With the holidays just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about parties! And with most parties comes some form of alcohol, whether it’s eggnog or a nice pint of beer. But for some connoisseurs, store-bought beer is just not enough—or just not feasible. That’s why many people turn to home brewing!
Typical brewing systems involve a bucket, some ingredients, and a tad bit of patience, but for an engineer such as myself, that is not enough! We want to know exactly what is going on with our beer at all times. In this project, we will create the SmartBrewer, which will allow us to monitor our tasty golden ale as it brews—just in time for next month’s party!
- Brewing kit that includes containers, needed chemicals, and tools
- Small neodymium magnet
- MAG3110 magnetic sensor board
- Small food-safe cylinder to house the hydrometer
- Particle Photon board
- DHT11 sensor module
- MPL115A2 Adafruit I2C barometric and temp sensor
- MQ-3 sensor
- 2 x 1K resistor
- 1 x 5.6K resistor
- USB micro B cable
- Adafruit IO account
Check out Scheme-It for the full SmartBrewer schematic.
How It Works
The SmartBrewer consists of multiple sensors that allow us, the drinkers, to see different readings about our brew. In our circuit, we measure the following:
- Internal atmospheric pressure
- Hydrometer level
- Internal air temperature
- Internal humidity
- Internal alcohol vapour content
Internal air pressure is recorded using the Adafruit MPL115A2 barometric pressure sensor. Recording the pressure is important for three reasons:
- determining if there is a contamination risk
- preventing oxygen from getting in
- watching the pressure of the brewing vessel
When brewing alcohol, it is imperative that no contaminants, such as dust and insects, get into the vessel. Otherwise, the brew can go bad.
To prevent outside contaminants from getting in, an airlock can be used, which consists of a U-bend filled with water. This allows pressurized gas to leave the container, but it does not allow anything from outside in. However, one of my last brews was nearly ruined because the container itself was not airtight, which could have ruined the batch. Oxygen must be kept away from brewing vessels, as oxygen allows a special bacteria, acetobacter, to turn alcohol into vinegar.
Brewing vessels also run the risk of exploding, should the vents and valves be blocked, so the pressure sensor can let us know before that happens!
The hydrometer setup with magnet attached to the top
To determine how much alcohol is in a brew (which is also an indicator of when it’s ready to drink), a hydrometer is used. A hydrometer is a special glass vile with a scale printed on the side that will float at a specific level, and this level indicates the specific gravity.
Most hydrometers are analog and they require manual reading. We need to be able to read it without opening the container. To achieve this, we will attach a small magnet to the top of the hydrometer and then have a magnetic sensor above the hydrometer. As the content of sugar and alcohol change, the hydrometers floating depth will change, and this will result in a difference in height above the fluid. Therefore, the position of the magnet will change, and this will be measured by a magnetic sensor.
Temperature and Humidity
While temperature is important (as fermentation occurs over a short temperature range), humidity is not. However, as this is a sensor project, I thought it would be interesting to measure as many things as possible, including humidity. It could turn out that humidity does have an effect on the final product. This could mean that future brewing vessels may have humidity control!
From left to right: the MQ-3 alcohol vapour sensor, MAG3110 magnetic sensor board, MPL115A2 barometric and temperature sensor, and DHT11 sensor module
Alcohol Vapor Content
This is another curiosity reading because, in theory, a solution containing alcohol should have some alcohol vapour coming off it. Therefore, it would be an interesting reading to take, as it could reveal how much alcohol is in the atmosphere and, therefore, how much is being lost.
The code for this project is fairly simple. You can check it out on Particle IO.
With everything constructed, you should be perfectly prepared to create a unique beer of your own. Take note of the data you collect—you could very well come up with the newest equation for the perfect brew.
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