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New brewers - stop worrying about gravity readings

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Janx

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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
 

uglygoat

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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!
 

richanne

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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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Janx

Janx

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richanne said:
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?

richanne said:
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!

richanne said:
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.

richanne said:
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.

richanne said:
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.

richanne said:
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
 

smorris

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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.
 

rightwingnut

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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.
 

richanne

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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
 

Monkey Knife Fight

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richanne said:
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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Janx

Janx

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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
 

richanne

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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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I agree mainly with the above, but I use a hydrometer only after cooling & before fermentation just as a check on OG. After that I've no use for one.
 

El Pistolero

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Bump, just because all of us new guys need to enjoy (and learn from) the wisdom of Janx. :D :D
 

anthrobe

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When I first started brewing I put my hydrometer in the closet. Now that I have some experience under my belt, I never hesitate to use it. I like to know where, how, and when things are happening. Don't get me wrong, I only use the hydrometer when I put into primary and when it stops bubbling-going into secondary. It is not a necessity for brewing beer. I will be the first to tell you as said above. It is a good tool to understand what it happening with your brew:)
 

Beermaker

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About the only time a hydro is needed is prior to fermentation. Just to check accuracy. Hell, after that, there is really nothing you can do to change the brew. Cept maybe add a little more yeast if it gets stuck, but like jax said, when its done bublling, thats it.
 

God Emporer BillyBrew

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I'm on my 8th batch and I still don't know how to get the gravity. I do use it for alcohol %, but that's just simple math. I'm not in to figuring out where I am and where I should be. Or even how to read the numbers. If it was that complicated, I probably wouldn't be brewing! I've thought about asking the question on this forum before, but never have because it means so little to me, that I didn't feel like taking the time to read the responses. ...too...many...numberssssss.....
 

justbrewit

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i really don't use mine either, but its good to have it there "if you WANT to use it" i for one don't worry about it right now since i'm using extract. but i'm sure i'll use it when i start all grain just until i dial in my extraction. but for the most part, i use promash and let it do the work for me, it'll tell me how much alcohol is in it and every thing else i want to know. i think i'm on both sides here, you get one with the brew kit, use it a few times and figure out whats going on with your brew at different stages and as you become more comfy with brewing, set it aside. there is a time and place for every thing, you pick the time and place. once i've got my % up to around 75 or so when i go all grain, the hydro will go in a closet or some where. its a tool and like most tools, you can use that tool or some thing else. if your happy with using you mouth tool to "test" the different stages, then go for it!! i bought a test tube to check mine and i've used it like once or twice so far, but its there if i want to use it. maybe some of us just feel better having one around, kind of like a brewing security blanket!!! lol lord knows i have loads of tools that i haven't even used once, but "its there if i need it"
 

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I agree with all the comments that you do not necessarily NEED to use a hydrometer, but I for one, use it all the time. The choice to not use one comes with experience and you already have the knowledge that you know how to use it when you want to.

A security blanket is a good thing sometimes. Way too many new brewers need us to give them the right info their first few times out. A prime example is how many times a day do you read threads titled "noob question"? There's a real concern/reason why they are asking us for assistance. We have a responsibility to provide them with the proper instructions on how to use their equipment as it is designed (for). Telling someone they don't need this or that is actually doing them a disservice in my book.

I like to KNOW what my gravity readings are, OG and FG, and all the other gravities in between when I take sample readings.

I take notes of my process from start to finish. Many people don't. Whenever I try their recipes they can't answer any of my questions concerning their gravities, tweaks, etc. My notes include the brewing date, gravity readings, the temp (from primary to racking racking to bottling), and follow up notes like days in primary, days in secondary, taste, body, priming sugar/malt amount, carbonation level, bottling date, water volume, water treatment, use of gypsum, Irish Moss, etc. Basically, all the notes everyone should take every time they brew. You can't tweak recipes based upon your memory of a beer you brewed two batches ago or last year. (How many time have you read about saomeone wanting to throw out their beers because it is too sweet/bitter, etc?)

The lack of notes is one of my pet peeves as far as recipes go.:mad:

But hey, if you don't want to do any of this process it's all your choice. On the down side, should I ever ask for a copy of your recipe you'll never be able to tell me anything about your final product.

Just my opinion.:D
 

Orfy

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IMHO, It's better to use one for 2 reasons, It's a sure way to tell if a brew's done. I've had stuck ferments before now and it takes the guess work out of it. If you are using an extract recipe kit you already know what OG, FG and ABV is going to be as long as it ferments fully. When using AG then you don't know if things have gone right without a hydrometer, Sure you can do with out but I'd rather make a little effort and be sure.
 

Tony

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You know, Im glad El Pistolero bumped this thread, as its really something to see how some people think. Well, myself I see the importance of Janx's post for new brewers to not worry about using a hydrometer anc concentrate on the simple steps to take in beginning to brew. Rather than confuse the heck out of them, allow them to begin simple, go through the initial steps, and once their knowledge of the process is gained, then move on to "hone" their process even further.

For me, I have two hydros (both were free ;) ), and heck, Ive been wanting a refractometer, as Im a gadet type, and like to learn all I can. BUT, not every batch gets measured. So many times I have my hydro all sterilized and ready to go, but many times just dont use it. I guess my recipes are my usuals, and my brewing set up hasnt changed, so Im comfortable with my process, and get great results every time.
 

david_42

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Times when I've been glad to have a hydrometer:

Stuck ferments: My fermenters sit in the kitchen and my heat pump blasts out 40F air during the defrost cycle, it can stop a ferment. How can you tell without a hydrometer?

Snap ferments: Summer time 75F, you brew a batch. Next morning nothing, Day 2 nothing, etc. No krausen, no trub. SG 1.010 I've had it happen.

Stuck ferment II: Yeast can't handle the ABV. Happens frequently with ciders.

Long ferments: Mead

New base grain: How does it compare to the old grain?

New technique: Ditto

New brewing equipment: Ditto

No, you really don't need a hydrometer. You can hammer in wood screws, too.
 

SteveM

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I used one my first batch and then put it away. I use a plastic brew tank and it seems to me that there is little to no chance that you can get any like a true reading while viewing it on an oblique, and putting your face into the tank to get that reading opens you to a contamination risk anyway. I am fortunate to have a nice spot to let my brew tank sit - consistently cool, about 55 - 60F in the winter, maybe 65F in the summer so brewing is pretty reliable. Plus I let it sit two weeks in the tank.
 

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I must admit, I have tried using the one that came with my original kit, but i haven't a clue how to use the dang thing......I have filled the little tube up halfway with wort the thing sinks to the bottom almost always, fille the tube to the top, thing now reads something different.....I brewed my first AG this past weekend, tried to take a reading to make sure I had enough sugars out, but again, my readings were all screwed up.....know how I figured I had enough sugars out, I had honey bees flying all over the garage......:D I am thinking about getting one of those $60 auto readers, but not sure if it is worth the money or not.......
 

El Pistolero

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GABrewboy said:
I must admit, I have tried using the one that came with my original kit, but i haven't a clue how to use the dang thing......I have filled the little tube up halfway with wort the thing sinks to the bottom almost always, fille the tube to the top, thing now reads something different.....I brewed my first AG this past weekend, tried to take a reading to make sure I had enough sugars out, but again, my readings were all screwed up.....know how I figured I had enough sugars out, I had honey bees flying all over the garage......:D I am thinking about getting one of those $60 auto readers, but not sure if it is worth the money or not.......
If you're pouring wort into your hydrometer, then it must be broken...it's supposed to be sealed at the top. Throw that one away. If you choose to get another, you read it by floating it in the wort.
 

Darth Konvel

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El Pistolero said:
If you're pouring wort into your hydrometer, then it must be broken...it's supposed to be sealed at the top. Throw that one away. If you choose to get another, you read it by floating it in the wort.
:confused: I think he's talking about the sample tube. If not, then it's certainly an issue :D

I usually have to fill my tube about 3/4's of the way full. You need enough liquid to make the hydrometer float.
 

GABrewboy

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Yes, I am talking about the sample tube!! Not in the glass hydrometer itself......:eek:
 

GABrewboy

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Hmmm......know what!! I just feel stupid now, cause when I took the reading the wort was at about 165.....so with the adjusted temp, the gravity was about 1.053 and the original should have been about 1.055......so I am about dead on......Not bad for first AG try.......:drunk:
 

robmee

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I think they suck.....:mad: . I always find a way to break those flimsy little hydrometers.
 

El Pistolero

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GABrewboy said:
Hmmm......know what!! I just feel stupid now, cause when I took the reading the wort was at about 165.....so with the adjusted temp, the gravity was about 1.053 and the original should have been about 1.055......so I am about dead on......Not bad for first AG try.......:drunk:
So you just did your first AG batch, and until just now you didn't know how to read an hydrometer? Proof positive, Janx is right! Throw out those hydrometers boys. :D :D
 

woodstone

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Wow. First tread I've read and really laughed my arse off...HARD! Lots of sensitive people here...chill out, it's a freakin hobby...do what works for you and enjoy! Janx, cheers, brother... :p ...! ...and down with HYDROS!
 

El Pistolero

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woodstone said:
Wow. First tread I've read and really laughed my arse off...HARD!
Well, either you're not going back far enough, or you're not drinking enough. :D :D
 

homebrewer_99

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Like I've said before...do whatever works for you.:D

Word of warning though, don't ask me a stupid question like "why are my bottles exploding?":drunk: :eek: ...chances are that if you used a hydrometer it would never happen to you.

I'm done with this thread.
 

God Emporer BillyBrew

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homebrewer_99 said:
Word of warning though, don't ask me a stupid question like "why are my bottles exploding?":drunk: :eek: ...chances are that if you used a hydrometer it would never happen to you.

I'm done with this thread.
Thanks for the warning, I won't! :)
 

GABrewboy

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Think I might just drop the $50 and get a refractometer.....or however you spell that thing.....:drunk: Those seem to be about mindless when reading the gravity!! Just what I need when brewing and drinking at the sametime.......:D
 

SWMBO

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Without taking hydrometer readings, you have no particular excuse to sample your beer.

'nuff said.
 
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