This time last year, I started brewing my own beer. Real beer, not just brewing beer in a game. After years of lockdown and getting a taste for craft beer, I wanted to make my own. There was one stage of the brewing process I just thought was inefficient; gravity readings. Naturally, I assumed there was some technology out there to help. That’s when I found the Tilt Hydrometer. Tilt was good enough to send over a hydrometer for me to test and here’s what I thought of it.
What Are Gravity Readings When Home Brewing Beer?
Before we get into the devil of the detail, I wanted to explain gravity readings. More so, I wanted to explain why I thought they were terribly inefficient.
In homebrewing, a gravity reading is taken before fermentation begins and again at the end of fermentation. By comparing the two readings, a homebrewer can determine the alcohol content of the beer, as well as monitor the progress of fermentation. There’s lots of science at play here, but I just check the gravity numbers versus what I was targeting in my recipe.
The beginner, and widely accepted most reliable, way to check gravity is with a hydrometer. It does this by floating in the liquid and measuring how much it sinks, which is directly related to the liquid’s density. But this means every time you want to test a sample, you have to take 100ml of beer and chuck it away. On brew day, depending on when you take a sample, you might also need to wait for it to cool down to room temp.
This led me toward a refractometer. Instead of 100ml of beer being wasted, a refractometer needs but a few drops of beer to give you the same measurement. However, it comes with its own problems given readings can be affected by the presence of alcohol, which can lead to inaccurate measurements of the specific gravity and potential alcohol content of the beer. Additionally, calculations must be adjusted to account for the effects of alcohol, which can be complicated and require special software or charts.
So far, we have wasted beer, wasted time, and wasted effort. All of this is bad news when you’re a guy who loves wasting money.
Enter the Tilt Hydrometer.
What is the Tilt Hydrometer?
A Tilt Hydrometer is a digital device that measures the specific gravity of beer or other fermented beverages during the fermentation process. It floats in the fermenting beer and transmits real-time gravity readings and temperature data to a mobile device or computer. The Tilt allows homebrewers (and commercial brewers) to monitor and track the progress of fermentation without the need to manually take gravity readings.
Tilt Hydrometer Review
Well, that’s what it says on the label at least. But does it ring true?
Data is the Highlight of the Tilt Hydrometer
One of the big plusses with the Tilt Hydrometer is the data it gives you. I synced mine to my Brewfather App and then got this beautiful wealth of data live-streamed over the two weeks my beer fermented.
There are two really important values here. I’ve already talked about gravity. This is crucial to know when you’re beer is ready to package. But if, like me, you’re using bottles, packaging early can be a disaster. Namely, because if the yeast is still working, reducing gravity, after the beer is bottled, you can end up with a bottle rocket.
Using the Tilt means I can see that the beer has settled on gravity for days, without needing to measure twice, wasting two samples in doing so.
The other important piece of data is the temperature. Depending on the yeast you use and the style you’re brewing, the yeast will require a specific temperature. I don’t have much temperature control, as you can see. At the same time, I can see the temperature never went wildly high or low. If it did, I could take some emergency steps to cool my fermenter, like wrapping it in a cold towel.
Using the Tilt
Using the Tilt, initially, was really easy. There’s a caveat coming in the next section, but I want to stick to the positives first.
The Tilt itself is delivered ready to rock and roll. Simply open the outer tube that the Tilt comes in (it has a Tilt sticker – don’t open the Tilt itself), and pop it into water. Once floating, it immediately activates and can be synced to your phone using the Tilt App or local network connection.
Once everything is up and running and you can see the Tilt in your app, it’s time for some Star San or similar no-rinse cleaner. You want the Tilt to be as clean as anything you use as part of your cold-side brewing. Leave it in contact with your sanitiser for a few minutes and pop it into your fermenter when ready.
While it takes some techie confidence to get it up and running, all of this went really smoothly for me. That was until I left the house and took my phone with me.
Lots of Tilt Data Until…
It was a bit of a duh moment. The Tilt’s data feed was completely dependent on my phone being connected to it directly via Bluetooth. There are workarounds. For example, this is a great use of an old Android smartphone if you have one lying in a drawer. You can use this as a Tilt Repeater. The Tilt website has lots of info on how to do this, but it wasn’t the route I took. I took another route that Tilt recommends; building the Tilt Pi.
This is a relatively cost-effective solution if you don’t have an old phone lying around. It’s also less power-hungry than using a phone. For this solution, you’ll need a Raspberry Pi computer loaded with Tilt software. I can hear quite a few of you already tutting and saying this isn’t going to work. It really does. It works well, and wasn’t all that hard to work out, to be honest. It’ll even work if you have several batches at once and several Tilt Hydrometers.
This is the world of open source and it’s fun! It removes the range restrictions of Bluetooth and, most importantly, lets you check on your beer’s progress when at work or on the bus.
The Tilt was fairly accurate. Maybe I was less sensitive to accuracy being bang on for a few reasons. I’m new to brewing, I’m not always nerding out over hitting my numbers perfectly. It didn’t do me too much harm so far either. I’ve enjoyed all my beers and even won an All Ireland medal for a Black IPA I did; I was more shocked than anyone given it was the fourth beer I’ve ever brewed – the second with my Tilt.
I do have to admit, that the Tilt usually is a few points off my refractometer and old-fashioned hydrometer. The funny thing is that it doesn’t really matter all that much. What I need the Tilt to check is when fermentation is done. That’s two days with the same gravity reading. It nails this one job.
The creators of Tilt admit themselves it’s not perfect on the website, stating it will be accurate to +/0.002 within a total range of 0.990 to 1.120 for gravity readings and +/-0.5°C for temperature. I’ve seen it go a little beyond these limits for gravity, but not by much. It also balanced out over time and didn’t have much, if any, impact on my beer.
I did have one issue brewing one of my beers where foam got onto the Tilt and the readings went haywire. I moved the fermenter a small bit and this fixed it.
Now, does it replace traditional methods of measuring gravity? Not completely, though I’m sure it could depending on your approach. I like to have lots of data and cross-check my data too. For this, I still need a refractometer to hand during the brewing process. Yes, you can bung it into the fermenter and take a reading before you pitch, but through your brew day, you’ll probably want some other readings. I could continue without a hydrometer though which I just see as being a waste of good beer.
Tilt Hydrometer: The Verdict
It’s not the cheapest thing on the planet and is only available, as far as I can see, in the US. This adds a few layers of problems for us Irish, EU and UK Brewers in terms of customs and delivery charges. The Tilt alone will set you back €125. I highly recommend a Raspberry Pi too. This makes the whole experience much better and more consistent.
Simply put, every brew I do now will have a Tilt Hydrometer in it. Now, I didn’t have to buy it, fair enough. But I’d almost certainly buy another digital hydrometer if this one broke.
Sure, you probably don’t “need” a Tilt, but you also don’t “need” to brew your own beer.Marty – Goosed.ie
For me, this is the perfect marriage of two things I adore; technology and home-brewing beer. There’s a strange hobbyist cross-section here. Sure, you probably don’t “need” a Tilt, but you also don’t “need” to brew your own beer.