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Old 01-10-2013, 03:14 PM   #1
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Default Next stupid newbie question: Taking a gravity reading

Hello again,
Thanks again for all the help with the stupid newbie questions I've been asking.

My very first brew (a red ale) is fermenting away - or at least, it was. I started the process last Saturday, and the airlock was bubbling by Sunday afternoon. It seems to have slowed down a bit. I think that's normal, since I have read that the fermentation process lasts from 4-7 days, and from Saturday until today would be six days. Based on what I've been reading. I'm thinking I should take a gravity reading. I have a hydrometer, and I took a OG reading before I pitched the yeast, so I understand how it works. I also know what the FG is supposed to be, since I'm brewing from a kit.
The question I have is how best to obtain a sample. I'm using a plastic ale pail with a lid and a hole for the airlock, and it is not transparent. Should I siphon some beer through the airlock hole into a pint glass, and take the gravity reading from that? (I don't know if a pint glass is deep enough for the hydrometer, either.) I'm guessing I don't want to drop the hydrometer into the fermenting bucket, since even if I were to sterilize the hydrometer, I'd still need to remove the lid, and I'd expose the beer to the air. So what is the best practice for taking a gravity reading while the beer is still in the primary?

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Old 01-10-2013, 03:16 PM   #2
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A wine thief. And personally I just like to drink the sample after he reading so I don't worry about sanitizing (sterilizing doesn't happen) but if you sanitize well you could simply pour it back in and it should be fine.

If you don't have a thief, you could carefully syphon a little into a cup to draw the sample.

Although honestly you might want to just wait another week before you touch it. Take the reading then and you can be sure after all that time the ferment has finished.

If you look around this forum you will see it is almost universally advised to let it sit in primary for at least two weeks.

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Old 01-10-2013, 03:27 PM   #3
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If you don't have a wine thief, you can get by with a racking cane. It is the same size as the grommet in the bucket. Just stick it in and put your finger on it, then transfer it to a glass. Just like when playing with a straw. It takes a while to get enough for a reading, but it does work. Also, I would suggest buying a graduated cylinder. It makes it so you don't waste so much beer taking a reading, because you don't want to dump that back in! You'll risk infection then. Two unchanging hydrometer readings at least 1 day apart should tell you that your fermentation is complete.

That being said, for a standard gravity beer, the common saying here is 3 weeks in primary, 3 weeks (@~70 degrees F) in bottles. Even if it has finished fermenting, it will probably still be a young beer at only 1 week. RDWHAHB (Relax, don't worry, have a home brew). Oh wait, this is your first brew. RDWHACB (Relax, don't worry, have a craft beer).

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Old 01-10-2013, 03:33 PM   #4
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Definitely look at getting the thief. You dip the entire thing down into the bucket/carboy, then drop your hydrometer into the cample it draws. Uses way less beer than you need for a sample in a cup.

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Old 01-10-2013, 04:01 PM   #5
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Or if your hydrometer came in a tube,use that for your test sample. It uses less beer. test,wait till the 3rd day,test again. If the numbers match,it's done. You can even sanitize a baster to draw the sample.
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Old 01-12-2013, 01:56 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by unionrdr View Post
Or if your hydrometer came in a tube,use that for your test sample. It uses less beer. test,wait till the 3rd day,test again. If the numbers match,it's done. You can even sanitize a baster to draw the sample.
Thanks for the suggestions. I did end up using the hydrometer tube. I siphoned some beer out of the airlock with the racking cane, since I don't have the thief (although it sounds like a good investment for some day.)
My gravity reading came in at 1.040, which means it's still got a ways to go. OG was 1.050, and FG is supposed to be around 1.015 - 1.011 or so.
I was going to rack to a secondary fermentor (a glass carboy) this weekend. I know that's a contentious issue, with some people saying that secondaries are not necessary, and some even claiming that they do more harm than good. But others have highly recommended the practice, and I was going to go for it. Now I'm thinking that the beer should remain in the primary for another week to get the gravity down.
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Old 01-12-2013, 02:09 PM   #7
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Yup. I've said it a zillion times,do not rack to secondary untill the beer is at FG!!! Just don't do it,trust me. More truoble than it's worth if the beer isn't done yet.
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Old 01-12-2013, 02:26 PM   #8
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Yup. I've said it a zillion times,do not rack to secondary untill the beer is at FG!!! Just don't do it,trust me. More truoble than it's worth if the beer isn't done yet.
Thanks for the advice! I'll let it go another week or so, then take another reading.
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Old 01-12-2013, 09:51 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by matyas View Post
Thanks for the advice! I'll let it go another week or so, then take another reading.
There is no problem opening the bucket lid to take a reading. It literally takes 30 sec to obtain a reading. Just make sure to sanitize your hydrometer before dropping it into the bucket.
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Old 01-12-2013, 09:58 PM   #10
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Yeah, open the lid and use a thief or turkey baster (thats what I use). Fill the tube the hydrometer came in and close the lid on the bucket. Put the bucket back in its happy place and test the beer. Write down number then drink hydro sample!!

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