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Home Brew Forums > Home Brewing Beer > General Techniques > New brewers - stop worrying about gravity readings
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Old 01-11-2005, 09:39 PM   #1
Janx
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Default New brewers - stop worrying about gravity readings

You don't need a hydrometer to brew. I haven't owned a hydrometer since my first days of brewing, and then only because I was reading books and they act like you need one.

I have taught a lot of people how to brew and it never involved a hydrometer.

When beer is fermenting, it bubbles. When it stops, it's done. There is no need to take samples and worry and fret over it. It's done when it's done.

There is no problem waiting too long to bottle or keg. There is no need to bottle on the very first day it is finished.

I see no advantage and a lot of potential risk to doing something like taking samples to see if your beer is done. A taste is a more reliable method. If you simply must worry about the gravity, take samples when you are already racking. It's really a bad idea to take samples just for the heck of it.

Here's what I do:

1) Make beer. Put in primary.
2) 5-7 days later (when I have time), rack to a secondary.
3) Let it sit in the secondary until the bubbling stops and the yeast settles.
4) Keg or bottle when you have time, but letting it sit a few weeks will hurt nothing, and help the flavor a lot.

See how absolutely no hydrometer was needed? I grant that some folks may want to keep track of those numbers, and that's fine, but it is not necessary, and it certainly isn't worth the risk of taking needless samples, that risk infection and waste beer.

So unless you really like keeping track of gravity, throw away your hydrometer. I don't know why the books emphasize it so much, but no one I know uses one, and I know folks who brew a LOT of good beer. It'll just make you worry about something extra if you're getting started. Instead focus on good sanitation, and your beer will be great.

Janx

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Old 01-11-2005, 09:56 PM   #2
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hehe good post! and good point. it seems a bit much, unless you want to know how much alcohol is in yer beer. it seemed too much like math/science to me (and thus not fun!) to be taking readings, so i disregarded that part of the instructions!

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Old 01-11-2005, 11:20 PM   #3
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If you have even a tiny air leak in your system, your airlock can stop bubbling before fermentation is complete. If you then bottle before fermentation is complete, you'll have exploding bottles.
If you brew all grain or mini mash, you need a hydrometer to know your extraction rate to help you adjust future recipes.
Professional brewers all use hydrometers.
It's wonderful that you've been brewing without a hydrometer and havn't had a problem. However, I don't think you should advise new brewers to throw away such a valuable tool -- which, by the way, is not included with every 5-gallon starter kit just to torment new brewers.
That's like driving a car without a gas guage, watching your mileage to estimate when you need to buy gas. You may never run out, but does that mean everyone should drive this way?

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Old 01-12-2005, 12:05 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by richanne
If you have even a tiny air leak in your system, your airlock can stop bubbling before fermentation is complete. If you then bottle before fermentation is complete, you'll have exploding bottles.
Uh, what? A leak in my system? I use glass to ferment and it doesn't leak. I shove a rubber stopper in it, and, for the most part, it doesn't leak. We're not talking quantum physics here...is it bubbling or not...has the yeast settled or not?

Quote:
Originally Posted by richanne
If you brew all grain or mini mash, you need a hydrometer to know your extraction rate to help you adjust future recipes.
I have been an all-grain brewer for longer than you've been brewing, I'd guess. I adjust my recipes based on taste, not gravity. What does gravity have to do with recipe? My beer is always strong enough for anyone if you drink enough of it. And since I don't worry about silly nonsense like taking hydrometer readings, I have time to make plenty of beer.

Oh, and, problem with extraction rate? Not enough extraction? Add more grain. It's cheap!

Quote:
Originally Posted by richanne
Professional brewers all use hydrometers.
I have worked in breweries. You don't even want to know the loooong list of things they have to do. Most of it is to please the taxman, but you are correct. They must know the alcohol content precisely. I am a homebrewer, as, I would wager, are all of the new brewers to whom my post was addressed. Not professional. We get to have fun brewing. We don't have to worry about gravity if we don't want to.

Quote:
Originally Posted by richanne
It's wonderful that you've been brewing without a hydrometer and havn't had a problem.
I would be interested in hearing about even one potential problem you imagine I could have by not using a hydrometer. We aren't keeping guys alive on the moon, after all, we're making beer.

Quote:
Originally Posted by richanne
However, I don't think you should advise new brewers to throw away such a valuable tool -- which, by the way, is not included with every 5-gallon starter kit just to torment new brewers.
That's true. Recycle it in some safe way because I think there are nasty things in hydrometers. But don't for a second believe that danger and scary things will ensue if you don't use one. What nonsense.

Quote:
Originally Posted by richanne
That's like driving a car without a gas guage, watching your mileage to estimate when you need to buy gas. You may never run out, but does that mean everyone should drive this way?
Well, to use your analogy. If fermentation is driving, and the goal is a complete fermentation (an empty tank), then why is that not a good method? If your goal is to drive your car until it's empty, you'll know when it stops driving. If your goal is to ferment your homebrew until the sugars are gone, wait until it stops bubbling (evil pinhole leaks aside ). It seems like a great way to run your car out of gas to me. Sure, you could watch the guage and fret over how soon it will be out of gas, but in the end, when it stops, it stops.

Just like beer.

I don't know how much experience you have brewing. I am curious. But you insinuate that it is actually dangerous to not use a hydrometer. That is patently, unequivocably, false. We are homebrewers, in it for the fun and tasty results. We don't need to submit tax forms to the goverment. We can tell when a beer is done when the bubbles stop, and we can afford to wait an extra week, unlike the big breweries. If we don't get the extraction we want, $1 worth of extra grain usually solves the problem.

I'll agree with you that some people may like to use a hydrometer, and that's a great reason to use one. I will not ever agree that it is necessary. And it is, in my opinion, an unnecessary worry for new brewers. And it is most certainly not dangerous to brew without one.

Janx
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Old 01-12-2005, 12:14 AM   #5
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I'm not sure it is good not learn to do things the right way from the start. For you this appears to work and that is great, but I think that knowing how to measure the SG is better learned at the beginning so it becomes second nature to the brewer. I never trust that just because it isn't bubbling it is done, one exploding bottle and the stitches to go with it will put paid to that. The SG will tell you if your fermentation is stuck, which can come active again when the spirit moves it. I measure the alcohol as a way of checking the conversion efficiency not to know if it is stronger or not. Far better to avoid making bottle bombs. But whatever works for each individual and pleases them.

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Old 01-12-2005, 01:48 AM   #6
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Default My two cents

Well, as you know by now I've just brewed my first batch. I tried to get a reading, but forgot it, so now I won't know what the finished reading should be. I plan to use a hydrometer just so that I can record my brews and get a feel for what needs adjusting. And I'd like to know the alcohol content of my beer, just for curiosity's sake. I like good records, and the idea of honing my skills. It may not be necessary, but it sure isn't difficult. Put it in, read it, take it out. Do it at the start, at the finish. You don't have to stress over it, but it might be fun just to know how it all comes together scientifically. I can see myself phasing hydro readings out of my brewing if it becomes a nuisance, but to start, I think I'll give it a try.

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Old 01-12-2005, 06:43 AM   #7
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good for you. keep on brewing.
For the record, we have been brewing for many, many years and we have a Web site/business that sells home beer brewing supplies: http://www.bradyshomebrew.com.
I have avoided listing the URL because I don't want to be seen as taking advantage of this forum for personal gain, but this is getting ridiculous.
I think it's wonderful that this forum has taken off and that it's attracting a lot of people, but to advise people on multiple threads to throw out their hydrometers is wrong. I am NOT trying to sell hydrometers, but they are valuable tools that are BASIC to homebrewing.

Anne Brady

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Old 01-12-2005, 06:16 PM   #8
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Default Basic to homebrewing?

Quote:
Originally Posted by richanne
I am NOT trying to sell hydrometers, but they are valuable tools that are BASIC to homebrewing.

Anne Brady
How are they basic to homebrewing? I gotta to agree with janx here...unless you enjoy getting data to store or enter contests or have some specific reason for wanting SG then it is very much not a basic need. I've been brewing for about 6 months now all-grain and have probably made 20+ 10 gallon batches and the only thing that has negatively affected any of them was 2 batches that got contaminated. Sticking a hydrometer in fermenting beer is only going to increase the chances of nasties getting in. In my experience:

1. Yeast works. When the fermenters stop bubbling the yeast has done its job.
2. There is always enough alcohol in it once finished if enough grain was used.

It really isn't black magic. After a few batches you'll be able to tell if a batch is done fermenting. There are reasons people may use hydrometers but saying it is a basic need for your average homebrewer (without any reasoning) is misleading. If you are into homebrewing for the fun of making it and drinking it then put down the hydrometer and just be patient with the ferment.
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Old 01-12-2005, 06:20 PM   #9
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richanne, it may be basic, in the sense that everyone buys one when they start. It is not necessary, and you have posted nothing to the contrary.

Are you sure you have any actual concrete reasons why a hydrometer is necessary? You certainly haven't posted any reasoning to support your assertion that it is dangerous not to use one.

Brewing is simpler than the books and richanne make it out to be. Use a hydrometer if you want. I can guarantee, based on the literally thousands of gallons of beer I have brewed, that it is in no way neceessary. I think I have supported my opinion that it is an area that new brewers unnecessarily worry about.

And I'm pretty sure there were brewers before hydrometers...

Janx

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Old 01-12-2005, 10:07 PM   #10
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Good point at the end there -- yes, there were certainly brewers before there were hydrometers.
I looked back over this thread, and I don't see where I ever asserted that brewing without a hydrometer was "dangerous." We've actually done it our ourselves on certain brews. It could be dangerous to bottle too soon, for obvious reasons, but as you say, letting your beer sit a little longer before bottling, just to be sure, certainly doesn't hurt either.
You just seemed to be on some sort of crusade in this forum, in several threads, to persuade new brewers to throw out their hydrometers, and to be honest, I think it was over the top.
Lots of people like knowing more about what's going on with their beer, what the alcohol percentage is, etc...
Some of the new brewers here may have been stressing out a bit about readings, and letting them know they don't need to throw out the beer just because they don't have an OG reading is great.
This forum is shaping up to be a great resource for new brewers, and I think we may want to link to it soon, but it would be nice to know that people aren't being told to en masse throw out valuable parts of their starter kits. What's next? Burning the bottle brush?

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