This review is by Homebrew Finds Contributor Brad Probert. Brad is an engineer, expert homebrewer and experienced reviewer. Grab a link to Brad’s website at the end of this review.
Tilt Bluetooth Fermentation Hydrometer
I get pretty excited about most homebrew gear. As an engineer, I love trying to find new tools that let me brew more consistently, or give me control over processes that previously were just a spectator sport. The Tilt Bluetooth hydrometer is one of those devices that pulls back the curtain a bit on a part of the brew process that’s a bit more mysterious. It lets you see what’s going on within your fermenting beer in a way that makes you wonder how you managed without it before.
Get the Gear: Tilt Hydrometer &Thermometer Bluetooth Fermentation Device w/ App – via Amazon
The device comes in a compact clear polycarbonate tube, sealed on each end to keep the battery and fancy circuitry dry as it floats along in your fermentor. It’s completely no-strings-attached, and you just drop it in your fermentor and the Bluetooth chip on board broadcasts to your smartphone or tablet to report Standard Gravity and temperature. It makes use of a novel concept to track your gravity. It has a digital inclinometer on board, which measures how much it’s “tilt”-ed . The weight of the device makes it want to sink in your beer, and buoyancy of the cylinder counteracts it. The thicker your wort is, the Tilt doesn’t sink as much and as a result has a greater tilt. As your fermentation progresses and the gravity drops, the buoyancy decreases and Tilt sinks lower and becomes more vertical. The circuitry measuring the angle does some calculations and outputs the angle as a gravity measurement.
The app running on your phone/tablet will continuously display the gravity & temperature whenever you pull it up, and every 15 minutes it will take readings and write the data to the cloud. That can either be a file maintained on the Tilt server, or they provide step-by-step directions on how to create your own Google Sheets document and keep a copy on your Google Drive. You can log readings whenever you wander by your fermentor and manually push updates to the cloud, or leave a device running within Bluetooth range so it can continually write every 15 minutes. If you’re Raspberry Pi fluent (I’m not), you can also use that for data logging, as Tilt has a couple free software downloads for your Pi to facilitate logging or display on an HDMI monitor.
Here’s some of the numbers. It’s about 3.5 inches long, and just over 1 inch in diameter. That means it can fit through a carboy neck and thus work in any size/shape fermentor. Its operating range is 32F – 185F. The SG readings have an accuracy of +/- 2 SG points (0.002), and temperature readings are +/- 2 degrees F. The 2 SG points initially sounded large to me, but after some research, I found it is in line with your typical refractometer or hydrometer (assuming you can eliminate the human factor of accurately reading these). But the data you get from Tilt is really more about tracking trends in your gravity progress over time rather than the exact gravity reading at any one point in time.
Hands on Review
Pre-Tilt, my typical fermentation monitoring process involved counting how many seconds between airlock bubbles and staring at the krausen on top (or lack thereof). After only a couple of batches fermented using the Tilt, the thought of counting bubbles seems so archaic that I couldn’t imagine fermenting without a Tilt in my fermentor. I do have one fermentor with a sampling port, but you can’t realistically get as frequent of samples (every 15 minutes for hours) to be able to recognize fermentation trends.
In my first round of evaluation, I had one Tilt in a Brewtech stainless steel Brew Bucket and one in a plastic PET fermentor. The stainless steel one was the most “Bluetooth transmission challenged” set-up. In addition to the steel walls and lid, I was fermenting using their FTS temperature control so there was a stainless cooling coil inside and a stainless temperature well. On top of that, I had it sitting on the bottom shelf of my stainless work table. With that configuration, I couldn’t pick up a signal unless I was within about 3 feet of the fermentor. I also had the fermentor in my refrigerator (steel door, not plastic) and I likewise found that with door closed I could read the signal, but had to be near it. So I would walk down to the basement, get within range, and grab a reading whenever I thought of it.
In contrast, the Tilt in my PET fermentor gave me readings all the way up to portions of the 2nd floor of my house, with the fermentor in the basement. Quite the difference. To overcome the range limitations on the stainless steel fermentor, I would sometimes leave my phone plugged in charging downstairs when home. I could try to buy a cheap tablet or used cell phone to leave down there, but for now, I managed it with frequent visits to the basement. I’m a data addict, so an extra trip to the basement to grab a data point is worth it to me.
The data plots have been really helpful in each batch where I’ve had the Tilt going. I had a lager fermenting using a Czech Pils yeast that supposedly liked the temperature range of 50 – 58F. After several days of sitting at 50F with no change in gravity, I bumped up the temperature a couple of degrees at a time until I finally saw the gravity start to drop at 58F. And when the downward trend of decreasing gravity started to tail off, I bumped up the temperature and gave the fermentor a bit of a shake. This got the downward trend going again instead of stalling out. My usual process of “krausen watching” would’ve missed this plateau, as there wasn’t much of a visual change at that point.
With the Tilt, I saw my Black IPA had finished fermenting in about a week. Typically I would’ve let it go for about two weeks, watching bubbles in the airlock. And in a Pale Ale batch with good ol’ California Ale yeast, I was able to match gravity trends with my fermentation temperature control in real time- bumping up the temperature whenever I saw progress slowing. I could see trends start to show up over a couple of hours in my data log that otherwise I would’ve been blind to.
I did notice what appeared to be an offset between gravity measured with my digital refractometer for OG and FG compared to what the Tilt was reading. However, I didn’t do any kind of controlled study using the same sample of wort that I could say there was a real difference there. And since I was using the Tilt data to see gravity trends and knowing when fermentation was finished, the absolute value didn’t really matter. And on one fermentation, where I overfilled the fermentor (hard to let it go to waste, right?), the Tilt could get trapped in the top of the fermentor as the walls slanted in toward the neck of the carboy. So I learned that I need to ensure I’m not trapping the floating Tilt in the geometry of the fermentor.
Overall, the Tilt exceeded my expectations. As an equipment geek, I was excited about the device itself and its unique way of measuring gravity. But having that data and seeing the trend plots opened up my fermentation world to new levels of control that otherwise simply weren’t available to me. And being able to guide the fermentation process along- avoiding stalls and knowing when fermentation is done- shaves time off the most patience-trying portion of homebrewing. It’s a glimpse into the mysterious world of yeast that makes it feel much less like dark magic and something you can control.
Get the Gear
TILT™ Bluetooth HYDROMETER AND THERMOMETER Homebrew Beer Wine Cider – via eBay
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Special Thanks to Lion Brewing Solutions for providing the unit used for evaluation in this review.
By Brad Probert. Check out Brad’s website – beersnobby.com
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