The 5 best ph Meters for making good beer

Don't want to muck around? Here's the 5 best portable ph Meters to choose from:

What's a good ph Meter for home brewing?

Coming from the clean and green wilds of New Zealand, I've never really bothered with wondering about the quality of water I use with my home brewing.

In most places of NZ, the water from the tap is simply delicious, clean and quite perfect for homebrewing.

But not all water is the same.

Ever heard of a place called Flint, Michigan?

My vague recollections from 5th form science is that there's hard water, soft water and everything in between. 

And then there's the pH of water. 

But is that what we care about when making beer? 

Kind of. 

It's really the pH of the mash that brewers like to think about.

pH is the measurement of acidity or alkalinity of a solution, where the amount of hydrogen ion are measured.

In the last 10 years or so, an increased understanding of the important role that the pH level of the mash  plays in brewing really good beer has driven both commercial and backyard brewers to closely focus on monitoring and then adjusting their mash pH levels as required.

So what is a Ph Meter then?

A pH meter is a scientific instrument that measures the hydrogen-ion activity in water-based solutions, indicating its acidity or alkalinity.

The pH meter measures the difference in 'electrical potential' between a pH electrode and a reference electrode. This page has an excellent explanation of how ph Meters actually work and explains the science behind them really wee.

pH meters may be utilized in many applications ranging from laboratory experimentation to quality control and checking that your batch of wine is on the correct fermentation path but for the beer brewer, we are concentrating on the beer mash.

But why do brewers care about mash pH?

First of all, beers brewed within a general range of ph tend to brew better than beers that are too acidic or too low in pH.

So, brewers like to take the ph of their mash to determine if it is in the optimal range for the beer tehy are trying to make.

The optimal range is generally considered to be  pH 5.2 to 5.4. A high reading means the beer is too alkaline.

If a brewer's meter determine the pH is too high, they will then need to adjust the level downward by adding acid or calcium sulfate.

Hopbrewer shares their advice: “The conventional wisdom is that a mash pH of 5.0-5.2 is pushing a crisper beer — you’d aim for that with a pilsner or IPA or pale ale. Once you get to a pH of 5.3-5.6, you might get more roundness and less of that tart character. But you also run the risk of extracting tannins.”

So how do I use a Ph Meter to test my beer mash?

PH meters are basically glorified volt meters that measure the 'electrical potential' produced by a special pH probe.

Using a pH meter is a fairly simple process. One should generally draw a small sample of the wort and put in a vessel such as a shot glass. Dip the probes into it to get a pH reading. Make sure your device is turned on and that you have calibrated the meter first!

And remember, the mash can be hot, so be careful not to burn yourself.

THAT said, pH levels should be measured at near room temperature to get an accurate result (that's just good science). So if you could cool your sample quickly (a short time in the fridge), maybe give a stir, you'll get a genuine reading. Don't cool it too much as you'll go below room temperature. I've read that one dude keeps shot glasses ready in the freezer to help with cooling!

Eh, that's a bit of mucking around, maybe do not worry too much....

THAT said, many of the best ph Meters will have Automatic Temperature Calibration features and speaking of features...

What are the specifications of a good ph Meter?

The best ph Meters can have the following specifications or qualities:
  • Replaceable electrode 
  • 2-3 point automatic calibration 
  • Accuracy of 0.01 pH 
  • Portable 
  • A price point between $100 - $150 gives a confidence in quality 
  • Automatic Temperature Compensation (ATC)

What is Automatic Temperature Compensation?

Many higher quality meters use ATC functionality. This is when the unit compensates for the response of the pH meter's electrode with varying temperature.

 As mentioned elsewhere in this post the mash's pH measurement is ideally conducted at room-temperature. This helps to avoid  measurement errors that can be caused by temperature effects on the probe and chemically in the mash.

So ATC accounts for differing temperatures of the mash.

Probes can wear out so require proper storage

Probes wear out over time and you should expect that you’ll have to replace quality ones every 2-3 years if you take good care of it and how how much use they get.

The probes should be stored in a pH storage solution to preserve their lifespan. Open, dry air ruins their potential. So when buying your pH meter you need to purchase a pH buffer or 'calibration kit' . This is why units like the Milwaukee MW102 come with solutions but replacement calibration kits can be separately brought online. You might see them called 'reference solutions'.

Keeping the probe clean after each use will prolong their life - it's a good idea to clean the outside with a soft toothbrush, being very gentle with the bulb part of the probe if this is the kind you have.

It's extremely important to never let the probe dry out. To this end it is fairly important you store the electrode as per the manufacturers' instructions. The normal way to store the probe electrode is in the recommend storage solution which is normally a concentrated form of potassium chloride.

Here's 5 of the best, mid range and mid price meters that you can find online:

Oakton EcoTestr pH 2+ Pocket pH Meter

Oakton EcoTestr pH 2+ Pocket pH Meter reviewThis is a fairly popular pocket product from Oakton. The display is fairly large with a good viewing angle.

It has indicators for battery life (1000 hours), readiness, and calibration (one touch), and shows both the parameter and temperature readings at the same time.

The cap was recently redesigned to be leak-proof and can be attached to the top of the meter when not being used— so no more lost caps for the home brewers!

The cap features a fill line, so you know how much beer wort sample you need for an accurate reading when using the cap as a sample cup. It is also wider, providing a base to keep the meter upright for hands-free measurements.

The new housing is compatible with lanyards to prevent losing or dropping, but is still waterproof and floats just in case you drop it in your mash...

Takes four A76 1.5 V miniature alkaline batteries which can achieve a battery life of 100 hours. Check the price on Amazon.

Milwaukee MW102 PH and Temperature Meter

Milwaukee MW102 PH and Temperature Meter
The MW102 Standard Portable pH / Temperature Meter Standard is a standard portable meter with no frills. 

The Milwaukee brand is recognized as having a reputation for producing low cost durable meters for quick and reliable measurements. 

Milwaukee’s Standard manufacturer advertises that their meters are "manufactured to be easy to use, practical and accurate. Ideal for the classroom, laboratory or for general field use".

The MW102 is a microprocessor based pH/Temperature meter with extended range (-2.00 to 16.00 pH), Automatic Temperature Compensation, automatic calibration in 2 points and ±0.02 pH accuracy. The meter is supplied with pH electrode and calibration solutions.

It's thus quite ideal for anyone working on a low budget but still requiring fast and reliable measurements.

The full kit comes with:
  • MW102 Unit
  • 9v Battery
  • Temperature Probe (MA830r)
  • PH Probe (MA911B/1)
  • PH Probe cover (a small bottle that fits on the PH Probe when not in use that holds storage solution)
  • User Manual & Registration Card
  • 20 ml sachet of PH 4.01 Calibration Solution
  • 20 ml sachet of PH 7.01 Calibration Solution
  • 20 ml sachet of PH Storage Solution Packet
The battery life is estimated by at 300 hours and it features an an auto-off after 8 minutes of inactivity.

A keen brewer reviewed the Milwaukee 102 as a "fantastic tool to have in my brewing arsenal. I originally bought it for taking readings while kettle souring, but its been invaluable as I dove deeper into water profile and mash pH adjustment. It's a bit more expensive than some of the cheaper meters out there, but you get what you pay for. Worth every penny in my book, and I regularly recommend it to those in the market for a high quality meter."

Hach Pocket Pro + Plus 9532000 with replacement electrode

hach pocket pro ph tester

Manufacturer Hach reckons that their Pocket Pro + will "take the guess work out of your measurements" which is entirely the point of a pH meter so a good start that we are on the same page.

Hach Pocket Pro+ is engineered to deliver accurate results. Hach boasts the Pro is backed up with built in performance diagnostics, you never have to guess when to clean or calibrate the sensor.

Featuring a large, easy-to-read LCD screen, the pH range covers 0 to 14 pH meaning it can be used for more than beer brewing, like hydroponics.

The unit takes 4 Triple AAA batteries which are easy to replace. Hach recommends that the electrodes are replaced every 6 months. This unit comes with a replacement unit.

Hanna Instruments HI98128 pHep 5pH / Temperature Tester

Hanna Instruments HI98128 testerThe Hanna Instruments HI 98128 is a popular compact pH tester used in laboratory and industrial applications.

It features:
  • Automatic Temperature Compensation
  • Automatic calibration
  • Dual-line LCD screen
  • Replaceable electrode cartridge
  • Housing that floats in case you drop it. 
The dual-line LCD screen simultaneously shows the current measurement and the current temperature, and a hold function freezes readings for recording. 

The meter has automatic calibration at one or two points with two sets of standard buffers (pH 4.01/7.01/10.01 or pH 4.01/6.86/9.18). 

The meter has a water-resistant housing, a tactile grip casing, and floats. 

The unit requires four 1.5V AA batteries which provide approximately 300 hours of continuous use. The Hanna meter switches off after eight minutes of inactivity to preserve battery life. 

The meter also comes with a HI 73127 pH electrode, an electrode removal tool, and instructions on how to properly use and care for the unit. Check out the price on Amazon.

Apera Instruments AI312 PH60F Premium pH Pocket Tester

This handy unit boasts the following features:
  • Easy-to-install Replaceable flat sensor
  • Triple-Junction structure prevents clogging, works great for regular pH measurement
  • Easy Auto Calibration with auto buffer recognition
  • Auto Temperature Compensation 
  • Unique High/Low Value HEADS-UP function, instantly reminding you of any results that need your attention with a red backlight; 
  • Auto recognition of stable values (with optional AUTO HOLD function) 
  • Large, clear Liquid Crystal Display with 3 backlit color (indicating 3 different modes)
  • Display both temp and pH simultaneously 
  • Also comes with calibration buffer solutions, calibration bottles, storage solutions, AAA batteries, and a lanyard all in a portable carrying case!
  • Check out the price on Amazon

Be wary of buying cheap ph meters

The cheaper the unit, the more likely you will get less than accurate readings and the units electrodes themselves will not last long if used frequently.

Many a brewer has found that by investing in a better quality unit, they get better results. To that end, we generally recommend a price point from 100 to 150 dollars. That said you can go cray cray on price so if going high value, make sure you will get the benefit.

More serious brewers tend to go for bench top units rather than the portable kind.

You could liken it to how beginner brewers start out. The first thing they buy is a brew kettle or potand they usually get the get the cheaper, smaller size kettle – and then suddenly they find they want to keep going with beer making and so need to purchase the bigger kettle or brewing pot. It's the same with the ph Meter - get the better one to save you having to buy another later on.

Finally, a word on ph strips

Did you ever get to use litmus paper in school science to determine if a solution was an acid or a base? The red paper turned blue or something. Either way, you can use ph strips if you wish but those will only given an indication as to your water or brew's pH level, and will never be as accurate as a quality meter. 

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