As you become a more experienced homebrewer you will naturally want to start experimenting with the brewing process. Most people start with making small changes to each batch trying to improve it anyway possible. While adjusting things like temperature and brew times will have an impact on your final product the biggest improvement you can make comes from adjusting the pH. Measuring and then properly adjusting the pH of your water is crucial to making an amazing tasting beer. It doesn’t require a lot of additional equipment or time either, all you need is a reliable pH meter!
Best pH Meters
Milwaukee MW102 PH and Temperature Meter
The Milwaukee MW102 pH meter
Milwaukee MW102 is one of the most popular pH meters used by homebrewers. This meter provides fast and accurate results. This meter is also very durable and easy to use. It supports a pH range from -2.00 to 16.00 which is more than enough for a homebrewer’s needs. Its pH resolution is .01 and its accuracy is within .02. The MW102 also comes with a set of buffer solutions for calibrating the meter. 20 mL solutions with pH’s of 4.01 and 7.01 to calibrate the meter to ensure accurate results. Another benefit of this meter is that it also comes with a temperature probe as well. You get two useful homebrewing tools for the price and convenience of one. If you already have a temperature probe you like then you can always buy the Milwaukee MW101, which is the just pH meter with no temperature probe – which will save you some money. A 9V battery and the instructions are included as well.
Apera Instruments AI311 PH60
The Apera Instruments AI311 PH60 meter
Another popular choice is from Apera Instruments and it is the AI311 PH60 model. Similar to the MW102 this meter also has an accuracy of .01pH and a range from -2.00 to 16.00. This meter can be calibrated through the use of 1 to 3 solutions and it supports 5 different calibrating solutions. The probe is made out of high-quality glass and is easy to replace if needed. The meter also features a large LCD screen with 3 different backlight colors making it easy to distinguish what mode is being used. You can also display dual measurements so you remember what your previous measurement was. There is also an icon that verifies the readings are stable, removing the guess work of what the actual value is. pH calibration solutions, bottles, storage solutions, batteries, and a lanyard all come with this meter along with a storage case.
Hanna Instruments HI98128
The Hanna Instruments HI98128 meter
The final recommended pH meter is the HI98128 from Hanna Instruments. It has similar specifications as the previous two meters. However, this meter is a little less accurate its results are within .05 compared to the MW102’s .02 accuracy. The difference is not too significant but it is worth mentioning. This meter comes with a pretty neat feature called Automatic Temperature Compensation (ATC), that improves your readings. If the temperature is changing at all it will correct the pH value based on the change. Even though the temperature of the water probably won’t be changing too rapidly it is a nice feature to have. The meter also has a hold feature, which freezes the results for easy reading. The casing for the HI98128 is water-resistant, has a tactile grip, and floats. The meter also automatically turns off after eight minutes of no-use to save battery life. The only thing it lacks is a set of buffer solutions to calibrate which need to be purchased separately.
What is pH?
Most people probably have a basic understanding of pH from their high school chemistry class. pH tells you how acidic or basic a solution is, but what is it really? The pH is the measure of the concentration of hydrogen ions in the solution. The higher the concentration of hydrogen, the lower the pH, and the higher the acidity. The reverse is true for a lower concentration of hydrogen as well. A pH of seven is considered neutral, below seven is acidic, and above seven is basic.
How Does pH Affect Beer?
Now what does all that have to do with brewing beer? The pH is important to the brewing process because it can aid or hinder the yeast while it is trying to do its job. Yeast is considered a fairly sensitive micro-organism, and will only function in a small range of external conditions. The three main factors that impact yeast are pH, temperature, and available nutrients. This article will focus on the first factor – pH. For the yeast to perform at its optimum, the pH should be slightly acidic and between 4.5 to 5.5. Ideally it should be between 5.2 and 5.5, below 5.2 is typically reserved for different styles of beer like a gose. In nature yeast breaks down the sugars found in fruits. These sugary fruits also contain acidic components which lead to yeast evolving to prefer acidic environments. So, to get the most out of your yeast during the fermentation process the pH of your brew should be slightly acidic, this is why having a pH meter is useful so you can check to guarantee your brew falls in the acidic range.
How to Measure pH
First you take a small sample of your mash, and let it cool to room temperature. As it cools, you should verify your pH meter is properly calibrated. Every meter has a different calibration process so just follow the instructions that apply to your meter. Once your meter is calibrated and the mash is cooled, simply insert the meter into the sample you took and read the results – it is as easy as that! Remember the ideal results is between 5.2 and 5.5, if you get something in between that range you are good to go!
If you are new to the homebrewing scene then pH measuring and control may be a little too advanced for you. Stick to the basics at first until you get a full understanding of the brewing process and then you can start playing around with brewing process. For those who are ready, pH control is a very important part to brewing good tasting beer. By maintaining good pH levels, you are able to optimize the performance of the yeast and at the end of the brewing process you have a better tasting beer!