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How To Use A Hydrometer For Wine

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How Do I Read It

How to Use a Hydrometer for Winemaking

Triple Scale Hydrometers have their name because they indeed have 3 scales. The 3 scales are Specific Gravity, Brix, and Potential Alcohol.

Specific Gravity is the ratio of the density of a liquid to the density of water. In winemaking, as you add sugar, the specific gravity increases. It indicates the amount of fermentable sugar or potential alcohol in the wine.

Brix the measurement of the sugar content in grapes, must, and wine. This indicates the ripeness of the grapes at harvest. To get an alcohol conversion, multiple your Brix by .55.

Potential Alcohol the total measurement of the alcohol that wine may contain, once fermentation is complete. This includes the levels of glucose and fructose. The levels of each will enable the winemaker to determine the conversion rate of sugar into alcohol.

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Brewers Elite Hydrometer And Test Jar Combo

This hydrometer kit has a 4.5-star rating on . The kit comes with a triple scale hydrometer, 250ml test jar, storage case, cleaning cloth, bag, and brush. Graduated color bands on the hydrometer allow the brewer to know when the brew is ready. The triple scale hydrometer measures specific gravity, potential alcohol, and Brix balling.

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Factors That Affect Readings

Normally the carbon dioxide bubbles produced by yeast rise and dissipate into the air above. Early in fermentation when the must is visibly bubbling, the bubbles will attach themselves to the hydrometer and cause it to float higher, increasing the reading slightly. That is the reason spinning the hydrometer in the liquid immediately before reading is recommended. When active fermentation calms down this normally is no longer a problem, as most of the bubbles have dissipated.

Hydrometers are calibrated at manufacture to read accurately at a specific temperature . Higher temperatures will cause the reading to be slightly low.

However, the most important factor to be concerned about is the presence of alcohol. Alcohol is less dense than water and thus makes a hydrometer float a little lower. This has three effects on hydrometer readings: since sugar makes a hydrometer float higher, the presence of both alcohol and sugar in the wine has some canceling effect on each other the Brix scale, which purports to measure sugar, is accurate only before fermentation when no alcohol is present and a wine that has fermented to dryness will have a Brix or PA reading of a negative number.

What A Hydrometer Essentially Tells You

How to Use a Hydrometer

A hydrometer is an essential tool that should be present throughout a wine or beer-making process.

This tool is used to measure the Specific Gravity of liquids prior to fermentation. The hydrometer readings will express the Alcohol by Volume you can potentially produce.

As you may have noticed, the hydrometer readings dont just stop at the beginning of the fermentation process or are just a way to measure how much denser juice is than water. You will then need it throughout the entire fermentation process to be certain that your sugar is being converted into alcohol. This is one of the most important parts, isnt it?

As the days go by, your hydrometer will express a daily gravity drop, as more and more sugar converts into alcohol, the gravity decreases.

Confused? Dont be. Lets take a look at a quick example:

– Say youre making a typical wine. The starting gravity will be approximately from 1.075 – 1.090. Lets take the latter as the initial reading.

– This number will change day to day by approximately 10 points and will depend on nutrition and temperature factors.

– After a few days, the gravity will have dropped to about 1.040 and will complete at 1.000 to 0.990 after approximately 7 days.

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How To Use A Proofing Hydrometer

A proofing hydrometer works exactly the same way a brewing hydrometer does. However, you don’t need to take a “starting gravity” reading. Simply drop a distilling hydrometer in high proof alcohol and read the number on the side. It tells you proof / ABV directly without any calculation. Though there are a couple of caveats. First, just like a brewing hydrometer, a distilling hydrometer is “temperature sensitive” so you may need to correct for temp. Also, it won’t accurately measure the proof of alcohol that has had sugar added after distillation.

How Do You Use A Hydrometer

1. Take a sample and insert the hydrometer

Youll take your first measurement after youve added all your ingredients, but before youve added the yeast. This reading should be taken as close to room temperature as possible.

Use a wine thief to get a sample of your liquid, and fill the testing jar. Be careful not to overfillthe liquid will rise when you insert the hydrometer. Add the hydrometer, and make sure there is enough liquid that it is floating off the bottom. Try to wait until all the air bubbles have left the tube, and make sure the hydrometer is centered in the tube, not touching the sides.

In this picture Im just measuring plain water, and you can see its right around 1.000. If youre using plain tap water this could be off by a little bit, due to minerals or other impurities in the water.

2. Record the Original Gravity reading

The increments of the hydrometer represent specific gravity points. Record the number on hydrometer where the liquid crosses it.

I used another of the Spike Your Juice kits to make a quick bottle of wine from some store bought grape juice , and took a reading of the juice with nothing added.

In this picture, you can see we have a reading of 1.064.

3. Adjust for temperature

The temperature in my kitchen was 78°F, so for my reading above, I would add .0022, giving me a corrected Original Gravity of 1.0662.

4. Wait, then record the Final Gravity reading

5. Calculate

Now the math comes indont worry, its easy! The formula youll use is:

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What Is A Hydrometer

The hydrometer is an essential piece of testing equipment used by winemakers and brewers alike. It’s usually made of blown glass, with a weighted, bulbous bottom and a long narrow stem, and is used in conjunction with a tall, thin measuring cylinder which contains the liquid. When placed into the sample in the cylinder, its design allows it to float in the liquid with the bulbous end downwards. A reading is then taken by looking at a scale, marked on the stem, where the surface of the liquid matches the scale.

How To Use An Hydrometer

How to Use a Hydrometer in Making Wine

The Hydrometer is best described as a floating weight. It is the most important instrument used by the wine maker or brewer.


The hydrometer is used to determine the Specific Gravity of the beer or wine either before fermentation begins or at the end of fermentation. It does this by reading the fermentable sugar content in the wort or grape juice. The more sugar there is in the liquid, the thicker or denser it will become and the higher the Specific Gravity.

It can Check sugar content at start of fermentation, following up to see when fermentation has ceased.

Works out incremental sugar dosing of strong wine (if too much is added at one time fermentation will be inhibited.

Calculates how much sugar is needed to give a required alcohol strength

It is used to determine when the wine or beer is fully fermented.

Find out how much sugar to add to impart the correct alcohol content

It can be use to calculate how much ‘potential’ alcohol can developed in the beer or wine.

Determines when wine or beer should be drawn off or racked.

Checks that wine is not too dry, which can ruin flavour, fullness and keeping quality.

In short, it checks the entire progress of fermentation for either brewing or wine making.


An hydrometer cannot read actual alcohol content of a wine or beer that has finished fermenting. it can only be used to calculate ‘potential alcohol” by reading the sugar content.


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When You Buy A Hydrometer Take Into Account

  • The range of readings , to make sure it will suit your situation. A standard range for home winemakers is 0.990 to 1.120. That is, in order to achieve a 12% wine, you’ll want to start the fermentation of your wine at SG 1.090.
  • What types of liquid the hydrometer measures. Some will only measure specific gravity, but most measure SG, potential alcohol , and sugar content.
  • The calibration temperature of the hydrometer. The most common calibration temp is 60° F.
  • How to convert the SG readings based on the sample temperature. .
  • Whether the sugar content scale is expressed in ounces per gallon , or in grams per litre.
  • If it is the right size to fit in your measuring cylinder.
  • If it comes with a protective case – it should as they are very fragile.

Determine The Final Gravity

Final gravity measures liquid density, just like the original gravity reading does. However, if there weren’t any hitches during the fermentation process, liquid density should be much lower because yeast ate all of the sugar and turned it into alcohol . The difference between original and final gravity will tell you alcohol percentage of the wash.

These steps assume your mash has been fermenting for at least week and the activity in the airlock has slowed down significantly, if not stopped completely. If the airlock has not slowed down then wait a bit longer. Significant bubbling in the airlock means that the yeast is still working.

Once fermentation has finished, take a FG reading by completing the following steps:

  • Use your beer sampler and fill your test jar almost to the top with liquid .
  • Gently drop the beer/wine hydrometer into the test jar- you want to spin the hydrometer so it spins freely and does not stick to the side walls. You will see that the hydrometer floats on the liquid.
  • Write down the number you see on the hydrometer- We are generally looking for a reading of around 1.010 or below. If the reading is above 1.010 let it sit for a few days and then take another reading, because the yeast might not be finished with their job yet. Keep taking samples over a few days until the reading does not change for 3 days in a row.
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    Figuring Out Your Alcohol Level

    Finally your hydrometer will let you calculate how much alcohol your wine contains. If you wrote down the SG number at the beginning, and compare it to the number at the end, you’ll see how much sugar was used up. To figure out how much alcohol that made, all you have to do is multiply the change in gravity by 131.

    Here’s how:

    How Do You Calculate Pure Alcohol Content

    How to Use a Hydrometer for Beer

    Calculation of pure alcohol mass in a serving Pure alcohol mass in a serving can be calculated if concentration, density and volume are known. For example, a 350 ml glass of beer with an ABV of 5.5% contains 19.25 ml of pure alcohol, which has a density of 789.24 g/L , and therefore a mass of 15.19 grams.

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    Using A Hydrometer In Winemaking

    A hydrometer is an instrument used to measure liquid density. It is a sealed glass tube with a weighted bulb at one end, winemakers use this instrument to measure density of juice, fermenting wine and completed wine in relation to pure water. This ratio is called specific gravity .

    Five good reasons to use a Hydrometer:1) Measure the sugar content of your must.2) Calculate the potential alcohol content of the must, before it begins to ferment.3) To see how fermentation is progressing.4) Find out how much alcohol is in the finished wine.5) Determine if fermentation is complete.

    Take Reading Prior To Fermentation

    It is impossible to accurately determine the alcohol content of a fermented beverage without this initial reading. Your hydrometer should have a scale called the potential alcohol scale. This scale measures the amount of alcohol that will be potentially produced if fermented to dryness .

    The easiest way to take a reading is to sanitize a wine thief or “gravy baster”, then remove a sample of the must or wort and place this in the test stand . Fill the stand about 3/4 full, then carefully place the hydrometer in it.

    Give the hydrometer a gentle spin with your thumb and middle finger. This should remove any air bubbles that might otherwise cling to the sides of the instrument. When the hydrometer has settled, take the SG reading with your eye at the surface level of the liquid. Read the scale inside the instrument at the level where the liquid contacts the glass.

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    How To Use Your Hydrometer


  • First, you must take a reading prior to fermentation. It is impossible to accurately determine the alcohol content of a fermented beverage without this initial reading. Your hydrometer should have a scale called the “Potential Alcohol” scale. This scale measures the amount of alcohol that will be potentially produced if fermented to dryness . The easiest way to take a reading is to sanitize a wine thief or “gravy baster”, then remove a sample of the “must” or “wort” and place this in the test stand . Fill the stand about 3/4 full, then carefully place the hydrometer in it. Give the hydrometer a gentle spin with your thumb and middle finger. This should remove any air bubbles that might otherwise cling to the sides of the instrument. When the hydrometer has settled, take the S.G. reading with your eye at the surface level of the liquid. Read the scale inside the instrument at the level where the liquid contacts the glass.

  • After sanitizing a wine thief or gravy baster, remove a sample of the “must” and place it in the test stand. Take a reading, then refer to the accompanying hydrometer chart. This will indicate the natural sugar content in the”must.”
  • How A Hydrometer Works

    Wine making 101: How to use a hydrometer

    The best way to explain the working of an hydrometer is with a graphic example.

    Taking a sample

    A sample of must* is taken and poured into a measuring cylinder. The hydrometer is gently lowered into the cylinder with a gentle spinning motion. It will then bob up and down a little until it finds its level.

    In the image are two hydrometers in measuring cylinders. The one on the left which sits higher up in the cylinder is showing a higher SG – meaning there is more sugar in it.

    The one on the right is an example of a wine containing very little sugar. The sugar could be almost fully fermented out into alcohol at this stage, or it’s a sample with a very low sugar level.

    NB.Be careful not to drop the hydrometer into the measuring cylinder too hard as it could hit the bottom and break.

    *must = unfermented grape juice

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    What To Do With Your Readings

    Keep a written log of all the readings taken for a particular wine. Some conclusions can be drawn from the numbers even without going through any calculations.

    The first reading, taken before fermentation is started, will tell you if you have enough sugar present to produce a desired amount of alcohol. For stability during aging a wines ABV should be at least 10%, which means the beginning SG should be at least 1.080 . If the sugar level is too low, adjust it and then take another reading. The new reading will now become your first reading.

    Any reading taken after fermentation is started can be compared to the previous reading to track the general progress of the fermentation. A drop in the reading indicates a drop in sugar and a rise in alcohol. Having hydrometer readings remain stable over a period of time is one of the signs that fermentation has completed.

    If a wines reading increases at any time and it is not due to adding sugar or another item to the wine, likely the cause is carbon dioxide, especially if bubbles are visible. If this occurs near the end of fermentation, try degassing the wine by stirring vigorously after racking.

    Once the specific gravity drops to about .996 or below , the wine has fermented to dryness, as is true of the wine in the photo with this article.

    Other sources in addition to the articles in the links above: June/July 2008 WineMaker magazine.

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