Since prehistoric times, people have been brewing alcohol. All you needed was a few basic ingredients, yeast and time. Fast-forward to today, and we’re still brewing alcohol using that same basic recipe, but we’ve honed it down to a science. In many ways, brewing in the 21st century resembles brewing thousands of years ago, but now we’ve got some amazing tech tools to help us achieve the exact results we want.
Using tech tools for beer brewing or wine brewing isn’t cheating — it’s embracing the power of technology to help you perfect the art and science of brewing. In this post, we’ll look at some of the top digital tools for home brewing. These tools help with a variety of steps in the brewing process and should help you enjoy a convenient brewing experience that leaves you with a fantastic brew. Each satisfying gulp will make these high-tech tools well worth it.
1. Digital Thermometer
A thermometer is a must for brewing since the temperature of your brew has an impact on when you should introduce certain elements, like yeast. You may be wondering what this has to do with tech tools. While you may already have a standard thermometer, these aren’t always reliable. You need a high-end digital thermometer.
A more high-tech thermometer will be a bit expensive but will deliver far more accurate temperature readings and be more convenient to use. A good thermometer is one of the greatest tools for homebrewing. You want to look for a digital brewing thermometer with a long probe so it can reach all the way down to the bottom of your kettle or fermenter. It’s also a huge plus if the thermometer is durable enough that dropping it on a hard floor won’t mean its demise.
2. Electric Grain Mill
Most homebrewers start with extract brewing, but many of them eventually want to try all-grain brewing. All-grain brewing is the more traditional way, and it gives you more control over your finished product. However, this method is also more labor-intensive since it requires you to mash your own grains rather than just pour in an extract. Some people choose to have their grains crushed at their local homebrew store. However, these stores often have just one grain mill, and you can’t customize the mill gap.
If you want to have total control over the grains that go into your wort, add a high-tech electric grain mill to your arsenal of brewing equipment. These mills come in a variety of sizes and price points, so you can find one that fits your needs. Expect to spend at least $100.
3. Stir Plate
Yeast is the essential ingredient in any alcohol. Without it, your wort or grape juice won’t turn into beer or wine. While plenty of homebrewers go the simple route of opening a package of yeast and pitching it in, more serious brewers may want to focus on taking more steps to set their yeast up for success. One way you can do this is by using a stir plate to oxygenate it. Whether you’re using fresh yeast or a recovered strain, oxygenizing it by keeping it suspended is key to its success.
A stir plate is, by far, the better way to go. By using a stir plate, you can double the yeast cells you would otherwise get from the same amount of starter in the same duration of time.
How do stir plates work? You toss a magnetic bar in the yeast starter, set it on top of the magnetic plate and watch it go to work stirring the starter. You’ll end up with yeast that is ready to go to town on your wort or grape juice, turning it into delightfully fermented alcohol. Expect to spend anywhere from about $40 to a couple hundred on your stir plate, depending on how high-tech you want to go.
4. Oxygenation/Aeration Kit
This tech tool is also meant to help with oxygenation, but unlike the stir plate, this tool comes in after you add your yeast to your wort or juice. Starting with a robust yeast population is important, but it’s also helpful to add oxygen at this stage, as well. When you add yeast to your brew, it thrives off of oxygen and uses it to multiply until all the oxygen is used up. Then the yeast starts making alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Especially when you’re making beer, the yeast you add needs a good amount of oxygen to result in a robust fermentation. While you can shake or stir your wort around to try to aerate it, this method will only get you so far. A more high-tech way to do it is with an oxygenation kit. Also sometimes called an aeration kit, this gadget is designed to help you inject pure oxygen directly into your wort.
To use it, you pick up an oxygen tank from your local hardware store and then use the oxygenation kit to put it to use. Your oxygenation kit will tap into the oxygen bottle and send the oxygen through a tube. The end of your kit that goes into the wort is equipped with a diffusion stone, which will allow the oxygen to disseminate throughout the wort in the form of tiny bubbles. What you end up with is a batch of wort that turns into deliciously fermented beer.
5. Wort Chiller
Before you can add yeast to your wort, you need to cool it down — and you need to do it fast. The longer your wort sits around, cooling off, the more room there is for bacteria to sneak in and ruin everything. If you only brew very small batches, you may be able to use an ice bath to cool off your wort. If you brew more than just a couple gallons, though, this method is inefficient and a hassle.
That’s why a wort chiller is one of the best beer brewing tech tools. It’s designed to cool your wort down rapidly. Wort chillers come in a few varieties — immersion chillers, counterflow chillers and plate chillers. While any wort chiller may be considered a tech tool, plate chillers are the nicest option. This also means they’re the most expensive, but a plate chiller is compact and can chill your wort down in less time using less water, making it extremely efficient.
Cold water flows in one direction through the plate, and the wort flows in the opposite direction. Layers of plates separate the cold water and the wort, so they don’t mix, but they undergo a temperature exchange that leaves the wort nice and cool and ready for yeast.
6. Digital pH Meter
One of the factors that can affect the quality and flavor profile of alcohol is its pH — in other words, how acidic it is. When brewing beer, at every stage, whether it be mash, wort or beer, pH matters. In addition to flavor, pH affects hop extraction, protein precipitation, clarification, and coloring, among other factors. pH is also critical in winemaking, with lower pH levels leading to more freshness and better aging.
You can purchase paper pH testing strips, but these will only give you an idea of the range, not an exact number. A digital pH meter is a high-tech tool that will provide you with a more precise and accurate read. You can find a meter for around $40, but you can spend a few hundred dollars if you want one with more advanced features.
Knowing what pH level you’re working with while you’re brewing can help you to know either that you’re on track or that you may want to manipulate that level by adding mineral salts, lactic acid, tartaric acid or by trying an acid rest. The final pH of beer should end up somewhere between 4.2 and 3 depending on the style. The ideal pH range for wine is between 3.2 and 3.6.
7. Fermentation Heat and Cooling Wraps
Temperature has a profound impact on the way your brew ferments and its final taste. Different styles of beer and wines call for different optimum temperature levels to achieve the desired fermentation. For example, 40 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for a fruity white wine while a red wine does better at a warmer range, between 50 and 80 degrees. Ale should ferment around 68 to 72 degrees, while a lager should be 45 to 55 degrees.
Fermentation itself raises the temperature of your brew by about 10 to 15 degrees, which helps if your basement, backyard or wherever you plan to store your fermenter is cooler than the fermenting brew should be. If it’s still too cool, you’ll want to keep your fermenter cozy with an electric heat wrap, which is safe to use on glass and plastic. To make your solution even more high-tech, add a temperature controller and stopper thermowell so you can get the temperature of your brew exactly to the level of warmth you want.
If your fermenter is in a location that’s too warm, consider a cooling jacket. Unless you’re making a very small batch that will fit in your refrigerator, it’s likely you won’t have a space that’s large enough and cool enough to ferment something like a lager. A cooling jacket is similar to a heat wrap, except it keeps things cold. They are also glass and plastic safe, which makes them a great solution.
8. Temperature-Controlled Conical Fermenter
While heating and cooling wraps are fairly inexpensive, you can also go with the highest-tech option, which is also the most expensive option. This tech tool is a temperature-controlled conical fermenter. The fermenter itself is designed to gradually cool and heat to keep the wort or juice inside within an exact temperature range. This wonder is perfect for those who take their brewing seriously and are looking for the top craft beer brewing tools.
Depending on the model you want, you may pay anywhere from $700 to a couple thousand or more. Look for a model that is programmable so you can tell the fermenter exactly what temperature you’d like to achieve, and it will heat or cool accordingly. What better way to sit back, relax and know your fermentation is coming along perfectly?
9. Keg and Carboy Washer
It’s vital that you wash and sanitize your equipment thoroughly to keep them from becoming contaminated. Kegs and carboys can be tricky to wash out thoroughly if for no other reason than their size. Unless you have a large utility sink, you may find yourself resorting to less sanitary practices, like hosing them off outside.
Why deal with washing out a keg or carboy when you can just buy a machine to do it for you? A lot of the technology we’ve looked at so far has been focused on precision. This one is more about convenience and ease. Additionally, it will likely leave you with a cleaner keg or fermenter than if you did the job yourself. About $100 to $140 is all that stands between you and effortlessly clean carboys and kegs.
10. Wifi Digital Hydrometer
A hydrometer is used to measure the sugar density of a liquid. Taking that measurement before you begin fermentation and after fermentation is complete lets you know how the yeast did and allows you to calculate the alcohol by volume (ABV) of the brew. A typical hydrometer is not a very high-tech device. However, the Brew Perfect WiFi Digital Hydrometer takes this measuring device into the 21st century.
A huge advantage of the Brew Perfect WiFi Digital Hydrometer is that you don’t need to limit yourself to only taking readings before and after fermentation. With a typical hydrometer, you would need to open up the fermenter and stick the hydrometer in to take a reading while it’s fermenting. This opens up your brew to oxidation and possible contamination.
The WiFi Digital Hydrometer remains in the fermenter for the duration of the fermentation process so you can see how the brew is fermenting at any time. Readings of the brew’s gravity and temperature are sent to your online dashboard and mobile app every 20 minutes. You’ll also see live readings of the brew’s ABV so there’s no guesswork or math involved. The precision and convenience of this device make it one of the best digital tools for brewing beer.
Take Your Brewing to the Next Level
If you’re interested in learning more about the many ways you can take your brewing to the next level, take a look at some of our other blog posts. At Brew Perfect, we are committed to improving the brewing experience. Try our hydrometer today, or contact us by sending us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (804) 214-3820. Brewing may be an ancient activity, but it can also be a high-tech one. The most enthusiastic brewers are always looking for ways to improve, and the top tech tools for brewing are a great way to get that edge.