Also known as ‘alcohol hydrometers’, ‘spirit hydrometers’, ‘proofing hydrometers, or simply as an ‘alcoholmeter’, these devices are essential in the distilling process to test the alcohol by volume (ABV) produced. But which are the best? Do you need one that goes from 0-100 or should you get a set with finer resolution?? Is there a digital option?
In this guide, we’re going to go through what to look for when buying an alcoholmeter, and what we’d recommend buying depending on what stage our your distilling journey you are on!
What Is An Alcoholmeter?
An alcoholmeter is used to measure the alcohol content of your spirits. To be more specific, it measures the ratio of ethanol to water in a mixture based on their relative densities.
To the untrained eye, an alcoholmeter looks the same as a hydrometer. It also works on the same principles- floating in a liquid and taking its reading from where it floats.
It’s able to do this based on the difference in density between water and alcohol. Ethanol has about a 21% lower density than water.
The main difference with a hydrometer is the scale. An alcoholmeter has a scale from 0-%100 while a hydrometer’s scale goes between a specific gravity range of (typically) 0.99 to 1.017,
Alcoholmeters are extremely sensitive tools, just like hydrometers, as both instruments can be affected by temperature and barometric pressure. Most alcoholmeters are calibrated at 20 degrees Celsius. This means if a product is hot, it determines a high alcohol percentage, compared to when the product is cool, a low alcohol percentage will result.
All good alcoholmeters provide a correction table that you can use to adjust your reading for temperature. Or, to estimate the actual % abv without a temperature correction table you just need to remember one general rule. For every 1 °C over 20°C subtract off 0.33% from your reading.
You can read more on the difference between an alcoholmeter and a hydrometer here.
How To Use An Alcoholmeter?
Alcoholmeters are easy to use but there are a few tricks to ensure you make accurate readings.
Tip 1: Use on pure spirits only
It is necessary to test the alcohol percentage when the spirit is still authentic and in its raw form, before any additives are included.
Tip 2: Always measure at 20 degrees celcius
The temperature of the spirit is best checked at 20C or 68F. If the temperature is too low or too high, the alcohol meter will float higher or lower and not confirm an accurate measurement reading.
Tip 3: Read from the bottom of the meniscus
Due to the surface tension of water and ethanol, a thin meniscus is formed around the stem of the hydrometer up from the surface of the liquid. Generally, we want to ignore this and take our alcohol reading from the base of the meniscus, not the top.
Tip 4: Use a proofing parrot
Proofing parrots are devices that let you float a hydrometer in the take-off stream, letting you take (almost) real-time readings from your still. You can read more on what proofing parrots we recommend here.
How To Use And Alcoholmeter (Step-By-Step Guide)
- Step 1: When you first unpack your alcohol meter from the plastic encasing, ensure that you sanitize your equipment and the area you plan to achieve your brewing experience.
- Step 2: When your equipment is thoroughly sanitized. Tip the test jar to an angle position and pour the sample inside. This process is done to prevent the carbon dioxide or oxygen gas bubbles from surfacing during transfer. When pouring the sample into the test jar, make sure to fill the jar about 3/4 full. As the alcohol meter will result in a rise in levels of the fluid.
- Step 3: Insert the alcohol meter into the test jar. Make sure to grab the top of the alcohol meter and gently stir the sample to remove any excess bubbles from the sample. Make sure the alcohol is contact-free from the walls of the test jar and does not stick to the sides or bottom of the test jar.
- Step 4: When reading for accuracy, simply match the reading scale with the highest level of fluid in the jar. You will notice when taking the measurement readings, one is a proofing hydrometer scale and the other is a Tralle scale. The Tralle scale reading will always be half of your proofing hydrometer reading. Therefore, the Tralle scale calculates alcohol by volume (ABV) percentage.
What Are The Different Types Of Alcoholmeters?
1. Standard Alcohol Hydrometer
Standard alcohol hydrometers with a scale of 0-100% are considered a golden tool for home-distillers. Because they are easy to use and small in size to fit most distilling parrots. Standard alcohol hydrometers rely on liquid or fluid density to get measurement readings. However, standard alcohol hydrometers do not produce accurate readings.
2. Accurate Alcohol Hydrometer
Accurate alcohol hydrometers are similar to standard alcohol hydrometers because both rely on fluid or liquid density to measure readings. However, the difference is that accurate alcohol hydrometers are larger in size- making it possible for accurate readings to be conducted. Accurate alcohol hydrometers have a more limited scale, either measuring up to 30% increments.
3. Alcohol Refractometer
The standard principle for an alcohol refractometer measures the dissolved substance in the liquid. The alcohol refractometer uses optical density to measure the ABV percentage of the liquid and only a milliliter of liquid is required for testing. The alcohol refractometer does not produce accurate readings like the standard alcohol hydrometer or an accurate alcohol hydrometer. But it is quick and convenient to use.
4. Digital Alcohlmeters
Best choice to use for accurate, quick, and efficient results. However, it is expensive.
The Best Alcohol Hydrometers in 2023
Here are our top 4 alcoholmeters for people of all budgets and experience levels.
1. Best For The Beginner: American Brewing Alcohol Meter
This is my favorite alcohometer to recommend to anyone – from beginner to old hat.
Why? Because it’s American-made!
There are so many cheap Chinese alcoholmeters flooding the market these days it’s hard to know what you’re getting is the real deal. We are literally trusting this little guy with our lives so I want to be 100% sure the alcohol reading I’m getting is correct.
You’re being dramatic? Well, maybe a little bit.. but I’ve ordered two sets of alcoholmeters from the same eBay seller before and found they gave me different results by ± 1 or 2 percent.
Pros: Every alcoholmeter below by American Brewing is tested in the factory before being shipped. They come with a testing cylinder, bottle brush, cleaning towel, and instruction booklet.
They are also N.I.S.T registered so you can be assured of the lab grade quality.
Finally, these things are tough. I’ve dropped my fair share of fragile glass test instruments on the distillery floor and these ‘seem’ to me to hold up better than others!
Cons: Obviously these aren’t the cheapest which is fine for the quality you are getting. But, I do struggle a little bit with the 0-200 proof scale. Sure, you just need to divide by two but I would much rather have it reading in 0-100% percentages.
- HIGH QUALITY PROOF & TRALLE TEST KIT: American made, NIST Traceable 0-200 Proof & Tralles Hydrometer for alcohol (Made in the USA) meeting or exceeding the standards set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. 0-200 PROOF scale for alcohol proofer testing spirits, high alcohol liquor, moonshine, corn whiskey, barrel aging dissipation, infusion batch and tincture recipes or other high alcohol content home distilling beverages for alcohol content measuring.
2. Best Refractometer: Alcohol Refractometer
An alcohol refractometer is used to measure the alcohol content in alcohol liquor production, distilled beverages, and home-brewed production. The alcohol refractometer is in a 0-80% volume percentage range and is portable and needs no batteries. The alcohol refractometer is used to measure alcohol content in distilled products like vodka, brandy, whiskey, gin, tequila, and slivovitz. The automatic temperature minimizes the effect of temperature when testing for measurement readings. The alcohol refractometer is packaged in a firm plastic case, accompanied by a cleaning cloth, screwdriver, instructions, and some pipettes. Currently available at $21.99.
- It is portable and needs no battery, it is easy to learn and use even for new user.
3. Best For Blending And Cuts: 3 Piece Alcoholmeter Set
Seeking precise and professional alcohol meters, then this set is a perfect choice, as it includes a 0-40% alcohol meter, a 40 -70% alcohol meter, a 70-100 alcohol meter plus a thermometer. All the tools are enclosed in a wooden box to keep them safe. The alcohol meters plus thermometers are suitable for brewing wine, spirit, and beer. Hence, the products can be used in laboratories, homes, or even beer or chemical factories.
- A professional and precise alcohol measurement set, it includes a 0-40% alcohol meter, a 40-70% alcohol meter, a 70-100% alcohol meter and a thermometer
4. Special Mention: The Snap41 and Snap 51 Digital Alcoholmeters
Ok, so this is cool but will certainly break the bank, so unless you’re a large commercial distiller, or just won lotto, this probably isn’t for you.
The Snap 41 and Snap 51 digital alcoholmeters cost about $1400 and $4500 respectively.
It measures the alcohol content in all your sugar-free distilled spirits at any strength, from pure distilled spirits to watered-down, ready-to-drink spirits. The portable instrument measures your samples directly at the container within a few seconds. Results are shown in %v/v or °Proof, already corrected for temperature and given in easy-to-read numbers on the large color display.
The Snap 51 is essentially a more accurate version of the 41 with a tolerance of 0.2%v/v for the snap41 to a tolerance of 0.1%v/v for the 51.
Temperature: 5 °C to 30 °C (41 °F to 86 °F)
(automatic temperature correction)
|Temperature: 0 °C to 40 °C (32 °F to 104 °F)|
(automatic temperature correction)
|Accuracy||Alcohol: 0.2 %v/v||Alcohol: 0.1 %v/v|
|Resolution||Alcohol: 0.01 %v/v|
Temperature: 0.1 °C (0.1 °F)
|Alcohol: 0.01 %v/v|
Temperature: 0.01 °C (0.01 °F)
|Internal Storage||–||1024 measured results, 250 sample IDs, 30 measuring methods|
|Weight||660 g (23.3 ounces)||860 g (30.3 ounces)|