Anton Paar generously provided SmartRef in exchange for an honest product review.
Gravity readings have always been somewhat of a chore for me. While they aren’t entirely necessary or legally required when it comes to homebrew, they’re beneficial for a variety of reasons. Obviously, gravity readings can help us determine the final ABV% of our beers. Gravity readings also help us determine the efficiency and accuracy of our brewing process. This is especially helpful for the repeatability and predictability of future batches.
I’ve been a long-time user of Anton Paar’s EasyDens Digital Hydrometer. It’s replaced my glass hydrometer/refractometer and any other means of taking gravity readings throughout the entire brewing process. Since I reviewed EasyDens a few years ago, I haven’t looked back.
Anton Paar recently released the SmartRef Digital Refractomer, which can be used in conjunction with EasyDens to determine the ABV% of finished beer. The clever part of this combo is you don’t need any other prior readings or data to determine ABV%. You can omit gravity readings throughout the entire brewing process and still determine the finished beer’s ABV% with an accuracy of 0.5 %v/v.
The biggest problem with a standard handheld refractometer is its inability to compensate for alcohol once the beer is fermented. A standard refractometer is really only reliable during the hot side or pre-fermentation. SmartRef eliminates any guesswork or side calculations and supports the entirety of your brewing process with much greater accuracy and crystal clear results.
SmartRef is the first refractometer with automatic wort and alcohol correction. With a 0.4 mL sample size, the SmartRef delivers readings for Plato [°P], Brix [°B], Specific gravity [SG 20/20], Est. ABV [% v/v], and Temperature [°C], [°F].
Out of the box, SmartRef comes with start-up instructions and 4 pipettes for sampling. The device runs on 2 AAA batteries that are already installed in the unit. SmartRef is an alcohol-correcting digital refractometer, meaning it can be used alone to calculate the OG and FG of both wort and finished beer. It’s a powerful standalone device that will take accurate readings at a relatively affordable price point of $269 USD.
SmartRef can also be used for a variety of other applications such as measuring the salt content of saltwater aquariums (I gave this a shot on my reef tank!) or pools, the sugar content in wine, the sweetness of fruits and vegetables, the moisture of honey, and much more. For simplicity, each application has its own designated mobile app for performing specific calculations. Both the EasyDens and SmartRef can be controlled under the Brew Meister app for easy toggling between the two devices.
For this review, I trialed SmartRef alongside my EasyDens to determine the ABV% of finished beers. This would help me determine accuracy as compared to labeled commercial beers and finished homebrew. Although there are in-depth instructions, I was able to figure out how to get this set up on my own. As a previous user of the Brew Meister app (available on the Apple App Store and Google Play.), I was already familiar with how it functioned and simply needed to connect SmartRef to the app. This process is as simple as turning the device on and allowing your phone/app to pair the two products via Bluetooth.
Here’s a basic overview of taking specific gravity readings with SmartRef:
- Before you get started you must calibrate the SmartRef to zero with distilled water. If you have RO water, this would also be acceptable. This can be done by tapping the ‘3 dots’ menu icon in the top right of the Brew Meister App and selecting “Zero Adjustment”.
- If your beer is carbonated, it must be degassed for best results. The simplest way to do this is to stir the beer until the foam subsides to minimal larger bubbles.
- Fill the SmartRef sample reader up to the first indented fill line.
- Ensure the device is powered on and press “Start Measurement” in the Brewmeister app. Your results will display in about 2 seconds.
- Rinse and carefully wipe the digital reader with a soft cloth after use.
Taking readings with SmartRef is incredibly easy and nearly foolproof. It’s important to note that the acceptable sample temperature range is 10°C–100°C (50°F – 212°F) to prevent damage to the product and ensure accuracy. SmartRef is capable of taking gravity readings of all beer styles.
How to Use SmartRef and EasyDens Together
The beauty of SmartRef and EasyDens allows you to take ABV% readings in finished beer with no prior data. The process for this is actually really simple and just involves taking a simultaneous reading with SmartRef and EasyDens together.
Here’s how to take an ABV% Reading in the Brew Meister App:
- Turn on EasyDens and SmartRef and ensure both devices are connected to the Brew Meister App.
- Fill the syringe (supplied with EasyDens) with your sample, use this syringe to first fill the sample well of the SmartRef and then use the rest of the sample in the syringe to fill the EasyDens.
- In the Brew Meister app, select “Measure ABV.”
- Once both devices are connected, press “Start Measurement.” This will activate both SmartRef and EasyDens automatically and take a simultaneous calculation that will determine ABV% using the two devices.
My trial beers consisted of a 6.7% homebrewed NEIPA and a 6.5% commercial lager. SmartRef and EasyDens were able to correctly calculate ABV% for both samples perfectly. For the most accurate results, fill EasyDens and SmartRef in the order/manner outlined above!
SmarRef and EasyDens ABV% calc have a functional range of:
- Normal beer OG: 10.9 °P – 15.9 °P (approx 1.044 – 1.064)
- Strong beer OG: ≥ 15.9 °P (OG ≥ 1.065)
Just to note, it’s important to ensure both devices are properly cleaned and maintained to ensure accurate results. During my own trials, I found SmartRef to be very accurate. I did get some minor fluctuations between tests, however, it was very minimal. Once the test settled on the same ABV% after re-running 2-3 times, I was satisfied it was accurate.
SmartRef vs EasyDens
You’re probably wondering what the main differences are between SmartRef and EasyDens and why anyone would need both devices. Unless you’re interested in calculating ABV% in beer with no prior data, I probably would not purchase both products unless I had the budget for it.
SmartRef is a digital refractometer while EasyDens is a digital density meter/smart hydrometer. They share a lot of similarities however EasyDens is capable of more standalone calculations and is slightly more accurate. Deciding between the two is a matter of budget. That said, I personally find SmartRef a little easier to use and clean.
I don’t have any negatives regarding SmartRef other than minor fluctuations in readings between tests. One thing worth mentioning is while the BrewMeister app is free to use, you’re limited to the number of batch data you can store without paying for a monthly or annual subscription.
Overall, I think the SmartRef device is a great addition to the serious homebrewers’ arsenal of tools. While the combo of SmartRef and EasyDens is likely geared towards small breweries, SmartRef alone provides a lot of value at a more reasonable cost. If I was on a budget and had to choose one, I would highly recommend SmartRef as a means of taking accurate gravity readings. Overall, I highly recommend it!
For a limited time, use code HAZY10 to get 10% OFF SmartRef, EasyDens or EasyDens & SmartRef Combo at my-smartref.com!