Refractometers for brewing – Buying guide & Comparison
If you don’t have the time to consult all the brewing refractometers reviews out there but are still interested in receiving a suggestion for a good product that should fit your sugar measuring needs, then the following paragraph should prove helpful. We found that the Brew Tapper BT-DS-REFRACT received a lot of positive feedback from expert reviewers and satisfied owners alike because of its remarkable ease of use offered by the ample manufacturer’s instructions and specialized tools it comes with, as well as its automatic temperature compensation capabilities. It also shows two scales, both for Brix and Specific Gravity, so you won’t have to bother with online converters. Another thing often noted about this product was its high durability and resilience. If the Brew Tapper product is unavailable, then the Ade Advanced Optics BCBI177 will prove a reliable alternative.
Home brewing of beer, wine, and even mead is becoming more and more widespread hobby by the day. As a result, there is a greater number of available hand held refractometers on the market than ever before and buying one might prove a chore if we are unfamiliar with what to look for. Below, we outlined a few features that specialists seem to believe make the difference when selecting for the best brewing refractometer.
Ease of use and convenience
The main reason people buy refractometers is to replace a wasteful hydrometer, which usually requires a “sample” of a quarter of a gallon of pre-fermenting drink in order to work, which you will have to draw and place in a specialized glass receptacle with a notoriously fragile glass ball floating on top.
Meanwhile, the refractometer only requires a pipette or draw straw, a couple of milliliters or less of your brew as a sample and some natural light, all while being the size of a regular flashlight.
Initial calibrations are almost always required, but these can be done away with in less than a minute by following the manufacturer’s instructions in regards to the test sample necessary (if not a widely available product, then most usually delivered in the package) and turning on a specialized screw with a Philips driver that also usually comes with the package.
A well accessorized initial purchase is somewhat of a mark of quality, so we advise you look for this when buying. Another thing to consider convenience-wise is the automatic temperature calibration feature.
Since they effectively work by measuring density, a the accuracy of a refractometer is affected by changes in outside temperature, for which there is a need to compensate. You can do this manually for maximum precision, but an automatic correction function will spare you a lot of tinkering. In fact, it’s convenient enough that most owners recommend it as the first thing to look for when deciding on a product.
Most good refractometers for brewing will show you values for two scales that are most relevant for the task: Brix and Specific Gravity. These are of course interchangeable and can be calculated from one another via specialized software, but getting a quick result is always preferable to having to use a computer.
Brix basically tells you the sugar content of your wort. The relevant ranges for brewing are usually between 0 and 32% with an accuracy of around 0.20% for good refractometers. Since when the sugar content drops it is generally replaced by alcohol, that has a different density, a the accuracy of the refractometer will drop as the value gets closer to zero, and it is recommended to use online adjustment calculators when this becomes the case.
Same thing goes for Specific Gravity, but room temperature and fermentation aren’t the only factors to affect the accuracy of a refractometer
The casing of a refractometer is meant to serve a dual purpose, to protect the sensitive optics inside and to assure adequate heat transfer to the sample in order to maintain accuracy.
The front part is supposed to be highly conductive so that the prism and the sample are both at the same temperature for optimum adjustment and accuracy. Aluminum or copper are used as materials for this, with both offering similar performance in regards to temperature regulation but copper having a significant advantage when it comes to resilience.
Your hand is a constant source of unwanted heat for the unit, so the part the part that makes contact with it should be appropriately insulated. The “handle” part is usually made of special insulating plastic or rubber, with the last one being a slightly preferable solution since it offers a better, more comfortable grip and natural insulating qualities.
Top brewing refractometers reviews in 2017
Taking all the above factors into account, we consulted dozens and dozens of consumer reports and expert reviews for a top pick of the products we considered to be the most suitable brew refractometers for home use. We hope you’ll find our recommendations useful.
Brew Tapper BT-DS-REFRACT
This Brew Tapper product has everything a modern brewer would expect from a household refractometer, and it all comes in a durable and resilient package. It can take Brix readings from 0 to 32 %, and it also has a scale for Specific Gravity that goes from 1000 all the way to 1130, so you won’t have to use a notepad and calculator to make this value out.
The automatic temperature adjustment will provide great convenience, sparing you from making any other regular calibrations than what is required upon the product arriving. Most owners found these initial adjustments extremely easy to make since the manual offers ample guidance and the product comes with its own dedicated Philips head screwdriver.
Users also appreciated it’s sturdiness, offered by the thick aluminum construction, which also makes good heat conducting properties and light weight, as well as the tough rubber handle, that ensures good grip and insulation.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($28.99)
Ade Advanced Optics BCBI177
A lot of the praise this Ade Advanced Optics model gets from satisfied owners relate to its accuracy. It’s been tested multiple times against hydrometers for specific gravity readings, and it usually came within 0,1% of the reading shown by the former.
This is far better than most of us will need, and the product also offers all the convenience of a dedicated brew refractometer.
If it needs an initial adjustment, you can use something as common as distilled water for the task, since it’s Brix meter goes all the way to zero, and be ready to take accurate measurements in a little more than a minute.
Since it features automatic temperature compensation, this will likely be the last calibration you will have to make, unless dropping it on the ground or exposing it to frost.
It also comes with all regular accessories, meaning a manual, a screwdriver, special wipes for its lenses and a pipette.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($27.99)
Aqueous Lab COMINHKPR124469
One of the features talked about concerning this US-made product is its focusable lens, which users find to come in handy for minute optic adjustments to increase the clarity of the display. Since the markers tend to be fairly condensed on a refractometer, the precision of your own reading can have an effect on overall accuracy, so good clarity is an important thing to have in such a tool.
It’s Brix scale goes from 0 to 32%, 0 being the distilled water you’ll be using to make the initial adjustment while 30 will be enough to know that the juniper berry juice you’re looking at is concentrated enough to sign in a contest.
For specific gravity, measurements range between 1000 and 1120, which is all you’ll ever need for testing unfermented wort.
It also offers the usual convenience feature of automatic temperature adjustment, and it comes in a hard box for proper storage.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($21.99)
Most owners were pleased to note that this iTavah product came ready calibrated and fit for use straight out of the box. Its surprisingly good accuracy when testing for Specific Gravity was also very well appreciated, this device consistently coming to the same results as a hydrometer in repeated tests.
The error range when measuring Brix, as specified by the manufacturer, is only 0,2%, which makes the COMINHK121676 on par with the best products on the market. Same value for Specific Gravity measurements is equally good, between 0,001 and 0,002 on a range of 1000 to 1130.
Of course, the automatic temperature compensation is there — so you’ll only have to tweak it in extraordinary circumstances — together with all the usual accessories for your convenience: a precision calibration screwdriver, a 3ml pipette for samples, lens cleaning cloth, a user guide and a rigid carrying box.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($30.95)
The Happybrew RSG-100ATC is yet another well-appreciated refractometer that “works as advertised” and received “no complaints”.
It’s easy to use and maintain, durable enough to handle a fall thanks to its rubber upper part, convenient since it performs corrections for temperature automatically (from 10 to 30 Celsius), and it comes with everything you will require to operate it — a pipette, a Philips head screwdriver, and a protective case.
The only thing lacking is a cleaning cloth, but the task of keeping the lens clear can easily be fulfilled by a fine cloth or even napkin you have lying around the house. A deerskin wipe for reading glasses will work best although it might cost you a couple of dollars at the local store.
Speaking of cost, the RSG-100ATC can usually be purchased a little cheaper than other products that offer the same functionality, which may be a selling point for the more stingy brewer.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($28.99)