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Old 04-23-2012, 04:44 PM   #1
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Default Changing my mash water saved my beer!

I see TONS of threads on water pH and chemistry; many brewing programs now have calculators of various complexity, and even JP himself is writing an entire Book on the subject.

It appears that for the average home brewer not concerned with water, at the very least, has a mash pH that is too high.

So let's hear it... Before and after stories. I want to hear what you got out of being obsessed with water... What changed and what can I expect to see, in QUALITATIVE terms, change in my beer?

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Old 04-23-2012, 05:41 PM   #2
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Campden tablets helped out our beers quite a bit. Before we used them, we had a real nasty band-aid taste to the beer. Then we learned that our local municipality used chloramines to treat our water and so we went with the campden tablets to counteract that.

We also just got a more precise pH meter that can give us pH readings to the hundredth. It cost us $80. Now we are a lot more confident in our pH readings.

We've still got a lot to learn about water chemistry, but programs like EZ Water helped us out immensely.

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Old 04-23-2012, 05:46 PM   #3
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+1 on Campden for treating chloramines. My first three batches all has this strange twang. After thinking contamination (bleach bombing) and extract twang (switched to late-boil additions) -- I started pretreating my brew water with 1/2 a Campden tab 24 hours before and no more off flavor!

I've also gotten into a habit of adding 1/2 tsp gypsum to all of my brews but I can't really tell the difference it adds.

Luckily my local water has a really low buffer - so the mash pH settles in perfectly without acid additions.

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Old 04-24-2012, 12:02 AM   #4
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With the enthusiasm that people have for water profiling and mash pH I was hoping that there would be at least some people who would say "yea, my beer was downright funky and I can't believe how good it is now that I keep my water like [XYZ]..." but I guess it's more subtle than that?

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Old 04-24-2012, 12:18 AM   #5
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No, I think it's much bigger than that. But there are other things that come into play, also. Let's face it, once we get to a point where we start thinking about water we are usually quite a few batches in and have mastered many of the things that improve our beer- fermentation temperatures for example. So in the beginning, it's hard to pin down an off-flavor on water unless you have fixed the other issues.

The biggest differences for me came in super light beers. Since I rarely brew kolsch, though, it's not as apparent to me all the time. For example, one time in about 2007 I made a nice kolsch. It was fine, really. Not great, not bad. But it did have a certain harshness that I knew was related to my high alkalinity. I just "fixed" that by buying RO water for pilsners and kolsch, but still mostly brewed my usual beers. After getting a water report about that time, I started using a mix of tap water and RO water to get my water in a good spot for the beers I wanted to do and continued in that vein. So it wasn't like a night and day difference, although the beers got better and better.

I have excellent tap water without chloramines and very little chlorine and it is great tasting water. Maybe that's why my improvements weren't that dramatic. But they still were very important, as I want to make the best beer I can, not just "good".

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Old 04-24-2012, 01:05 AM   #6
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Same problem with chlorine. Switched to bottled spring water and beer is tons better. I add gypsum too, not sure if it helps. I don't know if is the best but I use pool testing kits for testing new water.

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Old 04-24-2012, 05:51 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brewskii View Post

It appears that for the average home brewer not concerned with water, at the very least, has a mash pH that is too high.
That is indeed the case. Even for water of 0 alkalinity acid is required in some form. This may be acid released by the reaction of calcium with phytin (not likely to be enough by itself), acid from high kilned malt (again, not likely to be enough by itself unless the beer is very dark), acid from acidulated malt or acid (mineral or organic) from a bottle.

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So let's hear it... Before and after stories. I want to hear what you got out of being obsessed with water... What changed and what can I expect to see, in QUALITATIVE terms, change in my beer?
When I began to control mash pH (instead of just measuring it an writing it down) my beers transitioned from good to really good. To quote someone (I can't remember whom) 'all the flavors become brighter'. I can't think of a better way to say it. That's what you can expect.
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Old 04-24-2012, 12:05 PM   #8
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Crystal malts are acidity producers whose acidity varies directly with grain color. Many brewers include a dose of crystal malts in their grist and that may be enough to supply the mash with sufficient acidity to create proper mashing pH. Its important to assess that contribution and those from base, roast, and acid malts with a brewing water chemistry program (or a lot of experience) before mashing. Chasing mash pH during or after the fact is not the way to go.

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Old 04-24-2012, 05:48 PM   #9
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I think the problem with the spreadsheets that underestimate pH may be that they are based on models of malts where the pH measurements was made too early. Mash pH takes a fairly long time to stabilize. They will climb by a tenth or two fairly rapidly (first 20 min) but the increase is much slower thereafter. This seems to especially be the case where acid is added in whatever form (including acid bearing malts). I think people mash in, check pH, see 5.3, panic and add alkali when they don't need to. Just being patient would show them a pH of 5.4 or 5.5. Of course this brings up the obvious question "When should I check my mash pH?" I don't know the answer at this point so the best I can say is "Do it early, do it often." If you see a mash pH of 5.2 which crawls up to 5.4 - 5.5 in the first 15 minutes and then only creeps up another 0.02 - 0.03 over the remainder of the first rest then I think you are OK. Thus you are really shooting for a dynamic pH and this is not exactly what I would call a KISS approach. Perhaps we could say that if the knockout wort is between pH 5.0 and 5.4 then you probably got the acid/alkali right in the mash but it would too late to take corrective action at that point other than to adjust the wort pH to where it should be for a good ferment but the benefits of proper mash pH would probably be lost - recoverable in the next brew perhaps where you would know enough to use more or less acid/alkali than you did last time. Experience may indeed be the only way to determine how to do this properly but the potential rewards are great.

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Old 04-24-2012, 05:59 PM   #10
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AJ's points above beg another question...which pH really matters? The early pH when the enzymatic activity is at its peak or later in the mash? My understanding is that at least 75% of the conversion occurs within 15 minutes of mashing in.

I don't know the answer yet, but it probably doesn't matter that much. A couple of tenths difference!

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