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Old 06-23-2011, 01:24 PM   #11
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So is the goal to aim for a pH and then let RA fall where it may?
Yes. RA is really intended to characterize brewing water. When you start trying to extend the concept to include the acids in malt you get into trouble. The brewers first duty is to get mash pH correct insuring that he did it in such a way as to not detriment the flavor balance. For example, he wouldn't acidify with sulfuric acid if he were using noble hops.

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In other words, say I'm brewing a porter. I don't want it to taste too harsh -- or too burnt -- , but I have moderately hard water. I add enough acid malt to get a pH of around 5.5. Is this the real goal?
Harshess and excessive burnt means too much black malt and/or roast barley. You should formulate your recipe without using too much of these. Having formulated the recipe for proper level of roast character you would then do a test mash (can be the whole mash on brew day) to see where the pH comes in with your water. For a properly balanced recipe it should be around 5.5 without any acid addition. If you have a lot of dark malt it can be lower than this and if it gets down below 5.2 you would probably want to add some chalk to bring it up a bit. Conversely, if the water is very alkaline then you would need to add some acid to the mash. In this latter case, add the acid if the "test mash" is the whole brew. If it is a separate test mash, take steps to reduce the alkalinity of the water and try again.

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Or do I need to look beyond pH and think about Palmer's RA ranges -- and know I need to target, say, a 120 RA.
pH isn't the whole story but you definitely do not want to follow the Palmer SRM - RA guidelines. RA evolved as a mechanism for predicting pH in the days when pH measurement was a lot more difficult than it is today. Now you can easily measure pH and adjust accordingly. The RA of the water may give you some idea as to what to expect but it is the pH that you want to control.

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Ditto for, say, a Pumpkin Ale with an SRM of 8 or so. I've got a little crystal in there, but I want it to be a bit sharp -- and maybe even a little dry -- when I add in the pumpkin spices. I decide I want to go for pH of 5.25-5.3. Is this what I want to think about -- pH?
Obviously mash pH will have some influence on the pH of the product but the major influence will be that of the yeast. If you want a low pH beer, obtain a yeast strain known for producing low pH. Thickness/thiness (body) is controlled by mash temperature - not pH. Convert at higher temperature for fuller beer, at a lower temperature for thinner.

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I know RA and pH are linked
Kolbach observed that each unit of RA resulted in an apparent pH shift of 0.00168 pH at knockout in wort made from base malt. Buts that's about as far as it goes. The Kolbach shift is not sufficient, in most cases, to effect the desired pH drop. This is why acid, in the form of dark malt, sauermalz or from a bottle is needed for most brews. If you are using a meter to control pH you can really pretty much forget about RA.

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but when I'm thinking about salt adjustments and acid adjustments -- do I really want to concentrate on the pH first and foremost and let the RA fall where it falls?
Yes

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Or do I want to think, well, Palmer says a porter needs an RA of 60+, so I want to shoot for this -- and then take whatever pH I get?
Getting mash pH correct insures that your beers will have bright, distinct flavors. This is usually the first thing that people that start controlling it notice.
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Old 06-23-2011, 01:24 PM   #12
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So is the goal to aim for a pH and then let RA fall where it may?
The goal is to hit your target mash pH. I use Palmer's spreadsheet to adjust the sulfate or chloride content if needed (careful not to over-do the calcium!) and then adjust the RA to the target with acid. This always gets me in the butter zone when I have checked with my pH meter. If you are adding more than about 1tsp of salts per 5 gal of water you are overdoing it.

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In other words, say I'm brewing a porter. I don't want it to taste too harsh -- or too burnt -- , but I have moderately hard water. I add enough acid malt to get a pH of around 5.5. Is this the real goal? Or do I need to look beyond pH and think about Palmer's RA ranges -- and know I need to target, say, a 120 RA.
Depending on how alkaline your water is, you may not have enough RA in your brewing water to get the right mash pH for a dark beer. The easy (and best IMO) fix is to hold back the roast malt and add it at vorlauf, since it doesn't need to be mashed anyway.

When it comes to water, in general, less is more. Most of the professional brewers I know aim to do the minimum amount possible to their water on every batch. They just filter it to remove chloramine, add acid to get the target mash pH of 5.3-5.4, and adjust the salts when required by adding the salts directly to the boil kettle.
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Old 06-23-2011, 03:06 PM   #13
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We always seem to focus on pH and the mash, but what is happening during the boil is equally important, especially when it comes to hops. I haven't delved into this, so I'm just hypothesizing here. I have high carbonate water and quickly discovered the problems with my water and light bitter beers. I now treat my water to reduce the carbonates and my beers are much smoother.

I'm assuming that it is the high carbonates during the BOIL that are interacting with the hops to give the harsh bitterness. So even if one has high carbonate water, and adjusted the pH down to a proper pH range, but didn't treat for the carbonates, then yes your conversion would be very good, but would you still have the hop harshness problem?

I guess my question is, does the pH affect the interaction between the hops and the carbonates, similar to pH and tannin extraction? So as long as the boil is in the proper pH range, the level of carbonates are less important?

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Old 06-23-2011, 03:09 PM   #14
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I have high carbonate water and quickly discovered the problems with my water and light bitter beers. I now treat my water to reduce the carbonates and my beers are much smoother.

How do you classify "high carbonate?" And what's your preferred method for treating the water to reduce the carbonates?
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Old 06-23-2011, 03:12 PM   #15
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I agree. Target a pH (Roasted Malts are better for high alkaline water because they can drop the pH into the desired range) rather than RA.

I have started using and prefer bru'nwater spreadsheet over the others. It seems to works more like my brain works and more like what I'd expect after listening to water podcasts online.

It seems more complicated, but it really isn't. Just more information to look at.

My water is so alkaline that I have to add a bit of acid to the sparge water for my stout to prevent it from being too alkaline for the sparge (extracts tannins). Other than that, a bit of Gyspum to bump up the sulfate without adding additional magnesium (adding epsom salts adds sulfate, but also magnesium).

Playign with water can be fun and interesting at a certain point. Frustrating until then.

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Old 06-23-2011, 03:31 PM   #16
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How do you classify "high carbonate?" And what's your preferred method for treating the water to reduce the carbonates?
I would say "high" starts at around 150 ppm.

I treat my water with pickling lime and let it settle overnight. I drain it off and then use phosphoric acid to bring the pH down.
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Old 06-23-2011, 04:01 PM   #17
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We always seem to focus on pH and the mash, but what is happening during the boil is equally important, especially when it comes to hops.
pH is important throughout the brewing process. In general, if you get mash pH right pH at other points will be about correct. Obvious exceptions would be where sparge or makeup water is very alkaline. So the message there would be don't sparge or make up with alkaline water.

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I'm assuming that it is the high carbonates during the BOIL that are interacting with the hops to give the harsh bitterness. So even if one has high carbonate water, and adjusted the pH down to a proper pH range, but didn't treat for the carbonates, then yes your conversion would be very good, but would you still have the hop harshness problem?
By the time you get to the kettle pH ought to be about 5.2. Even if you start with 5 mmol/L carbo (alkalinity of about 200 ppm as CaCO3 at pH 7) by the time you get to pH 5.2 nearly all of this has been converted to CO2 and left the mash. Only about 19 mg/L bicarbonate remains. This is not, I wouldn't think, enough to be much of a flavor problem. Would 9 mg/L be better? Doubt it.

In any case it is not bicarb that messes up hop bitterness, it is sulfate. I would look at the sulfate before I worried about bicarb. But this assumes that you are indeed at kettle pH of about 5.2.


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I guess my question is, does the pH affect the interaction between the hops and the carbonates, similar to pH and tannin extraction? So as long as the boil is in the proper pH range, the level of carbonates are less important?
Hops contain phenolic compounds too so I guess in that sense, yes. It is also well known that bittering isomerization and extraction are enhanced at higher kettle pH's.
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