With trends like craft beer brewing on the rise, more and more people are trying out ways to produce everyday goods at home instead of buying them in the supermarket. The number of home producers who manufacture beer, wine, juice, or even distilled spirits has risen significantly – and correspondingly, new entry-level instruments to measure the quality of these goods have emerged, too.
For many years, sophisticated instrumentation from all big players in the density meter business were only part of quality control in industrial fields of application. Rightly, in the past people presumed that digital density meters were industrial goods and not affordable for a private person. But starting in summer 2014, a new product era started: instruments tailored to the needs of home distillers, homebrewers and other home producers.There are several possibilities to measure typical home produce like beer, wine, juices or distilled spirits highly accurately without spending large amounts of money.
What density measurement can do for your home produce – and what it can’t
Via a density measurement you can check the concentration in binary mixtures, i.e. mixtures of two different substances of known density, for example sugar-water solutions or water-ethanol mixtures. Juices (e.g. fruit juices or soft drinks) are so-called “quasi binary solutions” as they have additional ingredients like acids. However, these additional components do not have a significant influence on the measured density. Therefore, they can be ignored and concentration determination via density measurement is possible.
Be aware that density does not help if you intend to measure the concentration of one component in a three-component solution (ternary solution). Density is a mass parameter like the weight shown on a balance. If you put a piece of cake on the balance, it only tells you the total weight, but not the ratios of sugar, flour, and eggs inside. During fermentation of beer or wine, the sugar is converted into alcohol and CO₂. After degassing your sample you therefore have a three-component solution of water, ethanol, and sugar. The concentration of these solutions cannot be determined via density.
Translated into the real world of a home producer, this is where you can use a density meter to measure:
- the sugar concentration in juices
- the extract concentration in beer wort
- the alcohol concentration in spirits without sugar added
If you measure a fermenting product you can monitor the decrease of density of your sample from day to day, to see if your fermentation proceeds as planned.
However, with a density meter you cannot:
- measure the alcohol concentration in beer or wine
- determine the alcohol or sugar concentration in liquors (spirits with added sugars, herbs, or flavors)
The first digital density meters for home producers
For use in the private sector the features and functionalities of density meters have been limited and tailored to the needs of home producers. This has also led to a price reduction in comparison to density meters that are used in industrial fields of application.
Choosing the right instrument for your product depends first and foremost on what you produce.
Which density meter is right for you?
Homebrewing, wine- and juice-making
Professional brewing & wine-making
If you are a homebrewer or home producer of wine or juices, the smallest digital density meter in the world, EasyDens, will help you to check the sugar or extract content. It is operated via a smartphone app, available as a free download.
If you are both home distiller and homebrewer or winemaker, you can simply download the additional measuring unit for a one-time extra charge.
If you live in a country where home distilling is allowed you can measure the alcohol concentration in spirits with no sugar added with an accuracy of up to 0.2 %v/v with the Snap 40 portable alcohol meter. It shows results either in %v/v or °Proof. The whole relevant measuring range from 0 %v/v to 100 %v/v is covered by one and the same instrument.
For industrial and professional use the DMA 35 portable density and concentration meter is the most popular and helpful instrument for wine and beer production. You can take samples directly from the tank and measure them on-site. Results are stored, including sample ID and timestamp, and are ready for export or printout.
The Snap 50 portable alcohol meter is the right choice for microdistilleries, measuring with an accuracy of 0.1 %v/v. Snap 50 checks the alcohol concentration throughout the whole production process: from pure distillates to samples taken during watering down to drinkable strength and ready-to-drink spirits.
How to measure your home produce
Don’t worry, you do not have to be an expert to perform a density measurement with a digital instrument, especially if it’s designed for private use. Just make sure you read all the relevant instructions available for your new instrument before operating it. Get a feeling for what your measuring routine will look like. Below you will find some information to help you when using digital density measurement on your home produce:
If your sample contains particles larger than 1 mm you can simply filter it through a coffee filter. If it contains CO2, you have to degas it by e.g. shaking and snifting, using an ultrasonic bath, or by creating underpressure. You can find a detailed instruction on how to do that in our article “4 ways to degas your sample”.
If your density meter is a portable device with built-in pump, you can fill sample by simply pressing the pump lever, immersing the filling tube into the sample and slowly releasing the lever again. Otherwise the sample is filled with a syringe. Do not use one and the same syringe for the sample, cleaning liquid, and the deionized water for calibration as otherwise you will have to deal with carryover effects. Ideally, you should get a pack of disposable syringes, as available from lab equipment suppliers.
To dispose of the sample you can either use a special waste container or any other vessel you have at home. Just make sure the material of the vessel is resistant to all substances (samples as well as cleaning liquids) it will be in contact with.
Cleaning spirits from the measuring cell is easy – you can just flush with deionized water. After measuring samples containing sugar (like beer wort or juice) it is best to clean the cell with warm tap water followed by distilled water. Especially after measuring wort samples, make sure to clean the measuring cell with a lab cleaner on a regular basis to remove all residues.
Tips for suitable cleaners can be found in the instruction manual of your instrument. Instructions on how to use the cleaner are usually printed on the label.
By filling and measuring deionized water you can see whether the instrument still measures within specifications. If not, you should once more thoroughly clean the cell. If this does not help you can do a readjustment on your own. This verification, whether the instrument still measures within specs, is also called calibration.
You can readjust the instrument on your own with deionized water. Just select the respective menu point and the instrument will give instructions how to proceed. Be aware that in contrast to a calibration an adjustment changes the instrument constants for determination of the measured result. Instead of doing an adjustment you should always once more clean the measuring cell thoroughly and see whether the variation in results is eliminated. In many cases, deviations are caused by sample residues in the measuring cell and a readjustment should always be the last option to choose.
The direct line of communication
The aspect I enjoy most about the step we made towards entry-level users is the direct line of communication to … you! Getting immediate feedback from users is of the highest value for us. If I see comments posted by happy newcomers in density measurement on forums, blogs, or on social media, this is a highly welcome confirmation of the features and quality of our instruments. On the other hand, if I see questions and critical comments, I realize that there is the need to improve the product or its documentation. Your feedback reaches me right away. That’s a great basis for a continuous improvement, so if you like leave your feedback for me in the comments section below.
As we do not have any outlets or shops, the instruments mentioned above are primarily sold via the online shop. That has proved very convenient for customers as the ordered instrument is shipped within 24 hours. Although the instruments are almost self-explanatory, we have put together a selection of product information like Standard Operating Procedures in printed or video form, and Frequently Asked Questions, which are available on the respective product websites.
If you have an additional question, or are not sure what product is the right one for you, or you face a challenge in operating the instrument, just contact us: