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Yooper 09-30-2010 09:14 PM

A Brewing Water Chemistry Primer
Another forum member just pointed out that perhaps we should have a simple preface at the top of this post explaining that the information provided by AJ is not simply a dissenting opinion to what has been expressed in previous books, on forums, and in podcasts, but rather an updated and newer way of looking at water. It is a new philosophy supported by most if not all recognized authorities in the brewing world, including Palmer and Jamil. Folks who don't 'know' AJ deLange may be dubious if they've listened to the multiple water shows on Brew Strong or read "How to Brew", and they are hesitant to embrace the primer because it appears as a differing opinion, rather than updated information.

By AJ deLange

One of the first things a beginning brewer is told is that beer is typically 95% water and that, as a consequence of this, getting the water one brews with “correct” for the style is very important. He is also told that most beer styles evolved the way they did because of the nature of the water with which they were originally brewed. Those statements are true enough but the process of understanding what is “correct” and the process of going between the water one has and the “correct” water is, to many, one of the most daunting aspects of brewing.

Many beginning and advanced brewers assume that it is necessary when brewing, for example, a Munich Helles, to duplicate Munich water and there are many places where one can find ion profiles for Munich water and spreadsheets into which one can insert those profiles and details of one’s own water and be given advice on what minerals to add to duplicate Munich. There are multiple potential problems with this approach. First, published water reports are very often wrong. Second, it is not enough to know what Munich water is like, You must also know what the brewer did to make the beer with the existing water. In the case of Helles, for example, the water needs to be softened. Finally, the spreadsheets often calculate salt additions based on simplifications of the chemistry involved, consideration of things that are essentially irrelevant (beer color, chloride to sulfate ration) and reliance on models of things (e.g. effects of dark malt on mash pH) that really can’t be modeled very well. When all the approximations are good the result can be fine but when they aren’t the result can be salt addition recommendations that can have a detrimental effect on the beer,

In this note we are going to take a very simple approach to brewing water preparation. In tailoring water we seek 2 goals. The first, arguably more important than the second, is to be sure that the water properties are consistent with mash pH in a suitable range (5.1 – 5.5). The second is that, on the one hand, the mineral content not add or cause flavors which the drinker may not like and on the other that minerals which have a positive effect on the beer, be available in adequate quantity, The first goal cannot be achieved by the use of water treatment alone. Acid is usually required. This is traditionally supplied in German brewing by the use of lactic acid in the form of sauermalz (acidulated malt) or sauergut (wort fermented by lactic bacteria) while in British practice a blend of mineral acids is usually empoyed. Thus the recommendations that follow also specify acid additions.

The following recommendations apply to “soft” water. Here we will define soft as meaning RO or distilled water or any water whose lab report indicates alkalinity less than 35 (ppm as CaCO3 – all other numbers to follow mg/L), sulfate less than 20 (as sulfate – Ward Labs reports as sulfur so multiply the SO4-S number by 3 to get as sulfate), chloride less than 20, sodium less than 20, calcium less than 20 and magnesium less than 20. If your water has numbers higher than these, dilute it with RO or DI water. A 1:1 dilution reduces each ion concentration to 1/2, a 2:1 dilution to 1/3 and so on. If your water contains chloramines add 1 campden tablet per 20 gallons (before any dilution)

Baseline: Add 1 tsp of calcium chloride dihydrate (what your LHBS sells) to each 5 gallons of water treated. Add 2% sauermalz to the grist.

Deviate from the baseline as follows:

For soft water beers (i.e Pils, Helles). Use half the baseline amount of calcium chloride and increase the sauermalz to 3%

For beers that use roast malt (Stout, porter): Skip the sauermalz.

For British beers: Add 1 tsp gypsum as well as 1 tsp calcium chloride

For very minerally beers (Export, Burton ale): Double the calcium chloride and the gypsum.

These recommendations should get you a good beer if not the best beer. To get the best you should vary the amounts of the added salts noting carefully whether a change benefits or detriments your enjoyment of the beer. Additional sulfate will sharpen the perceived hops bitterness. Additional chloride will round, smooth and sweeten the beer. Add or decrease these in small amounts.

Those serious about getting the best possible results should buy a pH meter and check mash pH increasing or decreasing the amount of sauermalz to get pH around 5.3. Unfortunately the strips don’t seem to work very well.

rexbanner 09-30-2010 10:21 PM

Thanks for the info, it seems so easy now. Water treatment is the only thing left that I need to work on, and it always confused me. This makes it so simple.

Hermit 09-30-2010 11:29 PM

Which I knew this when I started.

wildwest450 10-06-2010 03:55 PM

In addition to the mash, do you recommend treating the sparge water or wait for the boil?

ajdelange 10-07-2010 08:35 PM

Since the theme here is KISS I just recommend treating the entire volume of water to be used for whatever purpose. If you have some reason for wanting to treat sparge or makeup water separately, by all means do so. If you want to add salts to the kettle for some reason you can of course do that as well.

EvilBrewer 10-08-2010 02:13 AM


Originally Posted by wildwest450 (Post 2320902)
In addition to the mash, do you recommend treating the sparge water or wait for the boil?


I'm speculating, but I think the concern behind this question is that maybe CaCl2 would not be soluble in plain water (ie, if one were to try and dissolve it directly in the hot liquor tank). In my reading on the subject, I've seen it explicitly stated that "sparge water" portions of the salts should be added directly to the boil instead of the sparge water because they would NOT dissolve in plain water; and would simply fall to the bottom of the vessel.

I actually just tested this theory with CaCl2...it seemed to dissolve just fine in a glass of filtered tap water. So, maybe some of the other salts won't dissolve, but for CaCl2 that seems not to be the case (?)

PS...thanks for this straightforward approach to what you've described as a very complicated subject (brewing water chemistry). So far I've ruined at least 3 batches of beer trying to tinker with my water chemistry while listening to podcasts, reading obsessively on this forum, emailing breweries, etc; though if my beers were perfect in the first place, I probably wouldn't have ventured into the subject to begin with. My current hypothesis is that my sulfate levels have been too high for my tastes. Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing how things turn out with your baseline/primer. Cheers.

ajdelange 10-08-2010 03:10 AM


Calcium chloride is quite soluble. OTOH calcium carbonate (chalk) is quite insoluble. Gypsum (calcium sulfate) is not as soluble as calcium chloride but much more soluble that calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate and calcium sulfate are both less soluble in hot water than cold (which is the reverse of the usual case). I'm guessing that the advice you have probably seen wrt salts not dissolving was probably in sources that recommend adding a lot of chalk to brewing water. We are definitely not recommending that here.

eljib 10-11-2010 02:54 AM

and now with this info all in a single, easy-to-find sticky...i'm off to the races!

thanks for shining some reliable light on this.

studmonk3y 10-14-2010 02:22 PM

Is all sauermalz the same? This is where I buy my ingredients from http://craftbrewer.com.au/shop/details.asp?PID=808 where they state a 50-55% acid rate. Would I still use 2% of total grist or does that vary depending on the acidity of the malt?

ajdelange 10-14-2010 04:07 PM


Originally Posted by motobrewer (Post 2336831)
what's the issue with RA? If i brew darker beers will that get me into an acceptable pH range?

We all know that the use of dark malt was a mechanism early brewers adopted to combat high water alkalinity. The use of roast and high color crystal malts lowered mash pH but perhaps not as much as we would like by today's standards. For water with alkalinity this high you doubtless could brew a pretty good dark beer but alkalinty that high would be a real problem for a lighter beer such as a pilsner.

Now if you cut that alkalinity by 10 and try to brew a dark beer you will probably be OK but you really should check mash pH and if it is too low add some chalk to the mash.

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