Monday, June 3, 2013

iCelsius Pro Review for Home Brewers

Great idea, badly executed - next to bloody useless if you ever dreamed of using it with your iPad/iPhone for HACCP Monitoring, or even just monitoring temperatures in your mash.

I was Soooo Happy when I finally received my iCelsius Pro Temperature Probe for my iPad, thinking it was a, "... shame they didn't have one compatible with the iPhone 5 - ah well, need to get a dongle." I won't be doing that, I can tell you right now.

The iCelsius Pro has a 4" stainless Steel probe with shrink wrapped cover and 1 meter black cable. With the iPad switched 'On,' it plugs directly into the 30 pin port and automatically prompts you do download the App on the first use, otherwise it launches the App.

The box it comes in is nothing fancy, but functional and the instructions while brief, are straight forward and explain what the App does and details the probes operating parameters, which for this probe is apparently: -30°C to +150°C with an estimated accuracy of +/- 0.2°C at 25°C.


Sous Vide system monitoring, kettle profiling, ambient room temperature monitoring and profiling, overnight Fermentation condition monitoring... the Homebrewing applications are many and at €55.99 plus shipping my expectations were quite high.

The manual is sadly hilarious.

"The product is not to be used for medical or for public information, but for home use only." What on earth does public information mean?

When I bought this online it was described thusly, "Pferde Hunde Katzen Tier Thermometer für Ihr Iphone iCelsius Pro," which is veterinary use. Very curious. Ahh, medical use but not for Humans...

"Do not use the iCelsius... in or near water. Only the metallic tip can be immersed." Thanks for the clarification. The original pics certainly show that the probe is not waterproofed...

 ...yet what I received has had clear attempts to cover the stainless steel shaft-wire interface with waterproofing and shrink wrapping. So is it waterproof? I don't know. The packaged product is not as advertised.

"Avoid placing your iCelsius sensor near a source of heat or exposing it to sunlight (even through a window)." Are you kidding? In what circumstances do you mean?

A Temperature Sensor is for measuring temperature, or so one would normally expect, for answering the questions, How hot? How cold? is it not?

So, the best part of €60,00 down and the manual is cautioning me against using this for measuring heat.

Is this some kind of Scam!?!

Aginova and TFA Dostmann you have some answering to do!

So, onwards and upwards, lets see what this thing can do. I put a hole in a rubber bung, and inserted the metal part, the stainless steel probe, through the hole and then pushed this into the brass thermowell on my brewpot. I pushed the probe all the way in until it made contact with the end of the thermowell and then backed it out just a touch so as not to be in direct contact.

Now, yes I know that there will be a delay in temperature measurement due to the air pocket in the thermowell, for this reason I allowed the system to stand so that the temperature in the air pocket stabilized, but I didn't expect the probe to read more than 5°C low at boiling point and similarly throughout the Mashing Temperature Range. Even the original dial thermometer that came with the Thermowell was more accurate than that, not accurate enough but still, more accurate that this iCelsius Pro Temperature Sensor.

Damnit! So, I have to test the bloody probe. I tell you, this is not what I thought I'd need to do.

Into the manual, check the Troubleshooting tips, yeah, yeah, done all that; onto the websites, can't find didley squat. Search the net? Nada, just glowing praise and advertorial material all about what it can apparently do.

My results from a simple calibration check for this probe.

Using two, separate, Laboratory quality temperature probes, one of glass and one digital, along with the iCelsius Pro sensor, all used at the same time, I measured several  stable temperatures as below:
1: < 0°C (pobes encased in frozen gel pack), at
2: 25°C (probes exposed side by side to ambient air temperature at the Listed Calibration Temperature)  at
3: 30°C (probes exposed side by side to ambient air temperature in a warm room, indirect sunlight) and at
4: 100°C (probe/bulb/sensor ends immersed in boiling water: altitude approx. 10.587 meters above sea level).

These are the results:

< 0°C




iCelsius Pro + iPad App 

(-30°C - +150°C)(+/- 0.2° @ 25°C)??? 
(-50°C - +300°C)
(+/- 1° -50°C - 150°C)
(-10°C - 110°C)
(mercury column)

Now, if I were just testing against one thermometer, I'd have to rightly ask which one is inaccurate? But when I have both a digital and analog thermometer, which I've relied on for reliable temperature measurement for years, both in complete agreement, for my money that tells me the new kid on the block has some serious problems.

Now, the application itself. It's nice, its clean, It has Bling! BUT, its next to completely useless. It requires that no other application is running at the same time. If the iPad goes into Sleep mode, then all data is lost. It cannot operate in the background monitoring a data stream from the sensor. Unless you export the data at the end of your session the data is lost. It has no archiving capability, No History capability, you cannot vary the time scales or the sampling rate, and it MAY interfere with wifi access.

It is, in essence, a Kiddy App for entertaining primary school students whilst trying to teach them a little something about science and the art of measurement. The probe app combination, unfortunately, is unreliable, inaccurate, incapable of documenting AND safely storing, measured data over time.

What this means is:
a) if you wish to Monitor your Sous Vide Cooking Pot, for HACCP purposes, it's wildly inaccurate especially if you are trying to monitor/control temperature fluctuations at the 0.1°C - 0.5°C accuracy level. There is no data protection or historic record (date, time, temperature measurements) of your session, and the only way to get data out is to manually send the data during or at the end of the session.

b) if you wish to profile the thermal capacity and rate of heat exchange in your brew kettle, identify ramp times and monitor your Mash Temperatures within a 3 - 5 degree range of accuracy, then this probe is also wildly inaccurate. Historic Data recording of temperatures from brew sessions is not possible for reasons stated above, unless you manually export the LIVE data.

c) if you wanted to use this to monitor fermentation temperatures over a period of several days? Forget it! The max operating time is one battery charge for your iPad as it uses the same 30 pin port as your charge cable. Second, if your iPad goes flat, looses charge, etc. then all data is lost. This is a particular bugbear especially if you wish to determine the stability and seasonal profile of ambient temperatures in you Fermentation Chamber, Cellar, or Room.

All in all, the iCelsius Pro Temperature Sensor and App are a complete waste of time and money, as well as being inaccurate and functionally useless.

How would I rate it?

To quote the acerbic TV Personality, Chef and Actor, Bernard King, "Minus Five!"

Until next time,
It's Your Shout, Mate!

The above review is based on ONE probe from iCelsius, obtained via Amazon, from a 3D party provider.

'Biggles and The Red Baron' Ale.

This started out as a Mongrel Dog Brown Ale experiment. A dog of a beer: A mongrel in that it was made of bitsa this and bitsa that; Brown as I didn't have enough pale malt; And, an Ale because I'd exhausted all my Lager Yeast.

It turns out that someone else somewhere has brewed a Brown Ale and called it dog: Brown Dog Ale. But, I reserve the rights to, "Mongrel Dog Brown Ale" though, if that's alright by you  ;-)

In the end this dog of a beer has turned into a beautiful pale gold/copper red ale. It used German malts and, English hops & yeast. German, English, Red? Yeah, Biggles and The Red Baron just sandwiched me in a slam dance!

So lets start.

Grain Bill was 35% Pilsen Malt, 20% CaraAmber, 20% home roasted Amber Malt made from pilsen malt & guestimated as similar being to a Crystal 40, and 5% Weizenmalz. Grain conditioned with 3% water by weight for 30 min prior to milling, and milled using an industrial quality corona type mill with steel plates. The conditioning results in  larger pieces of husk while the kernel is shattered into smaller pieces and lower flour production - I like it, Nice! Must tra another crush using my stone mill and see the difference, I suspect more flour and shredded husks. But does that really matter with BIAB?  Ok, BIAB process, single infusion mash at 65°-70°C for approx 1 1/2 hours in 24l of Hamburg tap water. Pre-boil Gravity was 1.032 and Post-Boil was 1.039 (predicted was 1.025 and 1.031 respectively.)

Boil was for 90 min and the Hop Schedule was 15g East Kent Golding (EKG) at 75min, 7.5g EKG at 30 min and 7.5g EKG at 5 min for a total of 15 IBU estimated however on tasting it seems much more bitter than that. A hop sock was used to contain the pellets and the hot break settled out well resulting in very clean, clear wort on transfer. Cooling was Slow Chill (check out the No Chill Method for more info) using a stainless steel fermenter with weighted lid and air lock, left out overnight. Ambient Temp was 5-10°C o/n not including wind chill factor. Current daytime ambient temp in the shade is 12°C.

Due to the cooling method chosen IBU estimates need to be adjusted by an extra 20min (apparently) due to the extended contact of disolved hop element with the hot wort. Yeast to be used is Nottingham and Safbrew S-33 because the yeast is old and I want to use it up. (perhaps a flavour mistake in the making, we'll see.) Yeast Starter made using Vitamalz 'alcohol free' Malt Beer. The plan is to Ferment in Primary for 5-7 days, then Dry hop with 15g of Fuggles in Secondary  for 7 days before transferring to the keg for conditioning, priming/krausening it with 500ml of unfermented wort retained from the boil. All in all this beer looks like its a flyer imbued with lots od daring do and dashing good looks. Let's wait and see how it performs when called to duty and put into service.

The brew day was conducted outside, so we could monitor the bbq and the kids. Mash temp was a bit dance-y due to the wind factor: I might have to insulate the kettle next time. The pump worked like a charm and all in all this BIAB caper is shaping up pretty well.

My Brewing Rig. 34l Fowlers Vacola 'Royal' Preserver (Model K) fitted with false bottom to protect the bag from the exposed parts of the element. Brass self sealing hose fittings, silicon hose, Electrolux Dishwasher Waste Water Pump (new), iCelcius Temperature Probe connected ot an iPad 1.

Now, I saw a vary poor video of some bloke using a dishwasher pum to circulate his wort a long while back and nothing since or by anybody else. It's what gave me the idea to do this and What A Little Bottler! Very quiet, very effective and for these small Urn based systems a very easy upgrade and enhancement to implement. You get more even heat distribution, nice clear wort and... basically its a poor man's Braumeister. Of course, there are a few things that still need to be done, on the protect it from water spills and leaks etc side of things but as a proof of concept, Bonza!

Here's the wort, end of boil, hed up to the light it's not as Red as it looked but I'm very happy with it. This is in the same area of colour as one of my favorite Czech beers: Krušovice Královský Pivovar.

Until next time,

It's Your Shout, Mate!