This past month Hanna introduced a new alcohol meter as part of its Wine Line of instruments. I’m a fan of their products and have more than a few in my lab. The less expensive glass labware for me to break, the better.
This one is especially cool though, as it simplifies and speeds up the process of determining ABV while costing nearly the same as a non-electric Dujardin-Salleron ebulliometer ($735.00 vs. $795.00) which, incidentally, was first invented around 1870.
Moreover, it’s half the cost of an electric ebulliometer ($1500.00). And while an electric ebulliometer has better accuracy (0.1% vs. 0.2%) you really have to crunch the numbers and look at just how close your wines are to the 14% threshold to justify spending twice as much for a 0.1% increase in accuracy. Since most of my favorite California pinots all live just above 14%, I’ve resigned myself to the idea that we’ll be in the 14 and over category more often than not. Of course your mileage may vary.
Bonus: Doesn’t cost $15,000!
Originally I was looking at the super speedy, but super pricey Alcolyzer from Anton-Paar. However when you consider than an Alcolyzer costs $15,000, yet isn’t much quicker than the Hanna (2.5 mins vs. around 5 mins), the choice became pretty obvious.
Here are some interesting quotes I dug up during my research on the Alcolyzer. They’re from the Winemaker’s diary over at David Coffaro Winery.
The alcolizer (sic) is finally here and is working. Brendan is coming back tomorrow and we will have more input. Initially we are concerned with the inconsistency of this $13,000 product. BUT after continued experiment we concluded that the distilled water we were using to calibrate the Alcolizer was interfering with the constant results. We found that we needed to do 5 alcohol after calibrating with water, in order to achieve a stable result. Also we found that the analyses took longer than I hoped. We were hoping for results in one minute, but we will be very happy with the 2.5 min we got. We were told that the sample had to warm up to 68 degrees and our wine is stored at 62 now. Link.
…We are starting to live with the inadequacies of our Alcolizer. Yes I know we spent $13,000 on this instrument, but the one instrument that is debatably more accurate (Gas Chromatography) is much more expensive. Brendan and I will test the Alcolizer again Friday to make sure it is worth the price. Remember if we amortized this cost for only one year, it would amount to only $3 per case.
ed: David did end up keeping his Alcolizer:
…BTW, my alcolizer performed flawlessly so I paid the $15,000 bill (see my earlier concerns in Week 2 and Week 3 of this year). Link.
>li>Fit and Finish – This is the most well thought out, wine-specific instrument Hanna has made. From the Wizard in the HUD to the design of the probe holder so that the probe sits at the perfect depth in the sample (something totally lacking from some of their other meters), simply using the meter is much improved. There is, however, one very notable exception: the stir plate (see below).
One disappointment is that Hanna is incredibly vague about the method they use to determine ABV. In the manual, under principal of operation they write:
The alcohol determination is made using a new method. The meter takes two readings, one before the Hanna reagent is added and one after. The difference between the readings is used to calculate the alcohol content.
Wow! Thanks guys! The probe itself looks like it could be an EC meter, but I’m not entirely sure. No clue what the reagent is. Hanna hasn’t posted an MSDS or data sheet online for HI 83540-50 as of yet.
The biggest potential problem however is that Hanna says that residual sugar acts as an interference. So if R.S. values are unknown, the accuracy of the meter falls from 0.2% to 0.4%. Happily I’m able to generate RS values in house as well, so this isn’t an issue for me. But for those without a reducing sugars meter and test tube heater/digester, this will be an issue.
Finally there is the case of the magnetic stir plate built in to the meter. In short, it sucks. When I was a pizza delivery boy in college and had taken a particularly long time on a delivery, I would inevitably be greeted by my boss with this memorable phrase: “You drive like old people f*ck!”
Well, this magnetic stir plate spins like old people f*uck. It doesn’t properly homogenize the wine and the standard solution after it’s added. Because of this multiple readings must be taken and there is much waiting, and gnashing of teeth. All the while the Little Stir Bar That Could tries its best to mix everything up adequately, and fails.
What I do now, after blowing through nearly a whole bottle of reagent and sample after sample trying to get the thing to give a reading, is to take my sample cylinder over to my industrial strength stir plate and give it a good whirl there before attempting a reading.
I give the Hanna Alcohol meter a solid 88 points. The problems I mention would be more easily overlooked if the meter was either more accurate or cheaper. At the current price point though, even given the speed and relative ease with which samples can be taken, I have to dock it down below a 90 point score. Hopefully they’ll address the stir bar issue and clarify the principal of operation in the future.
One can also hope that eventually the price on the meter will fall. If that happens, then this will be the best solution available on the market for small wineries and will push my score up and over the 90 point threshold.