Beer Bug: Bringing moar data to your brew
Getting started in brewing beer has a minimal capital investment. For around $80, you can get all the equipment you need to brew a beer better that most of the beer you can buy in the store.
What you'll quickly find is that yes, you can make good beer with a starter kit. But there are parts of it that just suck. Like trying to get a siphon going to rack your beer (but an auto-siphon). Or post boil, getting the temperature down to where you can pitch the year (get a wort chiller). Bit by bit you keep getting things that make the process a little easier.
So I signed up to kickstart this thing back in November 2012, expecting to have it by Christmas. It ended up arriving in Feburary 2014. This is pretty much par-for-the-course for kickstarter.
Anyway, what does this thing do? In short, it measures temperature and original gravity of your brew, and uses Wifi to upload that data to the cloud. On their website, they have pretty graphs and other stuff so you can keep track of how your brew is going.
Tracking temperature is actually a really good way to make your beer even better. Basically you want to keep it within a small temperature range to control the flavor of your beer. Too warm or too cold and the yeast may give off undesirable flavors. Without the data, there's no way to control that temperature range without resorting to guessing.
Original gravity takes a bit more explaining, as it's not a measurement people have heard of. Roughly, it measures the amount of solids dissolved in a solution. For brewing, this means fermentables (basically, sugar) to feed the yeast. By taking a measurement at the beginning and the end of the brew, you can calculate how much alcohol your brew will end up with.
OG is also the only way to know when you're done fermenting. If you look at the green line in the graph above, you can see the OG leveling off towards the end, indicating the fermenting is done.
Without the Beer Bug, measuring OG is tricky. To do it safely (ie. with no contamination risk), you need to sneak a sample out and use your (rather fragile) hydrometer in a tall flask. It's a pain. I usually just end up guessing when the fermentation is done (based on time) and then taking the final measurement.
I plan on getting a brew together in the next couple weeks to try my new toy out. Very much looking forward to it!