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Waste minimizing hydrometer strategy?

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Stormcrow

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Hey all!

Just joined the site, but have been like a fly on the wall here for awhile, and been thoroughly enjoying it. I'm still pretty new to brewing. Jumped right in with all-grain BIAB style in January and have just a few small batches under my belt. My batches have all been 3 gallons split between three one gallon carboys, which leads to my question.

I know the only real way to tell that fermentation is done is to take hydrometer samples two or three days in a row to see if the gravity is still dropping or not. That pulls a lot of beer out of small batches though. So I was wondering; why not pull a sample whenever activity seems to cease, save it in the hydrometer test tube covered with foil, and continue to test that one sample for several consecutive days? Wouldn't the beer continue to ferment in the tube if it wasn't all the way done? If so, would it be safe to assume that subsequent tube readings are a good indication of what is actually going on in the carboy?

It was just an idea I had. I would of course still test the larger batch prior to bottling to be sure it matched up. I've just never heard of anyone doing what I described above and was wondering if it was a viable strategy.

Look forward to hearing you all. Thanks
 

RPh_Guy

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Yes, that's basically the same as a Forced Fermentation Test (FFT), and it's a good way to confirm FG. You could also use a refractometer to compare the sample to the main batch, which only needs a couple drops for a reading.

Cheers and welcome to HBT!
 
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Stormcrow

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Yes, that's basically the same as a Forced Fermentation Test (FFT), and it's a good way to confirm FG. You could also use a refractometer to compare the sample to the main batch, which only needs a couple drops for a reading.

Cheers and welcome to HBT!
Awesome! Thanks and thanks
 

IslandLizard

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Just make sure your beer sample in the hydrometer jar doesn't get infected, or you'd be measuring a tainted reference. ;)

Glass hydrometer jars are probably the best suitable as they can be sanitized easier. You may have to stick it in, or on a heavier or wider footing to extend its life prognosis.

The acrylic ones with the wider, screwed on plastic base are hard to sanitize in a satisfactory way.
 

Day-Day

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I like the idea, and what others have said, but dependeing on how you are controlling fermentation temps, that small sample might not be the same temp as your larger fermenter, so they may not finish at the same pace. Just a thought.
 

BrewnWKopperKat

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I know the only real way to tell that fermentation is done is to take hydrometer samples two or three days in a row to see if the gravity is still dropping or not. That pulls a lot of beer out of small batches though
From a different perspective, consider hydrometer samples to be a "cost of doing business" (rather than a waste). Decide how many bottles of beer you want, scale the batch size to account for hydrometer samples, beer left behind during packaging, etc.
 

videojunkie1208

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In theory, you could just leave a sanitized hydrometer floating in your gallon jugs. I would wait until after the initall relatively violent fermentation is over though. Then you could literally watch the progress in real time.

Although a refractor uses just a few drops of liquid, and is nearly as accurate.
 

eric19312

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I think excessive sampling is common to new brewers. It is not necessary. It is probably harming your beer.

Start with not necessary:
- if you are brewing in glass carboy you will quickly learn to see visible signs the beer is done. The turbid hazy fermenting beer drops pretty clear with the yeast forming a firm layer on bottom of carboy. The clear beer might look like ice tea at this point.
- if you are fermenting in a bucket time is reasonable indicator. Just don't be in a hurry. If you are packaging your beer in kegs anything after 2 weeks is plenty of time for an ale and if you are bottling give it three weeks for extra margin of safety. But its ok to leave it in there for longer...4-5 weeks going to be just fine.
- It doesn't hurt to watch the airlock for signs of activity but would not rely on that since airlocks can be fussy and lack of bubbles might mean it is just not seated properly.

- Caution...These techniques will probably not work if your beer is contaminated by wild yeast or bacteria. In that case you may get delayed fermentation from the contamination. The three days in a row technique may also not work for contaminated beer. Avoid contamination. As a new brewer if you are bottling store the bottles in boxes in the basement or garage away from people and pets.

Moving on to "may be harmful"
- every time you open your fermentor to get a sample you risk exposure to oxygen and contamination. Assuming you have a spigot (most people doing excessive testing are doing it in part because they have a spigot) risk of oxygen is pretty low but unless it is a sanitary sample valve it will be impossible to keep it clean after the first sample is taken. If you sample 2-4 times by time you go to transfer the beer to your bottling bucket you will be pulling it through a nasty contaminated spigot.
- on other hand if you don't have a port and are going through the top by opening fermentor up and getting a sample with a siphon or wine thief you are both risking contamination of the batch and exposing the now fermented beer to oxygen. Don't do that. Much better to let the beer stay safely sealed up in the fermentor for a few extra days and then package than to get in there multiple times mixing in oxygen and likely contamination.

Finally as you mentioned...all that sampling was a waste of beer. To that point I agree with building your recipe to provide for any sampling you do intend to do. I'd also mention that an inexpensive refractometer combined with a refractometer correction calculator (plenty free ones online) should be sufficient for your sampling purposes. But really your beer will be better once you learn to leave it alone and protect it from the bigger evils of contamination and oxygen.
 

Jim R

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But really your beer will be better once you learn to leave it alone and protect it from the bigger evils of contamination and oxygen.

Best answer of all. Just leave it alone and let it ferment and mature longer. It will only get better with time. One option is to just brew another batch so they are staggered so there is no need or temptation to hurry the process.
 

jrgtr42

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In theory, you could just leave a sanitized hydrometer floating in your gallon jugs. I would wait until after the initall relatively violent fermentation is over though. Then you could literally watch the progress in real time.

Although a refractor uses just a few drops of liquid, and is nearly as accurate.
That's what I do - or used to do.
I'd measure the OG at the beginning, then 2 or 3 days before bottling, I wuld sanitize the hydrometer, and toss it in. I would leave it there for those few days (sealing the lid back) and read it again on bottling day.
Now with a refractometer I don't - I doubled up the measurements the first few times, and since they were spot on identical when corrected, I don't usually bother with the hydrometer anymore.
 

ncbrewer

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Although fermentation is almost always finished after a week, I've had three that were slow, with two of them going over a month. Because of the safety aspect, I check gravity twice to be sure it's stable. I wouldn't trust a test cylinder to ferment at the same rate. Since you're concerned about wasting beer, I think a refractometer is your best bet, and sampling three days apart would be a good guideline.
 

BrewnWKopperKat

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In theory, you could just leave a sanitized hydrometer floating in your gallon jugs. I would wait until after the initall relatively violent fermentation is over though. Then you could literally watch the progress in real time.
Is there a combination of one gallon fermentors and hydrometers where this works?

The common one gallon carboy from many home brew stores (NB, MoreBeer) isn't tall enough to float a standard hydrometer.
 

IslandLizard

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In theory, you could just leave a sanitized hydrometer floating in your gallon jugs. I would wait until after the initall relatively violent fermentation is over though. Then you could literally watch the progress in real time.

Although a refractor uses just a few drops of liquid, and is nearly as accurate.
There's still the potential issue of krausen caking on and measuring gravity of carbonated beer.
The common one gallon carboy from many home brew stores (NB, MoreBeer) isn't tall enough to float a standard hydrometer.
They're not even big enough to ferment a 1 gallon batch while leaving any headspace.
 

Alex4mula

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Best answer of all. Just leave it alone and let it ferment and mature longer. It will only get better with time. One option is to just brew another batch so they are staggered so there is no need or temptation to hurry the process.
I agree with this and that excessive sampling is common to new brewers. I used to open my carboys for samples after 7-10 days. But for people that bottle I guess I would want to know quicker when I can move to the next step. But yes, if you have multiple batches you can just ignore sampling. All the 40 beers I have done have been ready for sure anytime at week three. But then I'm lucky that I can keg. I wouldn't be a brewer if I have to bottle. Once in fermenter I don't care to take sample until it is in keg ready to carb. And even then I only take it to calculate ABV for the friends that drink it. Having said all this I think if I was OP then I would just use the refractometer and adjustment calculator. And yes I personally think brewing one gallon sucks big time. But splitting a 3 gallon brew is a different story. Just strategy.
 

BrewnWKopperKat

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They're not even big enough to ferment a 1 gallon batch while leaving any headspace.
Yup - my 1 gal carboys are around 120 oz at the "fill line" - the bottom of the raised "One Gallon" lettering. Subtract trub, hydrometer samples (3 oz for a finishing hydrometer), and beer left in the bottom of the bucket or in the siphon (5-ish oz) and I get a six pack + a bottle or two every time.

1 gal carboys also work really well for storing Star San.
 

SanPancho

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You can buy a regular hydrometer that’s short. Got mine from Fischer scientific. Maybe 6-8 inches.

fewer samples is good advice
 

SanPancho

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If the jug is full it’ll float. But I bought them long ago. Cant help you there unfortunately. Broke one. The other? Don’t see it with all my brew crap.

you can probably just go to Fischer or other lab gear site and browse the selection. That’s how I found them. Might have been called “compact” or something, but I don’t recall.
If I find it I’ll post back.
 
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Stormcrow

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Thanks everyone for the feedback. It was exciting to see so many respond to my first post.

To this point, I've only been drawing two samples; one on brew day, and another 2-3 weeks later before I bottle, just to make sure I'm within a point of the expected FG. I was scared that was too sloppy though and thought the idea I started the post with would allow me to get multiple reasons for thoroughness' sake while still only taking that one late sample.

As far as one gallon carboys go, I love the ability to split batches, especially as a beginner. I've been able to do something a little different to each gallon and learn a lot. Experimentation is half the fun. I actually had .2 oz of fuggle hops added to one fermenter completely transform a beer and make it way better than it's siblings.

I definitely plan to brew larger batches in larger carboys once a get a few recipes dialed in.

Look forward to interacting more on the site. Thanks again everyone.
 

InspectorJon

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Another consideration is the size of the sampling jar. I use a 100 ML graduated cylinder so it does not use up so much beer. The primary drawback is that it will not float a standard hydrometer if the liquid goes below 1.04 or so. Not good for cider.
 
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Stormcrow

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Although fermentation is almost always finished after a week, I've had three that were slow, with two of them going over a month. Because of the safety aspect, I check gravity twice to be sure it's stable. I wouldn't trust a test cylinder to ferment at the same rate. Since you're concerned about wasting beer, I think a refractometer is your best bet, and sampling three days apart would be a good guideline.
Yep. A refractometer is definitely on my wish list.
 

joneyelik1996

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your beer will be better once you learn to leave it alone and protect it from the bigger evils of contamination and oxygen.
 

Special Hops

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Best answer of all. Just leave it alone and let it ferment and mature longer. It will only get better with time. One option is to just brew another batch so they are staggered so there is no need or temptation to hurry the process.
Yep - Haven't used a hydrometer in years. The last time I broke one, I said F it. I have a refractometer that I use on brew day to check my OG. Then once it's in the frementor I don't touch it. I let it go 2 weeks and then I keg it. Always seems to be done.
 

BrewnWKopperKat

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Next question would be: Can one read it through the trub that often appears at the top stuff that often sticks on the side of the carboy?
 
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VikeMan

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Next question would be: Can one read it through the trub that often appears at the top of the carboy?
That's krausen (not trub) that appears at the top of the carboy, and no, you can't read a hydrometer when it's present. Even if you could, it wouldn't be accurate with the krausen present.
 

BrewnWKopperKat

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no, you can't read a hydrometer when it's present. Even if you could, i
Currently, I don't see how one could read the hydrometer through all the stuff that's stuck on the side of the carboy.

Others may have an approach that works.
 
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