I am a home brewer. Despite brewing for just under two years, I even had some credentials after winning an All-Ireland Gold Medal this year for a Black IPA I made. I don’t put my success down to being a naturally gifted beer recipe crafter. Instead, I believe it’s the fact I invested in good kit and adopted some brewing technology from day one.

I love a bit of smart brewing kit. My Tilt Hydrometer has become an essential part of my beer-making kit. From the very start, I opted for a refractometer over a hydrometer to measure my gravity readings. Why? Well, I didn’t see the point in wasting so much beer every time I wanted to take a reading or having to wait for a sample to cool. So I used a standard refractometer instead along with some necessary calculations. Naturally, I was excited to learn of Anton Paar’s SmartRef – a smart refractometer.

If you want one yourself, you can save 10% using the link and promo code at the bottom of this article.

So I got out my brewing kit, and brewed up a Czech Pilsner with Kveik yeast, purely in the name of science.

What is a Smart Refractometer?

A refractometer is a handheld tool that uses light to measure the concentration of substances in liquids, solids, and translucent materials. It’s like a tiny magnifying glass that tells you how much sugar is in your lemonade or how strong your saltwater solution is.

Here’s photo, badly taken, through the lens of a standard refractometer:

A smart refractometer, like the Anton Paar SmartRef, works on the same principle as a traditional refractometer, but with the addition of digital technology and connectivity features.

Now for the slightly sciencey bit.

A small sample of the liquid or solid to be measured is placed on the refractometer’s prism. Light from an LED source passes through the prism and into the sample. The refractometer measures the angle of refraction of light as it enters and exits the sample and converts it into the supported measurement of your choice. I opted for Specific Gravity, but the unit also supports Brix and Plato along with some other measurements across a few different apps.

Ultimately all this information is combined to know when the beer is ready and to calculate the alcohol content of a beer.

Benefits of the Anton Paar SmartRef

So, that’s the general concept of how a smart refractometer works. Why is the Anton Paar SmartRef worth looking at?

Automatic Temperature Correction and Calculations

The beauty of using the SmartRef is that you can tune in your brewing setup along with getting more data from your sample. For example, when using a manual refractometer, you need to factor in temperature corrections. The Anton Paar SmartRef can do all that automatically for you when you take your reading.

Adding Science to Homebrewing

The SmartRef is also incredibly accurate. If you don’t know them, Anton Paar is a company that makes incredibly accurate measuring tools for scientists and food specialists. They make refractometers, polarimeters, viscometers, rheometers, density meters, and more for preparing and mixing samples. Their tools are used to test food, drinks, drugs, cosmetics, and beyond. By adopting a SmartRef into your setup, you’re adopting real scientific measurement standards.

Quick and Easy

Quick and easy rarely get mentions in homebrewing, so let’s take our chance. The SmartRef offers a wide and accurate range of measuring across many metrics based on your preferences. Not only does it do it accurately, it does it quickly. No more squinting into a refractometer or trying to see across a 100ml sample of wort with a hydrometer to roughly see a measurement. With SmartRef you get an exact measurement immediately in seconds from just a few drops of your hard work – 0.4ml to be exact.

Brew Meister App and More

I’m sure there’s a good reason for the approach, but Anton Paar has several apps for different jobs. For example, I use Brew Meister because I’m making beer. But they also have an app for winemaking, general lab measurements and even aquarium management. All of these apps have a free tier, but you can pay for premium access too. All of my testing was done on the free tier of the Brew Meister app. All except one test.

I also but a sample of a friend’s homemade honey against a large retailer’s own brand honey. Just for the craic. This was done using the Lab Meister app. With this you can spot if your honey has too much moisture which indicates poor seals on your beehives. Being a tech reviewer sure does make you learn wild things.

Even though there are a few different apps to use, you can use the SmartRef with all of these apps. Anton Paar does have another device though, so just double check you’re getting the best one for you use case you have in mind.

The beauty of these apps is that you can log lots of different data. I’m already using a few apps like Brew Father for general recipe tracking and Tilt for fermentation tracking. Brew Meister gives me highly detailed information on very small samples of wort. It means I can check my beer much quicker and much more accurately than I can with the likes of my Tilt (but that remains a critical part of my setup regardless).

As I’ve already mentioned, the best part of the apps is that they do a lot of the calculations for you already making brew day pass that little bit quicker.

Anton Paars SmartRef: The Verdict

The Anton Paars SmartRef is a useful addition to your homebrewing tool kit. It gives a reliable reading of your wort and beer during critical stages of the brewing process. It removes the need to wait for samples to cool down or for you to be squinting through a hard-to-see lens. For me, using a hydrometer or a standard refractometer was never all that accurate because they are hard to read. Now, the Brew Meister app takes a reading for me in a more accurate fashion than my Tilt Hydrometer.

I’ll still be using the Tilt, but this may very well replace the standard refractometer in my kit completely, with that being kept for emergencies only.

Now, I can’t ignore the fact this is a luxury device for homebrewers. My Dad was a homebrewer. He brewed off kits. He never had this kind of thing, but then he also wasn’t sure how strong what he was making was. He was happy enough with what he made, but I like the meticulous nature of building a recipe and brewing all grain. I like accuracy. And for that reason, I love the SmartRef.

Now, there is a downside to bringing all that science into your setup. While hydrometers and standard refractometers are relatively inexpensive, this is a pricey piece of kit at €299 direct from Anton Paar.

With that said, if you really want to get the best piece of kit for measuring your beer throughout the process, this is the winner right here.

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Marty
Founding Editor of Goosed, Martin is a massive tech fan, into movies and will talk about anything to anyone. - Find me on Mastodon