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Alcoholometer, Alcoholmeter or Alcometer

An alcoholometer, alcoholmeter or alcometer as they are variously called is a type of hydrometer used specifically to measure the alcoholic strength of distilled spirits. I have heard of it referred to by several names and variations of the same name but without entering into the discussion too far I believe that alcoholometer is correct.

Call it what you may (in fact I would call it really useful) an alcoholometer can take the guess work out of the distillation process by allowing you to directly measure the strength of the spirit that your still has produced. This allows the moonshine maker to make key decisions such as whether to make an additional pass through the still, if the spirit is of suitable strength to go into wood for aging or indeed if the spirit is too strong to drink.

Like a brewers hydrometer an alcoholometer is usually made of glass, is cylindrical in shape and is weighted at the bottom to make it float upright in the liquid of which you are measuring the alcoholic strength. Like the brewers hydrometer it has a scale on the side but the alcoholometer has a scale of 0-100 and displays the theoretical percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV) of the spirit. Simply lower the alcoholometer into the spirit and read the scale at the point where the surface of the spirit touches it to get a reading.

The alcoholometer is acceptably accurate when measuring the strength of spirit you have distilled providing the spirit has cooled to room temperature. Like most hydrometers the alcoholometer is calibrated to be used at 20°C and the spirit coming out of your condenser will likely be much hotter than this. There are some factors that will slew the alcoholometers reading significantly and must be remembered.

Spirit that has just been collected from a still will comprise of alcohols of various types with the most predominant by far being ethanol. Water will make up much of the balance of your freshly distilled spirit. As the alcoholometer is essentially a hydrometer and measures the specific gravity (or density of a liquid in comparison to water) it is calibrated for use with mixtures of ethanol and water. This is all well and good for a freshly distilled spirit but not so good for spirits that have been aged and/or flavoured.

If you are making whiskey and you are measuring its strength after it has been aged in wood the reading will be fairly accurate, probably within 2 or 3% and unlikely to be inaccurate by more than 5%. If you are making a dark rum then after it has been aged in wood it should be diluted to the strength you require beforehand if you intend to add caramelised sugar or anything of that nature. Sugars are particularly dense and will skew the reading from the alcoholometer significantly.