I have been brewing beer…
Tilt, Plaato and MyBrewbot are discussed
Updated with new things
Odd title, if you know nothing about brewing. The way I have been brewing – is likea glorified science experiment. Being scientific about brewing means planning, measuring, monitoring and adjusting to get the right biochemical reactions to take place and avoiding unwanted side effects.
Brewing is both art and science. The art is in the design and making of wort and the science is mostly in the fermentation and conditioning
The art is akin to cooking. Easy to cook a meal that is edible but to make something that excites people takes training and dedication to learning the art. I think the art applies up to the point of fermentation. From then on it is largely a matter of processing. If you do not get the basics wrong then the yeast does its work and you do not spoil the result. Again it is like cooking where the preparation is finished off in a well prepared oven.
It is hardly surprising that brewing and cooking are similar because beer is really just food that you drink. Enough of that.
This article is about my experiences with Brewfather software and measurement tools for temperature, pH, Specific Gravity and general fermentation progress.
Does measurement matter
This is more a matter of opinion than fact but I do think that measuring matters. For me the key is to be able to have a repeatable process that I know works the way I want it to. There is a lot of received wisdom in brewing that is rooted in circumstances that may not apply to me. Therefore, developing a process that works for me is a matter of trial and assessment of the results. Measurements help me to understand what is happening in the brewing and most importantly the fermentation stage.
Reviews – sort of
These are my personal reviews of the usefulness and effectiveness of the tools. There is a rough order of importance to me. I have not tried to review all the features available but have focused on what matters to me.
The software helps tracking inventory of malt, yeast, additives and hops. I offers alarms to guide you through multi step mashes, boils, ferment and conditioning. These are convenience features that work for me. There are profiles for different mash and fermentation styles that can be heavily customised. Here is the link to the site if you want to try it yourself. https://brewfather.app/
Recipe design is a highlight for me. The ability to adjust ingredients and the process and see the effect of any change on the characteristics of the brew has helped me to better understand what I am doing and to make better choices. Adjustments to water are difficult and time consuming to calculate manually, however Brewfather has a very neat tool for helping decide what adjustments to make to achieve a specified target profile per type. You can select your desired BJCP style and the software shows a graphical representation of they key parameters for that style. The final gravity in the image above could be increased to the recommended 1.010 by shortening the beta amylase step in the mash by 5 minutes.
Fermentation tracking is what attracted me to Brewfather in the first place. The graph above shows a recent brew tracked by a Tilt device. The wort was at around 22 degrees when I pitched the yeast and started tracking. The main ferment had finished in 5 days at a fairly constant 17 degrees. It is very useful to see the progress of the fermentation.
- The recipe designer and water analysis are a highlight
- Graphing of fermentation progress from Tilt devices
- Alerts for mash and boil tasks
- Frequently improved with updates
- Support via facebook
- It is in the cloud and therefore easily accessible out of home
- Free version is highly functional
- Still being developed so you may find some inconsistencies
- Subscription service required for the advanced features
- You need to integrate monitoring devices to track fermentation (not too hard)
The Tilt is a small cylinder that does what the name suggests. It tilts in wort and the angle of that tilt plus the temperature gives a good indication of the SG of the wort. A good estimate – not accurate. But then who really needs accurate because the SG is a given not something you can control. The final measurement with a refractometer is the true final SG.
Using a Fermentasaurus and an IR thermometer to check the Tilt accuracy for temperature measurements, I found the Tilt to be very accurate. It still needs calibration to adjust for around 0.2-0.3 degrees C.
I found the Tilt easy to setup and use. I also found that I needed to get an automatic logger to take readings otherwise I would have to be constantly moving to the fermenter to take readings.
Two technical issues mean that readings can be highly variable. Firstly, bubbles and krausen can stick to the side of the Tilt and alter readings for SG.
Cleaning and sanitising the Tilt has been simple and this is important for a device that sits in the wort/beer the whole ferment. Battery life seems ok for at least half a dozen ferments but changing the battery requires re-calibration.
Calibration is a little bit tricky. Instructions try to simplify the calibration process but I found that I needed to pick several temperatures and SG points to get decent accuracy. I used sugar solutions of SG 1.010, 1.021, 1.032 and 1.045 to calibrate the Tilt. With just the suggested 2 – tap water and one other (1.019) I found that the higher gravities were showing odd readings, out by 0.005 or so.
A new Tilt App is available that is slightly better at calibration, however it is in advanced beta and changing rapidly so I cannot be sure of its performance yet. It does nave a local logging feature that could be useful, however requiring that you dedicate a device to the task.
This is the most useful measuring tool I have yet seen. It saves all that mess and fuss of taking samples of the wort and measuring then cleaning everything. It also means less chance of allowing air and contaminants into the fermenter. I use two Tilt devices. One for the primary ferment and one for the secondary ferment. Each is a different colour and can be tracked independently. If you wish you can track up to eight fermenters with different coloured devices. See also: https://tilthydrometer.com/
- It gives a direct measurement of SG and temperature from within the wort
- Operates via a phone or tablet
- Has the ability to log to cloud services
- Quite well designed by brewers
- Supported by Brewfather and several data logging platforms
- You have to manually approach the Tilt with your phone to log readings or get add on loggers like Tilt Pi or MyBrewbot to log for you
- Bluetooth range is poor through stainless steel fermenters
- SG readings can be out quite a bit during vigorous fermentation
- Battery replacement is a PITA
- Current logging devices are immature and buggy
From my experience, it seems that the Plaato device was designed within the paradigm of fermentation in carboys that are placed in refrigerators. I use a Grainfather Conical fermenter with internal heating and external glycol chiller that keeps the ferment within 0.5 degrees of target (once the temperature stabilises).
In an Australian Summer, I had the Plaato showing 34 degrees at the time a Tilt was showing 17.3. The fermenter was set to 17 +- 0.5. The temperature on the Plaato cannot be relied upon except when using a refrigerator to control fermenter temperature. The Plaato website does not mention this at all, as far as I could see.
This is the opportunity to mention that the Plaato was a kickstarter funded product. The website reflects that marketing approach, emphasising uniqueness and features and a bit of science mumbo jumbo. A silly thing that they have on checkout is a statement Free International Shipping ($20) – whatever that means.
Another serious problem is that the airlock allows the water and and air to suck back to the fermenter as the wort cools from pitching temperature to stable ferment temperature (ie from 21 degrees to 17 or so). Fermenting a lager would exacerbate this issue. The same things happens when cold crashing. Plaato have now come up with an add on valve to help (but not completely) solve the problem. IMHO it needs to be included.
Despite the faults I found, I do like the app and its ability to show me what is happening with the bubbles. Instead of the logging problems I experienced with the Tilt (ie having to be at the fementer to manually initiate a measurement) the data is right there in the cloud. Once the app improves a bit this should be a very useful feature.
- It is easy to setup
- The app works quite well for beta software
- Monitoring of fermentation once the ferment is at a steady temperature and bubbling is good
- It is external to the fermenter and uses a bung thus avoiding issues with wifi signals
- Temperature measured is only ambient temperature. Nothing like the temperature of the wort unless you have the fermenter in a refrigerator or similar
- The water reservoir sucks into the wort if you cool it even a couple of degrees
- The app shows bubbles per minute on a scale that means you cannot see much for most of the ferment. It should be auto scaled to show meaningful graph curves
- Measurements are not good enough to use for accurate tracking and comparisons between batches – temperature needs to be measured by another device
- You need to have the device tethered to a USB cable for it to operate. not quite a convenience feature
The app has quite good analytics, albeit a little confusing until you get used to the interface and colour scheme. I expect to use this device regularly.
- Easy to setup and add Tilt devices
- Small and efficient device
- Promising software
- I could not get logging to the cloud for Brewfather to work
- A few details need to be ironed out in the software and app
- it needs to be close to the fermenter because of poor Bluetooth range through stainless steel and needs to be connected to a USB power cable
pH, SG and water in general