Can you Trust Cheap Refractometers for Homebrewing?

aichose Brix Refractometer with ATC, Dual Scale - Specific Gravity & Brix, Hydrometer in Wine Making and Beer Brewing, Homebrew KitPictured: aichose Brix Refractometer with ATC, Dual Scale – Specific Gravity & Brix, Hydrometer in Wine Making and Beer Brewing, Homebrew Kit – affiliate link, note that multiple variations of this product may be available, as such a different version may appear at this link

When I first started homebrewing years and years ago, refractometers were expensive. Homebrew shops were selling them for $50 to $70. Even now, it’s not economy to see off brand refractometers sell in this range.

Lab grade refractometers

Prior to regular use by hobbyists refractometers were generally lab equipment. along those lines a lab grade refractometer can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Example: Atago 3810 PAL-1 Digital Hand Held Pocket Refractometer, 0.0 – 53.0% Brix Measurement Range

What about $10 to $20 economy refractometers?

It’s not uncommon to see a dual scale refractometer for $20 or under. It’s my opinion that most of the economy, non lab grade refractometers are probably manufactured by a handful of makers.  Or at the very least, the manufacturers are producing units of similar quality.  You could easily pay $60 at one retailer and $20 for the same unit via another retailer.

Example: I’m aware of one homebrew shop offering that regularly sells for $50. It looks like most of the other economy refractometers on the market and has similar specs. It has on multiple occasions been marked down 50% to $25. My guess is that they’re still making a profit at $25. That means that this unit is regularly marked up well over 100%.  Is it a better refractometer when it’s selling for $50 compared to $25. No.

I have the previously mentioned Atago PAL-1. It’s a high quality unit. For under $30, do not expect a lab or commercial grade unit. The thing is, as homebrewers, we don’t require lab grade results or lab grade sturdiness. We use our refractometers a few times per month and if we’re off by a little it’s not a huge deal.

Having purchased three different economy model refractometers from different sources, I have been happy with each and have no problem purchasing a $10 to $20 refractometer.

Shopping Tips

  • Look for… Dual Scale (both brix and gravity) and ATC (automatic temperature correction). Carrying cases are also nice, but not 100% necessary.
  • My suggestion is to look for devices with good seller ratings. In the absence of ratings purchase from a retailer that allows returns.
  • If you’re looking for a higher quality unit, check out Vee Gee, Milwaukee InstrumentsAtago and Misco – those links are all Amazon searches to get you started.  Verify specs and features.

Best Sellers in Lab Refractometers

This page is updated frequently and shows a ranking of Amazon’s Best Selling Refractometers

Recent Finds:

Price, promotions and availability can change quickly. Check each product page for current price, description and availability.

For me, getting a refractometer was one of those upgrades that made a lot of difference.  With a refractometer you need a sample size of two drops.  I figured that this would pay for itself in beer savings alone.  I also had just broken my hydrometer and came to the realization that hydrometers are made of breakable glass that can break! 🙂

With the aid of calculators – get a Free Non-Expiring Brewfather Trial Account –  Refractometers can be used to measure gravity throughout the brewing process.

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Make sure the components you use are compatible and rated for your intended application.  Contact manufacturer with questions about suitability or a specific application.  Always read and follow manufacturer directions.

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