Utilizing a Refractometer

Refractometer Fundamentals

I’ve an in depth article on refractometers and how they operate here. The brief model is refractometer can be utilized to switch your hydrometer and take correct gravity readings of each unfermented and fermented wort. They work by shining mild via a prism and measuring the refractive index of a small pattern of wort or beer, which you’ll then use to find out the precise gravity.

In sensible use, a refractometer may be very easy. First you callibrate (see beneath). Subsequent, you usually clear the glass slide off after which put a couple of drops of wort on the slide after which shut the duvet. Subsequent you maintain it as much as a lightweight supply and skim the measurement from the dimensions. Most trendy brewing refractometers have a twin scale displaying each particular gravity and brix. Since brix is equal to plato to over three decimal locations, you possibly can safely assume the brix scale is identical as levels plato. I favor to work in brix/plato with my refractometer, remembering to multiply by 4 factors and add 1.000 to get the quantity in particular gravity. For instance 12 plato is four×12=48 factors or 1.048 SG.

Nonetheless, since virtually all refractometers are calibrated to measure sugar in water and never maltose (the sugar beer is constructed from), a small adjustment of usually four% have to be made to unfermented wort gravity readings. There’s a calibration course of (beneath) that offers you a really correct quantity to make use of right here.

Fermented wort has a excessive share of alcohol which adjustments the equation used to find out the gravity considerably, so a unique calculation have to be used for fermented wort, and I strongly suggest utilizing a software like BeerSmith in your fermented readings because the uncooked SG or plato quantity you get from the refractometer won’t be correct.


Earlier than you calibrate your refractometer you wish to set visible focus. Most refractometers have an eyepiece that rotates and also you merely flip it till the dimensions of the refractometer is in focus as you maintain it as much as a lightweight.

Precise calibration of a refractometer is a two step course of. In step one you utilize distilled or deionized water to set the “zero” level for the machine. Distilled water ought to learn zero brix/plato or 1.000 SG. Most trendy refractometers have a knob or screw on prime of the machine to regulate the zero. In the event you don’t have a knob, you possibly can go to the refractometer software in BeerSmith and click on on the calibration button and enter your zero studying and BeerSmith will apply that offset to future readings to compensate in your slight offset.

The second step is to combine a small quantity of wort – say 2 ouncesof dry malt extract in eight ouncesof water after which take measurements of this pattern with each a superb hydrometer and in addition your refractometer. These may be entered into the BeerSmith refractometer calibration dialog (click on calibrate from inside Instruments->Refractometer) to find out your “brix correction issue”. Usually this quantity is round 1.04, which implies that the uncooked studying from the refractometer is adjusted down about four% to compensate for the truth that you might be measuring maltose and never desk sugar in your unfermented measurements. After you have the zero set and in addition the brix correction issue set you might be able to take readings.

Measuring Unfermented Wort Gravity

Measuring unfermented wort gravity is the simplest. You merely put a couple of drops on the clear slide, shut the slide cowl and maintain it as much as a lightweight. The uncooked authentic gravity studying you get might be near the precise worth (usually round four% too excessive) and also you want solely enter that uncooked worth into the Instruments->Refractometer view utilizing Unferemented Wort Gravity because the calculation setting and you’re going to get the corrected gravity with the correct brix adjustment issue from our calibration.

Fermenting or Fermented Wort Gravity

Due to the presence of alcohol which alters the refractive index of the beer, each fermenting and fermented uncooked readings out of your refractometer can’t be used instantly. That you must enter the uncooked values into the Instruments->Refractometer view utilizing the Fermenting Wort Gravity calculation setting to get an correct studying. Notice that this software requires each a present refractometer studying and in addition an authentic gravity studying – taken earlier than you fermented your wort. So should you use a refractometer its essential that you simply document your OG earlier than pitching yeast.

Enter the present refractometer studying and in addition your recorded authentic gravity studying into the software, and you’re going to get the corrected gravity studying and in addition ABV and ABW. You should utilize this software on each “in progress” fermentation and in addition for measuring Closing Gravity.

Authentic Gravity of Completed Beer

BeerSmith additionally has a further calculation labeled Authentic Gravity of Completed Beer. This software, although extra not often used, can be utilized to backtrack the unique gravtiy of a beer based mostly on a last refractometer and last hydrometer studying. Mainly this system calculates the quantity of alcohol based mostly on the distinction between the refractometer and hydrometer studying and makes use of that to estimate the OG of the beer. To make use of this setting simply take a refractometer and hydrometer studying of your fermented beer, and enter them within the refractometer software.


Build a DIY Recirculating Infusion Mash System (RIMS)

I recently had a chance to brew with the professionals at a local brewery. They were brewing on a SABCO Brew-Magic (15 gallon) system that they use for their weekly small batch releases. The brewer explained the components and how they all worked together. The wort would circulate throughout the mash process and that the temperature would be kept constant by an electric heater that was in the circulation loop. And, the re-circulation helped with the efficiency and the clarity of the wort. The price tag for a system like this is way out of my price range, so buying one was not an option. It didn’t take long for me to start putting ideas together to build my own RIMS. My quest began to put something together that I could build cheaply and maybe upgrade over time. So, a low cost system (that was modular) is what I set out to build.

There is already a bunch of nice, well thought out, designs out on the web. But, many were not cheap to build. The biggest expense was going to be the pump. I lucked out, I already had a 1200 GPH pump that I bought for a Koi pond and it wasn’t being used anymore. Yes, I cleaned the crap out of it, literally. Next, all those stainless steel pipes and fittings were $10-15+ each, times 10 or more. It was adding up fast. So, I chose PVC for a bunch of the parts. It was cheap. And, I again had a bunch of parts lying around in the garage from other projects. I bought the rest of the parts I needed from my local homebrew shop and some online sites. Many of the parts were cheaper online and I had free two day shipping from an unnamed mega-site. My total cost was under $100. You can add a pump for another $100-$150, or less if you can find a really good deal. The extra parts I already had amounted to about $50. So, if you had to buy everything and did your shopping around, everything should cost under $300.

To clean the RIMS, I get a few gallons of PBW solution in a bottling bucket and connect it to the pump input and just pump it through the system and back up to the bucket. I let it run for about 20 minutes to a half hour. I’ll switch out the PBW with some sanitized to get it squeaky clean.

The system works great. Nice clean beer and my efficiency is up almost 5%. After using the system a several times, I decided that I will eventually end up replacing the PVC parts for the heat chamber with stainless steel parts. It works fine, but it will stay clean and last a lot longer.


Safety First


This system is being used around water and hot wort. Accidents can and will happen. Don’t shortcut the safety of the electrical. If you don’t know how to do this, let some who does take care of the electrical work or save up and buy one.

Modular design
I wanted to make my setup modular and compact. Something I could build into a portable carry case.

Use the temperature controller for more than just controlling re-circulation temperatures.

Use the pump for more than just re-circulation during mashing.

Project and electrical boxes for containing, controlling and switching things.

I set up my temperature controller with multiple switches to turn on and off the pump and heater. The power outputs from the controller box are wired to a standard A/C outlet within the covered box. So, the pump goes into the pump outlet and the heater goes into a heater outlet. I accomplished by breaking the hot power contact on the outlet and wiring them separately from the project box. Then, the switches will control whatever is plugged in to the outlets. This help to keep the equipment modular. Now, I can plug in a heat wrap and control the temperature in a fermenter or pump water and moving wort between pots and to the fermenter using the switches on the project box.

I went with hose clamp connections between the heating element and the pump, so they can be disconnected fairly easily. These will eventually be upgraded with some quick disconnects to make it even faster. I did not want to hard connect the temperature sensor to the heating chamber or the load on the heating element. By setting it up this way, I am able to plug in whatever load I wanted and move the temperature probe to wherever I needed it. For example, I can use the temperature controller for my heater wrap to control fermenter temperatures or just move the probe to measure temperature of grain, cooling wort, liquid in a hot liquor tank, etc.

I decided to keep as much electrical as possible isolated. The main power plug to the unit plugs into the wall outlet. The heater and the pump will plug into the appropriate outlet in the covered box on the left. All of it is wired through the GFCI outlet.

The liquid from the mash tun will come down into the pump on the right. The flow can be controlled with the valve before it enters the heating chamber on the left, where it is heated and forced back up to the mash tun.



Parts List

  • 1   Hose Fitting, Adapter, 3/4″ NPT Male x 1/2″ Barbed
  • 1   Ball Valve Full Port 304 Stainless Steel w/Blue Vinyl Handle 2PC 2-PC
  • 3   AC 110-120V 3 Pin I/O Control SPST Rocker Switch
  • 2   Hose Fitting, Adapter, 1/2″ NPT Male x 3/8″ Barbed
  • 1   White SiliconeTubing, 3/8″ID, 1/2″OD, 1/16″ Wall, 10′ Length (I’d recommend using ½ inch ID to go back to the tun, it won’t kink as easily.)
  • 1   5500W 240V Screw-In Foldback Water Heater Element – High Watt Density
  • 1   2-1/2″ Thermowell Stainless Steel 304 – 1/2″ Male x 1/2″ Female
  • 1   Hammond 1591ESBK ABS Project Box Black
  • 1   Inkbird All-Purpose Digital Temperature Controller Thermostat w Sensor 2 Relays
  • 2   2″ PVC T
  • 1   2″ PVC Female X 2″ PVC adapter
  • 1   2″ PVC Male X 2″ PVC adapter
  • 3   2″ X 1 1/2″ PVC bushing
  • 3   1 1/2″ X 1/2″ Female PVC bushing
  • 1   1 1/2″ X 1″ Female PVC bushing
  • 1   2 gang outdoor outlet box for GFI
  • 1   GFI outlet
  • 1  Standard Outlet
  • 2   Outdoor A/C extension cords

Basic Build Steps

1. Build a Base

I built a base out of some scrap wood. It is basically an “L” shape, with parts connected to it for stability and transport, and a box to hold pump. The dimensions will probably be different for yours, depending on size of the pump. My base dimensions: 18” long x 8” high x 7” deep

2. Build the Heat Chamber and Connect the Pump

UpperTeeAssembly2a. Upper Tee Assembly:
Assembled the following parts using PVC cement and Teflon tape to complete the upper tee assembly.

  • 2” PVC Tee
  • 2″ PVC Male X 2″ PVC adaptor
  • 2” PVC Pipe (short length to join tee to the male adaptor)

2b. Hose End Adapters:

  • 2″ X 1 1/2″ PVC bushing
  • 1 1/2″ X 1/2″ Female PVC bushing
  • Hose Fitting Adapter, 1/2″ NPT Male x 3/8″ Barbed

2c. Temp Sensor and Adapters:

  • 2″ X 1 1/2″ PVC bushing
  • 1 1/2″ X 1/2″ Female PVC bushing
  • 2-1/2″ Thermowell SS – 1/2″ Male x 1/2″ Female

The heating element will thread through the outlet cover and into the 1″ PVC reducer in the Tee. Use Teflon tape or pipe joint compound to seal it! It is super important that this does not leak!!! You don’t want liquid getting into you electrical box.

LowerTeeAssembly2d. Lower Tee Assembly
Assembled the following parts using PVC cement and Teflon tape to complete the lower tee assembly:

  • 2” PVC Tee
  • 2″ PVC Female X 2″ PVC adaptor

2e. Hose End Adapters

  • 2″ X 1 1/2″ PVC bushing (2 of them)
  • 1 1/2″ X 1/2″ Female PVC bushing
  • Hose Fitting Adapter, 1/2″ NPT Male x 3/8″ Barbed

2f. Outlet Box and Adapters

  • Single gang plastic outlet box and,
  • Outlet cover with a 1.3” hole drilled in the center
  • 1 1/2″ X 1″ Female PVC bushing
  • 5500W 240V Screw-In Foldback Water Heater Element – High Watt Density
  • Wire one end of a section of electrical cord to the heating element terminals and the other end to outlet box that will connect to your heater switch.

3. Complete the Heating Chamber

Complete the Heating Chamber3a. Screw the two tee assemblies together.

3b.  Screw the electric box to your base.

It should look something like this when it is done.

4. Attach the pump

I made a little housing for my pump. I will just pop out of its home for when I want to move it to another task.

4a. Attach valve and hose adaptor to the pump output.

4b. Connect with a short hose to the heat chamber.

4c. Attach hose adaptor and hose to pump input. This will connect to you mash tun.

5. Build the Heat Contoller Box and Connect

5a. Make the Control Box and mount it to your base

5b. Cut holes for your switches and controller.

5c. Drill holes and insert rubber grommets to accept power cord input and output feeds.

5d. Install switches and controller into the case

MakeTheContrtollerBox1 copy

6. Wire your RIMS up

6a. Black power lead and white neutral to pins 1 and 2 to power the controller.

6b. Black power lead to each switch inputs.

6c. Output of pump switch goes to the pump

6d. Output of heater switch to heat connect pin 5

6e. Output on pin 6 goes to the heater

6f. The neutral leads (white) get connected together and pair with the power lead outputs to go to the pump and heater outlets.

6g. Connect temperature sensor to pins 3 and 4.

I wired my heater and pump outputs to the electrical box. One socket for the heater. One socket for the pump. The pump and the heater can then plug into their proper outlet. I did this to make it more modular.

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DIY: Making Your Own Cooler Mash Tun

Making the leap to all-grain brewing gives you finer control of your recipes and can also save you some money on ingredients, but it does require special equipment. You need a container to hold all the grain while the starches convert, and you need a way to rinse the sugars from the malt. It’s a simple problem with a multitude of solutions. Some people use a brew-in-a-bag setup, which is fairly simple, but it does require some muscle. The more traditional path is to use a mash tun with either a false bottom or some kind of manifold. Here, I’ll show you how to build a mash tun from a 10 gal (38 l) drink cooler (pictured above).

Parts List

  • 10 gal (38 l) cylindrical drink cooler (Igloo or RubberMaid, for example)
  • Tapping hardware
    • Adapter: ½ in (13 mm) copper pipe to ¾ in (19 mm) FPT
    • Bottling spigot
  • Manifold parts
    • Three ½ in (13 mm) copper tees
    • Four ½ in (13 mm) copper end caps
    • About 6 in (15 cm) of straight ½ in (13 mm) copper pipe
    • About 6 ft (1.8 m) of ½ in (13 mm) copper tubing

Like any good DIY project, there are many paths to get to the completed project. This project in particular makes several design trade-offs. You could just use a stainless steel kettle as the vessel, but a cooler has built-in insulation, which will help to better maintain the mash temperature. Also notable is that a cylindrical drink cooler works better than a rectangular one because the geometry provides a good grain bed and efficient draining.

I’ve chosen to make the manifold from copper tubing. Other alternatives would be to make or buy a screened false bottom that fits the cooler (12 in/30 cm round for a 10 gal/38 l cooler) or to use a stainless steel braid as a filter.


  • Pliers
  • Plumbing torch
  • Lead-free plumbing solder
  • Flux
  • Dremel tool with a cutting blade
  • Pipe/tubing cutter

Build Steps

Three simple steps and you’re done—two easy steps and one that’s slightly more difficult.

Remove the Original Spigot

The original spigot on the cooler should be easy to remove: just loosen the nut that holds it in place. There should also be a rubber grommet on the spigot shaft. Be sure to set that aside, because we’ll reuse it.

Install the Tap

Screw the bottling spigot onto the copper adapter. Then, slide the copper adapter through the spigot hole from the outside. This should be a reasonably tight fit. Slip the rubber grommet onto the shaft of the adapter and push it through the wall of the cooler. I’ve seen other designs that bolt the tap hardware in place, but in my experience, the grommet alone forms a sufficient seal. The images below show the interior and exterior views of the tap.

mash tun tap interiormash tun tap

Build the Manifold

Building the manifold is the most difficult part of the build. In this design, the manifold is made from three concentric rings of copper tubing that mount onto a drain shaft, pictured below.

mash tun manifold1 copy

The first step is to form the three rings. Shape the largest ring first, sizing it to be just smaller than the inside diameter of the cooler. Make the second ring a little bit smaller, about 8 in (20 cm) in diameter, and the center ring about 4 in (10 cm) in diameter. Be careful while bending the tubing—it’s easy to kink it if you go too fast. Once you have your rings, solder an end cap onto one side of each ring.

Next, we’ll construct the drain shaft from three copper tee segments joined by short sections of copper pipe:

  1. Start with a 3 in (7.6 cm) section of pipe as the base of the shaft.
  2. Solder on one of the tees, with the tee facing to the side, using lead-free plumbing solder.
  3. Solder a short 1–2 in (25–51 mm) piece of pipe as a connector for the next tee. This should be just long enough to connect the two tees.
  4. Solder another tee, with the tee facing in the opposite direction from the first tee.
  5. Solder another short piece of pipe and then the third tee, facing in the same direction as the first one.
  6. Finally, solder another short piece of pipe and then an end cap onto the shaft.

Notice that the tees are offset from one another so the rings will alternate directions while the drain shaft lays flat.

mash tun interior1

Check the fit before proceeding:

  1. Slip the base of the shaft into the copper adapter.
  2. Slip the rings onto the copper tees and make sure that everything can lie flat on the bottom of the cooler.
  3. You may need to shorten the base of the drain shaft and/or reshape your rings.

Once everything fits, you’re ready to cut the drain slots into the copper rings. A hacksaw will work, but a Dremel with a cutting blade is much quicker and easier. Before you start, remember that the rings branch off in alternating directions. Make sure you’re cutting the bottom side of the ring. Cut the slots about one-third to one-half of the way through the ring tubing, as pictured below.

mash tun manifold3

Note that drain shaft components and the end caps are soldered but the rings are not. Similarly, the manifold slides easily into place as well. This makes it easier to dismantle for cleaning and storage.


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