Brewing beer at home can be very simple if you need it to be, but it can also get highly complex as well.
The range of difficulty varies from following easy to use instruction as seen on brewers extract kits to creating delicate recopies that are fined-tuned in an effort to produce high quality beer.
Either way, there is plenty of lab equipment that is used to reach the desired levels of accuracy for repeated brews. This can cost as little as $15 to even hundreds of dollars for highly-technical equipment. One of the devices commonly seen in a home brewers lab, however, is the pH meter.
What is a pH Meter
A pH meter is used to measure how acidic or basic a solution is.
There are essentially two types of pH meters — one is the handheld one, while the other is designed to sit on any work surface.
Once the beer or wort cools down to room temperature, a small sample is taken and the pH levels are then measured. There are accurate reading pH meters available that display a single temperature reading (often 60° F) and others that display a range compensating for temperatures automatically. There are also temperature-compensating models as well but even for these devices, the wort has to be cooled down to get an accurate measurement.
If the pH meter is used at high temperatures the electrodes inside the meters burn out instantly. Therefore to save constant replacement of the electrodes wear and tear, ensure that the wort is cooled down before measuring the pH levels.
Some popular pH meters available on Amazon
VANTAKOOL Digital PH Meter
Prime features include a measuring range of 0.00-14.00 pH, a resolution of 0.01 pH, an accuracy level of 0.01 pH, Batteries in 2X 1.5V LR44, Automatic temperature compensation (ATC) of 0-50℃(32-122℉). The device is pocket size and comes with a plastic container box for storage. The backlit display makes reading easy and the ATC adjusts well giving accurate readings.
pH Electrode with BNC / Combined Electrode
The pH electrode comes in a glass body which is refillable and thus ideal for home brewing. The pH electrode is attached with a BNC connector along with a Low-Noise Coaxial Cable. The response time of the device is less than 10 seconds from pH 7 to pH 4.01. The glass membrane impedance is less that 200 M at a temperature point of 25 C. The device can be pressurized upto 87 psi and the pH range is from 0 to 14.00 pH.
Hanna Instruments HI 98103B Beer pH Tester, with Replaceable Electrode
This handheld pH meter is equipped with a two-point calibration that has a replaceable electrode and also a LCD display screen. With HI 98103B you will be able to measure readings from 0.00 to 14.00 pH. The resolution of the device is 0.01 pH and can operate between 0 to 50 degrees. The meter weighs 50 g (1.8 oz.) and its dimensions are 66 x 50 x 25 mm/2.6 x 2.0 x 1.0 inches
Milwaukee Instruments pH55 Waterproof pH Tester
For those home brewers looking for a simple to use pH reader, the pH55 Waterproof pH Tester is the one to buy. It is easy to configure and use. The range of the cooler is from -2.0 to 16.0 pH and it has the capability to display temperature ranging from -5.0 to 105.0 (Celsius). The device automatically calibrates and also a stability indicator.
The range of the device is 0.0 to 14.0 pH. And not only does it have auto buffer recognition, it is also economically priced. What’s more, the EcoTestr pH2 is waterproof and designed to float on water or liquid.
- To get accurate meter readings from your pH meter, it is also essential that the meter is kept clean and free from scratches of any kind.
- The meter should be stored in an electrode solution when not in use.
- The meter’s electrodes must be properly immersed in the liquid for accurate readings.
- It is also important that the electrode is rinsed with water and is swirled around in the solution to quickly test it before taking a reading.
Proper Use of a pH Meter
The pH meter is used multiple times during the brewing session as at different stages of the process it is vital to note temperatures to be able to replicate brews.
The pH meter is calibrated using three solutions — buffers of pH 4,7 and 10 are commonly used. For brewing pH 4 and pH7 buffers are recommended. pH meters are highly recommended for all-grain brews especially if you are using hard water.
- To begin with, the pH of the mash is noted— this should ideally be in the range of pH 5.2 to 5.4. If the pH of the mash is high, this can be adjusted by adding acid or calcium sulphate.
- The pH meter is also used during the final runnings. At this stage, if the pH exceeds 6.0, it is advised to stop sparging as this increases the risk of extracting tannins.
- pH of the wort is also taken. This should ideally be in the range 5.0 to 5.5. If the pH level of the wort is on the higher side it can lead to a harsh hop bitterness. High pH levels at this stage can be adjusted with acid.
- The pH of the finished beer must also be taken as this will give you an idea of how ‘lively’ the beer is. If the pH reading at this stage is high, the beer will taste lackluster. 4.0 to 4.6 is the ideal range of most finished beers.
pH Meter Buying Guide
pH meters are available in a variety of models and features with price tags ranging from $50 to $500. So first determine how much you are willing to spend on a pH meter. Then ask yourself what type of meter will best suit your needs.
pH meter are essentially an extension of volt meters which are used to measure the electricity, using a special pH probe. The quality of the amplifier and the analog digital converter determine the device’s quality and precision.
The probe is also available in a variety of quantities and is an important element to the devices accuracy. The average shelf life of a probe is between 2-3 years (due to wear and tear in usage, it must be replaced every couple of years).
Ph meters are available in three forms– pen-style, hand held and surface top devices. Among the three, surface top devices are said to be the most accurate, However, these are also the least mobile and also the most expensive of the lot.
A few vitals that you must look for in the specs and features are
For brewing, the least number of units that must be available must be +/1 0.01 .. 0.02 pH units. This range is ideal as you will be able to comfortably test mash pH and also be able to detect rising pH in the beer which can be a sign of autolysis. Some meters limit the levels to +/- 0.1 which is far less for brewing purposes. You can use these levels to test out mash pH.
Calibration is available in two concepts, manual and automatic. For manual calibration, after the probe is placed in the appropriate calibration buffer, two knobs need to be adjusted — one for the offset at 7.00 pH and the other for the slope at ph 4.00 or 10.00.
In the automatic calibration, the meter does this for you, and even highlights the buffer to place the probe in. Some devices even recognize the buffers by themselves.
pH probe connection
BNC connections is the standard for connecting pH probes. These probes need to be available and ideally should not be tied down to a specific connectors design.
Mv readout is essential to measure the age of the pH meter. Most entry level meters do not have this feature but it sure does come handy.
In the price range of $50 to $ 100 you can get yourself a decent pH meter that is suitable for brewing. That being said, there are other meters above these price range as well.
How to use a pH Meter for Brewing
Start by switching the device on using the power button (You will have to wait a few seconds before the meter switches on).
As the device switches on, it will display a pH reading. To use the meter simply insert the device in your solution and the device will do the rest.
If at any stage in the process, you need to measure the brew again, the pH meter will need to be inserted back into its cap and the electrode rinsed as there would be residue on the electrode from the previous reading.
The electrode needs to be rinsed in the DI water thoroughly especially around the areas where the electrode made contact with your brew.
Once rinsed, the device needs to be wiped with a soft tissue. Then insert it back into the cap, ensuring that the cover has a pH7 buffer solution in it to calibrate the pH device.
If your device has a 2 point calibration, they can calibrate using a 4.01 and 7.00 pH. For devices with a 1 point calibration, you need to use the 7.0 calibration.
One you turn on the device, you will have to soak it into the 7.0 solution and let it soak in the solution until the pH on the device settles down. As your reading on the marker reaches or nears 7.0 pH, you will need to calibrate your device.
In most devices, this is done by holding the temp cal button that starts the calibration process. The buttons needs to be held pressed for around five seconds before it automatically selects a pH7.0 if you reading is close to that number. The device usually flashes the letters ‘CAL’ which means that it is in the calibrating process.
Rinse it off and then calibrate it to pH 4.0 by placing the device into the appropriate solution. Calibration is required every other week to ensure that the devices stay accurate.
Other Essential Beer Brewing Tools
The pH meter is an important tool commonly used by home brewers mainly to achieve the right accuracy levels needed to replicate the taste of beer. In addition to pH meters, there are also other devices used such as the hydrometer which is essential in measuring the density of a solution.
A thermometer is another device used to gather the temperature of each mash.
A brewing notebook is used to maintain test results and experiments without which all the other lab equipment is useless. The notebook also help keep a log of modifications, procedures and errors.
Serious brewers also use iodine and test plates to detect the presence of starch in a solution which is done by dropping a dropper full of iodine into a test plate.
In addition to this, most brewers also use a kitchen scale, especially when brewing in bulk avoiding re-weighing each time. A microscope and a Hemacytometer is also used mainly to look at objects and get a count of elements that cannot be seen by the naked eye such as individual yeast cells, amount of bacteria in the wort of beer, etc.
The success of a good brew is largely dependent on several key biochemical processes that produce or consume compounds that have an impact on the profile, taste as well alcohol content.
The pH meter is thus an essential piece of equipment for any serious home brewer.