Digital refractometer

Milwaukee MA871 digital refractometer

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Like glass hydrometers, digital refractometers are usually also waterproof, but are much more rugged and only requires a few drops to take a reading (instead of an entire test jar). 

Recommended models include the Milwaukee MA871 (shown in picture) or Hanna 96801, both of which read to 85% Brix (Specific Gravity of 1.462) which is well beyond anything any beer or wine maker will ever need to measure. Also available is the Hanna 96811 which reads to 50% Brix (Specific Gravity of 1.233) and the Hanna 96841 which reads to 30 Plato (Specific Gravity of 1.129), both of which are still higher than any beer or wine that may be produced. Other specifications and features are the same between the four models (not surprising given their identical appearance other than colour - they are likely based off the same base unit and simply have different branding).

Note that while Plato is mostly used by brewers and Brix by winemakers, both formulas are so close to the same in beer/wine making that most will use them interchangeably. Specific Gravity s very common too of course, mostly in brewing.

Most digital refractometers include automatic temperature compensation (ATC) and can be calibrated. You don't have to use calculators or charts to convert the results when taking original gravity readings as you do with hydrometers if the sample temperature is not at the hydrometer calibration temperature. However, similar to optical refractometers, once any alcohol is present (any time after fermentation has started), a conversion calculator must be used to correctly measure gravity. For this reason many will use a digital refractometer for the initial gravity reading (before fermentation has started) and then a regular hydrometer for later measurements.

Looking for a bit more portable? The Atago 3810 Digital Hand-Held Pocket Refractometer gets great reviews from brewers. Completely waterproof (it even floats), includes ATC and is simple also simple to use with only two buttons: Take a reading or calibrate.

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