pH meter ideas for testing homebrew beer mash

Tuesday, June 30, 2020
best ph tester for making beer

Never mind the bollocks, you just want to choose the best pH meter?

These are three quality meters that are really popular on Amazon's bestseller list:

Before I learned to know how to brew beer, all I knew about pH was that it meant lemons were sour, acid could eat through Knightrider's K.I.T.T. car, and that you used litmus paper to test if your solution was an acid or a base.

Beer brewers (and makers of health drink kombucha would you believe) are keen to know the pH of their beer and beverages because different levels of pH will cause the beer to have different characteristics of flavor.

And flavor is everything when it comes to beer!

The collective increased understanding of the important role that the pH level of the mash plays in brewing really good beer has driven both commercial and backyard brewers to closely focus on monitoring and then adjusting their mash pH levels as required.

So if you are making a particular style of beer for say a brewing competition, you really do want to ensure not only have you followed the brewing recipe, your brewing process is going correctly too!

And to do all this, you need to use the best pH tester you can.

A pH meter is a calibrated scientific instrument that measures the hydrogen-ion activity in water-based solutions, indicating its acidity or alkalinity.

The pH meter measures the difference in 'electrical potential' between a pH electrode and a reference electrode.

There are many several more reasons to use pH testers. Those in the food and beverage industry know too well the need to ensure food is not too tart (imagine selling customers drinks that are too sour) and there is plenty of agricultural uses too - such as checking for soil acidity testing and the classic 'hydroponic uses' are pretty common too.

If you didn't get that, we meant weed growers need to know the pH of the soil as well...

But enough's enough Commander Keen, back to beer testing.

This unit is a for the seasoned brewer who is dead set on ensuring they make a quality product so they can proudly share with friends at a BBQ.

Bluelab Combo pH Meter for beer brewing

bluelab combo ph meter
If you looking for an upmarket solution to measure your pH solutions then the tried and true Bluelabs brand has the measuring device you are looking for.

The Bluelab Combo Meter is a portable pH, conductivity, and temperature meter all in one combination.

The meter has two probes, a Bluelab pH Probe and a Bluelab Conductivity/Temperature Probe.

When taking a reading, simply place them into the solution and the selected reading is displayed on the screen.

Calibration of the pH probe is simple as instructions are supplied on the back of the meter and the easy push-button method makes this one of the most basic meters to use.

The pH probe is replaceable so you can use this meter for years to come and you should be able to do as Bluelab offers a five-year warranty on their meter is a demonstration of the quality of the product and the belief the manufacturer has in their product!

The Bluelab has the following features:
  • Measures pH, conductivity/nutrient (EC, CF, ppm 500 and ppm 700) and temperature (°C, °F)
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Large easy to read display
  • Simple push button pH calibration
  • Successful pH calibration indicator
  • No calibration required for conductivity and temperature
  • Replaceable double junction pH probe 
  • 2 x AAA alkaline batteries included with a low battery indicator
  • Auto-off function
This is a pricey unit and that's because it screams quality. If you are looking for a mid range device, Blue Lab's portable pens are in the hundred dollar range.

Check out the price on Amazon.

Seeing as we talked about probes, this is a good time to talk about their care as they can be fiddly little bastards and if not properly looked after, their expected lifetime will quickly shorten.

So here's the message about probes:

Don't forget to clean your electrode probes!

Electrodes can and will wear out after sustained use.

To prolong their operational life (so you continue to obtain correct readings), it is quite important that you get into the routine of properly cleaning them after every use.

A careful wipe with a clean cloth and 'ionized' water is a good technique. Or simply use fresh tissues.

A probe that has become 'dry' needs to be hydrated for at least three or four hours by placing in storage solution before calibration.

We will get to calibration solution soon but first up: The Milwaukee

This is truly one of the most popular testers that beer makers use, If you dare to check out any rabid brewing forum, you'll find plenty backyard brewers only too happy to chat about how well it works:

Milwaukee MW102 pH Meter for beer

The MW102 Standard Portable pH / Temperature Meter Standard is a standard portable meter that does the business.

milwaukee ph meter for testing beer

The Milwaukee brand is recognized as having a reputation for producing low cost yet durable meters which give quick readings and ones on which you can depend.

Milwaukee’s manufacturer boasts that their devices are "manufactured to be easy to use, practical and accurate. Ideal for the classroom, laboratory, or for general field use".

This means it works a treat for beer and kombucha.

The full package comes with the following:
  • The MW102 Unit
  • A 9 Volt Battery
  • Temperature Probe (MA830r)
  • PH Probe (MA911B/1)
  • PH Probe cover (a small bottle that fits on the PH Probe when not in use that holds storage solution)
  • Instruction Manual
  • Calibration Solution sachets
  • Storage Solution Packet
The battery life claims to be a massive 300 hours so that's a lot of brewing time! Especially as the Milwaukee features an auto-off that kicks in after 8 minutes of inactivity.

A keen brewer on Amazon reviewed the Milwaukee 102 as a "fantastic tool to have in my brewing arsenal. I originally bought it for taking readings while kettle souring, but it's been invaluable as I dove deeper into water profile and mash pH adjustment. It's a bit more expensive than some of the cheaper meters out there, but you get what you pay for. Worth every penny in my book, and I regularly recommend it to those in the market for a high-quality meter."

That's some fair praise indeed. Check out the price on Amazon.

Why is the mash pH level so important for brewing?

Beers that are brewed within a general range of pH tend to brew better than beers that are too acidic or too low in pH.

Brewers thus measure the pH of their mash to determine if that is is in the correct range for the beer they are endeavouring to produce.

The actual optimal pH range is generally considered to be pH 5.2 to 5.4. A high reading means the beer is too alkaline.

If a brewer's meter determines the pH is too high, they will then need to adjust the level downward by adding acid or calcium sulfate.

If your pH reading is starting to push the range of 5.3-5.6, you might get less of a tart character though you do run the risk of extracting tannins which can horribly impact your beer's taste.

Hach Pocket Pro + Plus 9532000 with replacement electrode for brewing

Manufacturer Hach reckons that their digital Pocket Pro + will "take the guesswork out of your measurements" which is entirely the point of a pH meter so a good start that we are on the same page.

Hach Pocket Pro+ is engineered to deliver accurate results. Hach boasts the Pro is backed up with built-in performance diagnostics, you never have to guess when to clean or calibrate the sensor.

Featuring a large, easy-to-read LCD screen, the pH range covers 0 to 14 pH meaning it can be used for more than beer brewing, like hydroponics.

The unit takes 4 Triple AAA batteries which are easy to replace. Hach recommends that the electrodes are replaced every 6 months. This unit comes with a replacement unit.

How to use a pH tester to measure beer mash?

Using a pH meter is a fairly simple process. It's kind like that science work you did in school. Start by drawing a small sample of the fresh wort and put it in a clean holding vessel such as a shot glass. Turn your calibrated meter on and dip both the probes fully into the liquid. The machine will kick into gear and you will get a pH reading. Write the reading down on paper, we both know you are going to forget it.

And remember, the mash can be quite hot, so be careful not to burn your skin

Hanna Instruments // Temperature Tester

The Hanna Instruments HI 98128 is a popular compact pH tester used for laboratory and industrial applications.

hanna ph meter kombucha
The device features:
  • Automatic Temperature Compensation
  • Automatic calibration
  • Dual-line LCD reader screen
  • Replaceable electrode cartridge
  • The dual-line LCD screen simultaneously shows the current measurement and the current temperature, and a hold function freezes readings for recording.

The meter has automatic calibration at one or two points with two sets of standard buffers (pH 4.01/7.01/10.01 or pH 4.01/6.86/9.18).

The meter has a water-resistant housing, a tactile grip casing, and it floats, which is quite handy for those who drink and brew at the same time...

The unit requires four 1.5V AA batteries which provide approximately 300 hours of continuous use. The Hanna meter switches off after eight minutes of inactivity to preserve battery life.

The meter also comes with an' HI 73127 pH electrode', an electrode removal tool, and instructions on how to properly use and care for the unit.

This is a cheap and affordable unit so its long-term resilience may be questionable.

Check out the price on Amazon.

How to calibrate a digital pH tester accurately?

You need an accurate reading so you can make the best decision for your beer and the best way to do this is to ensure you have properly calibrated your meter.

PH meters can 'drift' from their calibrated settings. It is important to regularly calibrate your pH meter often so that the accuracy of results is maintained.

Check out this video lesson which demonstrates how to do the calibration:

What is Automatic Temperature Compensation?

You may have seen this mentioned in some of the functionality descriptions of our recommended meters.

Many higher quality meters use ATC functionality. This is when the unit compensates for the response of the pH meter's electrode with varying temperature.

The mash's pH measurement is ideally conducted at room-temperature. This helps avoid measurement errors that can be caused by temperature effects on the probe and chemically in the mash. The reality though is you need to measure the pH of your wort NOW and can't wait for it to cool.

So ATC accounts for differing temperatures of the mash.

Things to think about when choosing the best pH meter

  • Keeping the meter's probe clean after each use will prolong their useful life - it's a good idea to clean the outside with a soft toothbrush and deionized water, being very gentle with the bulb part of the probe if this is the kind you have.
  • It's extremely important to never let the probe dry out and this is a common mistake when storing ph meters. To this end, it is imperative that you store the electrode as per the manufacturers' instructions.
  • Be wary of buying cheap ph meters, they will lose calibration quickly, their probes will likely deteriorate faster than quality items. 
  • Check this guide to the common mistakes made when using a meter.
  • The more serious brewers tend to go for benchtop units rather than the portable kind.
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