If you’re new to homebrewing (and allow me to say: good choice in hobby!), you may have heard that brewing is both an art and a science.

Well, in today’s article, I’ll be talking mostly about the science aspect of brewing, more specifically, the critical task of measuring your homebrew.

Let’s get started and I promise, I’ll keep the math to a minimum!

Why Measure?

Science is concerned with measurement partly because guessing and shooting from the hip, while fun, don’t guarantee consistent results. Brewing beer is no different. If you want to improve your brewing technique, and consequently your beer, you are going to have to measure certain aspects of your beer, from brew day to eventual bottling.

Fortunately, measuring need not be a pain.

As it turns out, with a few simple and relatively inexpensive tools, you can become a homebrew measurement guru!

Basic Measurement #1: Weights

It might seem obvious, but when measuring out your ingredients (i.e. grains, Dried Malt Extract, hops, etc), it is important to carefully weigh them.

Using colloquial measures such as cups, teaspoons, and so on won’t do. 

Instead, invest in a good quality scale (preferably a digital one) and use it often. Not only will you see your beer improve, but it will help in creating more consistent repetitions of your homebrews. You are brewing the same beer twice, right?

Make sure to use your scale to measure not only the primary ingredients of your brew, but other important items, like the amount of priming sugar you’ll be using when bottling.

 

Basic Measurement #2: Temperature

Apart from weighing ingredients, you will often need to know the exact temperature of your wort along various stages of the brewing process. Therefore, invest in a good thermometer. Good ones to look at are digital probes or the classic: an alcohol filled glass thermometer (just watch out for breakages).

 There’s no need to break the bank though. So avoid the overly expensive (and not really very useful) infra-red varieties.

 What to measure:

 Hot Side

  • If you’re using extracts with specialty grains: Measure the temperature of your wort as you steep specialty grains. You’ll be aiming for 60 degrees Celsius (140 F) for around 30 minutes.
  • For all-grain brewing, you’ll need to measure your initial strike temperature (usually around 71-72 degrees C / 149-51 F in BIAB), as well as the eventual mash temperature once you’ve added your grains (depending on the style, somewhere between 64-68 degrees C / 147-154 F).
  • In the boil, it might be a good idea to measure the actual boiling point of your wort. This is not always the same, since your altitude above sea level can have a profound effect. This measurement will tell you a lot about potential hop utilization and other effects of the rolling boil.

 Cold Side

  • When re-hydrating yeast (if you use dry yeast), measure the rehydration water temperature to ensure that when you pitch the yeast, it is no more than 5 degrees C (or 41 F) different from the chilled wort, thus avoiding yeast shock.
  • Speaking of which, a thermometer is essential to check if your wort is sufficiently cooled (around 19-25 degrees C / 66-77 F) to allow for healthy yeast growth.
  • During fermentation, temperature readings can tell you a lot about the likely outcome of your beer. Ales do well to ferment at a steady temperature range between 16-22 degrees Celsius (60-71 F), while lagers require lower temperatures, between 4-16 degrees Celsius (39-60F).
  • If you’re going to force carbonate your beer when kegging, you want to ensure that the beer is at an ideal 5 degrees Celsius (41 F) to allow for optimal uptake of CO2.

 

 

Basic Measurement #3: Gravity

The gravity of beer refers to the density of the liquid. It’s important because it tells you something about the number of sugars (and other substances) dissolved in the wort, and eventually, how your fermentation has progressed (and consequently, whether it’s ready to be bottled or kegged).

That sounds complicated, but fortunately, there are several easy-to-use devices that will help you. The cheapest option is the old reliable glass hydrometer. A far more expensive but pretty cool and sci-fi-esque solution is to invest in a refractometer (see the image above).

Whichever one you go with, the principles remain the same. It’s important to make sure that you know the specific gravity of your wort or beer in order to ensure that you actually end up making the kind of beer you intended when starting out.

 What to measure:

 Hot Side

  •  If you’re brewing using extract + specialty grains, you’ll be measuring your SG or starting gravity once you’ve finished the boil. Note that hydrometers are often calibrated to measure at a specific temperature (e.g. 22 degrees C), so you’ll have to either cool down the sample to that temperature or adjust the reading using one of many online calculators available. Refractometers are less worried about temperature, and you only need a couple of drops for them to take a reading.
  • The SG of your beer will be used, among other things, to calculate its eventual alcohol content, but is also vital for other calculations, such as determining bitterness ratio (read more on this one here and see our calculator here).
  • For all-grain brewers, measuring the specific gravity of wort becomes even more important. You’ll be measuring your mash gravity, also known as the pre-boil gravity to see if you’ve extracted the correct amount of sugars from the grains. If not, you can always use a correction calculator to fix things.

    In addition, you’ll also be measuring the starting gravity post-boil, just like extract brewers.

Final Thoughts

So, at the end of all this talk about measuring and numbers, I hope you can tell that you really only need three devices (and measures) to ensure that your homebrew will turn out better than expected: A thermometer, a scale and a hydrometer.

Everything else is optional or (probably) overkill.

Now go brew!

 

2 Comments

  1. Hermann

    Thanks Marcel, it is another great article as usual!!
    I have loaded your Almost Summer APA recipe into Beersmith and noticed that my IBU is higher than yours. I asumed that it is because I’m only 12m above sea level and therefore my hop utilisation is higher. I have adjusted my bittering hops addition by 2 grams and now it looks better. Do I also need to adjust the rest of the hop additions or can I leave it as is?

    Reply
    • Harper

      Hi there Hemann. Thanks for the kind words! Yes, sea level and boiling point (if you entered that into your profile in BeerSmith) will certainly affect hop utilization. There’s about a 5-6 degrees difference in boiling point between where my recipe was created and where you live!

      The other hop additions are less important to adjust, because they contribute far less to the flavor. Try hitting the bitterness ratio however, but remember you can do that by adding a bit of additional malt as well, thus preserving the hop flavors. Let me know how it turns out!

      Reply

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