizing a spoon and popping the bucket lid to take samples. I didn't really want to go to the trouble of sanitizing my baster and sucking out a massive draw of the beer. I don't know why something like this didn't occur to me before?!!?
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Old 01-04-2013, 07:45 PM   #22
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Personally I would get the refractometer. I never have to wait for samples to cool to make sure my pre-boil gravity is correct. Plus it only takes a few drops. I have not regreted buying mine. Makes checking progress in fermentation a snap too. Don't have to waste a bunch of beer to check.
I would replace the thermapen with a good partial immersion lab thermometer They are between cheap and absolutely accurate. I just leave mine in my mash.
I wouldn't worry too much about the pH meter until later. If a person was just getting into all grain then I would be more concerned about temperatures and extractions. For a majority my your recipes I don't need to worry about pH.

So really you can pick up a decend refractometer and a lab thermometer for teh same cost of a thermapen.
I find that the need to check pre-boil gravity is really only acute when you're getting dialed in on your process. I rarely even bother to check my pre-boil gravity any more, since I don't change my equipment or procedures between batches--if I do an iodine conversion test and the wort is converted, I know pretty well what my efficiency is going to be and I don't really need to confirm it over an over again every batch. I just make sure I get my pre-boil quantity right and then check the gravity before I transfer to the fermenter. I'm rarely more than three or four gravity points off from my target. Of course, when you do non-standard brews--really big, no-sparge batches, or partigyles, stuff like that--it makes sense to check your pre-boil gravity to make sure you're not way off from what you expected. But if your efficiency is varying widely between batches there's some variable you haven't locked down yet...
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Old 01-04-2013, 07:47 PM   #23
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Do you cook meat? If yes, Thermapen. Seriously. Perfectly cooked meat, every time.

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Old 01-04-2013, 07:54 PM   #24
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I'm an all grain brewer, and am looking to purchase my next equipment. If you were going to buy one of these items, which would it be and why?
I use a CDN digital thermometer and it has served me well for the past year and a half. I've periodically checked the calibration on it and it's still fine. Personally, I think a Thermapen is a nice luxury but it's not critical. This would be my third choice.

Refractometers (especially the temp-correcting models) are good for quickly measuring SG pre-boil. You don't have to cool down a cup of wort to get a reading. Very nice, but a hydrometer can give you the same measurement - it just takes a while to get the larger volume of liquid down to testing temps. This would be my second choice.

A quality temp-correcting pH meter that shows pH to a hundredths (x.xx) is the most useful out of the three, in my opinion, if your brewing water is pretty bad and requires some significant chemical modifications (like mine). Don't bother with any pH meter that only goes out to the tenths - it won't be accurate enough. I bought the "HM Digital HMDPH200 Waterproof PH And Amp Temperature Meter" for about $75 and it has served me well so far. You'll also need some storage solution and some 4.0 calibration solution.
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Old 01-04-2013, 09:54 PM   #25
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The labs i have worked in never report to the hundredth as it's mostly not needed and to the tenth will do you just fine. Even if your water is completely jacked up. I haven't paid much attention to the pH of my mash. Mostly because my beers does just fine with out adding that to the process.

If your water is jacked your are probably better of making a dilute mineral water. It's rather easy with perrier and ro water to get moderately hard levels with a pH ranging from 7.7-8.0. Thats what i use at work for a certain task.

I'm not saying it's not important, just saying it may not be as important to the OP as he originally thought.

Dollar for dollar a good temp probe would still be my choice.

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Old 01-04-2013, 10:48 PM   #26
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The labs i have worked in never report to the hundredth as it's mostly not needed and to the tenth will do you just fine. Even if your water is completely jacked up. I haven't paid much attention to the pH of my mash. Mostly because my beers does just fine with out adding that to the process.

If your water is jacked your are probably better of making a dilute mineral water. It's rather easy with perrier and ro water to get moderately hard levels with a pH ranging from 7.7-8.0. Thats what i use at work for a certain task.

I'm not saying it's not important, just saying it may not be as important to the OP as he originally thought.

Dollar for dollar a good temp probe would still be my choice.
Meters that only go to the tenth are usually accurate plus or minus .3 at best, so if it's reading at 5.3 your wort could be anywhere from 5.0 to 5.6. That's not an acceptable error range for brewing purposes.
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Old 01-05-2013, 11:51 AM   #27
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I disagree with this; I thermometer that is good to +/-2 degrees will make no better/worse beer than a thermometer accurate to +/-0.2 degrees. The issue is that even if you can measure to the 1/10 of a degree F, most homebrewing systems aren't designed to adjust temps with this sort of resolution. I would be surprised if you could tell the difference between a mash that was kept at 150F +/- 2 degrees and one that was kept at 150 +/-0.2 degrees.

That being said, a thermapen is a well made device and can deliver stable temp readings in 2-3 seconds...that is why it is preferred by homebrewers. If I had money to burn I'd probably go with this purchase first, then refractometer, then pH meter.
I agree that +/- 2 degrees would be adequate. The trouble I had was in reality they (simple glass type) were more like +/- 5, maybe more. The ice water or boiling calibration is useless too because I read their readings and inaccuracy is not linear. In other words they might be even farther off at mash temperatures. I tried a cheap digital one from Target and it was even worse. With all the variables involved in mashing and the importance of temperature in so many phases of brewing I needed to feel confident I was reading the actual temperature. I did not go with thermapen as I think they are pricey and not as easy to use as a probe and wire type like the one I got from VWR (link posted above). If you are confident in what you use, great. If you are having issues, temperature inaccuracy could be the culprit...
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Old 01-05-2013, 03:20 PM   #28
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I'm a huge fan of the Thermapen, and also a refractometer. You can get by with a less pricey option, but IMO the uses of the thing are so great that you will have wondered ow you lived without the Thermapen once you own it.

Also, if you like measure your mash efficiency and adjust prior to boil, a refractometer is very nice to have around, and very much worth the price. Just be sure to get one that compensates for temperature so that you can take readings on the fly.

My choice would be to get the refractometer first, if you already have a decent thermometer, and then the Thermapen. Reverse the order if you don't have a good thermometer already.

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Old 01-05-2013, 06:11 PM   #29
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#1 cause of beer not doing what you want, bad thermometer. People are mashing at 200F then can't find out what's making them not make beer. The other stuff is cool, but not needed. Thermapen

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Old 01-06-2013, 12:14 PM   #30
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#1 cause of beer not doing what you want, bad thermometer. People are mashing at 200F then can't find out what's making them not make beer. The other stuff is cool, but not needed. Thermapen
A thermapen is going to do no better or worse than a $12 digital (properly calibrated) in this situation.
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