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Old 09-30-2011, 07:00 AM   #1
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Default Help with really soft water.

I've been reading the mash section of How to Brew and tried the EZ water calculator but I've had some problems applying the information. I live in Vancouver, British Columbia and our water is very soft:

Calcium - 1.4 ppm
Magnesium - 0.2 ppm
Sodium - 1.8 ppm
Sulphate - 1.0 ppm
Chloride - 1.8 ppm
Bicarbonate - 4.6 ppm

PH - 6.7

Whenever I check the mash pH it is always very low. Even when I pull out all the dark grains and mash only pale malt, the pH always seems to be in the 4.9 range. I've tried adding chalk to the mash but even adding 2 teaspoons to a 3 gallon mash only brought the pH to maybe 5.0. The beer turns out ok, I get consistent 75+ efficiency and hit my OG and FG so what is going on? I've asked other local homebrewers and the homebrew shop and didn't get a satisfactory answer- I was told not to worry about water if I'm hitting the gravities and the local homebrewers I've talked to who do water adjustments only copy city profiles and don't check their pH. I've tried replicating water profiles on a couple batches but the addition of gypsum, epsum and CaCl made the pH even lower. I've even asked a couple of local pro brewers and they both said "the water is perfect, don't worry, just brew". I do brew, but asking me not to worry is counter to my obsessive compulsive nature! Is this some sort of brewer's secret that they don't want to share? Am I missing some critical step? Am I just not reading the pH correctly? I have the mash range pH strips, with a spoon I pull some liquid from the mash, I let it cool and then dip the strips and take a reading. As the mash sample is now at room temp, should I subtract .3 from the pH? The pH numbers I cited above are without this adjustment, does this mean that my 4.9 mash is actual 4.6? Any help you can give me will be greatly appreciated.

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Old 09-30-2011, 08:33 AM   #2
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Where I live the water is very soft as well, and when doing dark beers I either put chalk in the mash and/or bicarbonate of soda in the initial strike water. The chalk requires a bit of mixing, so perhaps when you have added that, you hadn't mixed well enough?

When determining a water profile, I break the additions into alkaline and acidic, adding the alkaline additions in the initial mash and strike water and then adding the acidic additions in the sparge water or kettle. Using this way I generally manage to keep the pH between 5.2 and 5.5 from mash to final sparge.

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Old 09-30-2011, 12:03 PM   #3
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Your pH's aren't low - they are right about where they should be. You should be adding 0.3 to measured pH's because you are using strips which, for some reason unfathomable to me, read 0.3 or more low in wort. For most beers, (exception - delicate continental lagers) you will want to supplement the calcium and chloride (i.e. use calcium chloride) and will need to add some acid. For beers where you want hop punch you will need some calcium sulfate. For some dark beers you may need to add alkali. In order to know when this is the case (and to understand what is going on otherwise) you will need a decent pH meter i.e. one that reads to 0.01 with an advertized accuracy of 0.05 or better. Fortunately these are now available for $100 or so. Target pH is 5.3 - 5.4 at room temperature but you can go a bit outside this range.

In the interim you can fly blind using the guidelines in the Primer in the Beer Science Stickies (top of the page).

You should consider yourself fortunate to have such low mineral water. If you ever get to the point where you want to engineer the water of a particular brewing center you have the best raw material for such an endeavor.

[Edit: I said above that you would want to supplement calcium and chloride with the exception of delicate lagers. Taking a second look at your profile I think it is so soft that you will need some calcium and chloride supplementation in even delicate lagers. Not much but you are really low in these ions]

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Old 09-30-2011, 01:44 PM   #4
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Hum...almost rain water. That's nice.

The ability to counter excessive pH drop is a quest that any brewer with very low alkalinity water has to face. For many light colored beers, it should not be a problem. But for dark beers or beers with significant crystal content, it will likely be a requirement to avoid beers that are overly attenuated, tart, and possibly tinny.

You should consider the purchase of a pH meter and calibration solutions to help you find the approach that works. As you've found, chalk can be less than effective. I like using pickling lime (Ca(OH)2) for countering the pH drop, but it requires very careful measurement and addition. You will have to have a scale that measures to the 0.1 gram range. Bru'n Water provides the tool to calculate the effect of your mineral additions, the resulting mash pH based on your actual grist, and the ability to use pickling lime.

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Old 10-03-2011, 09:16 PM   #5
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gbx:

Add about 1/4 tsp of baking soda to you mash water before mashing in and then check the pH after mashing in. If not close enough to you desired higher pH from 4.9, you can add more but that should do it. I have the same (Northwest) soft water. It works for me.

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Old 10-03-2011, 09:55 PM   #6
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That's not really very good advice. One should never add alkali to brewing water or mash unless it has been shown by a pH meter reading that it is necessary. It is seldom required and if one does add it when it isn't the result is high mash pH and a lifeless beer. If alkali is required in anything more than very small quantities there are better choices than baking soda. Sodium is not generally beneficial to beer whereas calcium is. Thus calcium carbonate is the usual choice and calcium hydroxide potentially better as it does not add carbonate (carbonate is generally not beneficial to beer) but the caveats mentioned by Martin need to be considered.

If a brewer is doing something experimental where he wants high mash pH for whatever reason then adding lime or chalk is, of course, the way to get it.

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Old 10-04-2011, 06:29 AM   #7
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Thanks, I've downloaded the Bru'n Water spreadsheet and will give it a try on the next batch. So far the other spreadsheets and graphs in How to Brew have not predicted pH. Hoping this might be the one.

Are the pH strips not adequate? I have a standard .05 oz kitchen scale so its useless for water adjustments. But on 5 gal batches, can you really accurately adjust the water? the brewing salts I have don't list the purity plus humidity will affect it too and the quantities required are so small.

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Old 10-04-2011, 12:55 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gbx View Post
Are the pH strips not adequate?
No. See #3

Quote:
Originally Posted by gbx View Post
I have a standard .05 oz kitchen scale so its useless for water adjustments.
You can still use it. 0.05 Oz is about 1.4 grams. If you need half a gram of a salt (0.018 Oz) you could weigh out 20 times that much (0.35 Oz rounded to the nearest 0.05) and dissolve in 20 Oz water. 1 Oz of that solution would contain about 0.5 a gram. This is crude and wastes a lot of salts but they are cheap. High precision is not necessary.

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But on 5 gal batches, can you really accurately adjust the water? the brewing salts I have don't list the purity plus humidity will affect it too and the quantities required are so small.
Then there is water of hydration. Nobody really knows what the stuff called calcium chloride that you buy at the LHBS is WRT water of hydration. It is not necessary to be terribly accurate though.
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Old 10-05-2011, 04:57 AM   #9
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thanks ajdelange. before I posted this, i searched for similar threads but didn't find any, now I see several identical ones in the Similar Threads at the bottom of the page. I've read those threads and you seem to have a pretty good understanding of it.

My current water treatment is 2 teaspoons of chalk to the mash (usually around 18L as any less doesn't hold temperature very well) which should take the levels to around
80ppm Ca, 2ppm Cl, 1ppm SO4, 125ppm CO3

Then I've been adding .5teaspoon of CaCl and .5 teaspoon of Gypsum to the boil that should bring the levels to around
90ppm Ca, 40ppm Cl, 50ppm SO4, 80ppm CO3

Everything I read seems to suggest that this should be pretty good brewing water if I add some yeast nutrient for the other trace elements...just I can't get the pH to work but maybe thats as simple as bad pH strips.

What are your feelings about not mashing the steeping grains? I've been only mashing the must-mash grains and then adding the crystal and roast before sparging. A side note is that this is also quicker as I only have to measure and crush my base malt before starting the mash. I've seen it listed as a method of keeping the mash pH from getting too low but wouldn't that pH drop happen when the darks are added at sparge? That might be good for sparging but wouldn't that potentially cause the finished beer's pH to be low?

I have a decent science background (did chemistry my first 2 years of university) and a lot of what I read in books doesn't sit right with me. They all have the same or similar classic cities water profiles but the citation is other brewing books, never a city of london water report. It seems like a nice little story about water and the influence of beer styles but a lot of the story doesn't make sense - eg. they talk about the london water and bitters but london brewers burtonized their water for pale ales so their starting water is irrelevant.

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Old 10-05-2011, 01:28 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gbx View Post

My current water treatment is 2 teaspoons of chalk to the mash (usually around 18L as any less doesn't hold temperature very well) which should take the levels to around
80ppm Ca, 2ppm Cl, 1ppm SO4, 125ppm CO3
Adding chalk to the mash is shooting yourself in the foot in most cases. Most (but not all) beers require acid, not alkali. The exceptions are dark beers which use a lot of roast and/or high color crystal malts. Because of this chalk should not be added unless a reading from a pH meter shows it to be necessary. The good news is that chalk reacts slowly so that the damage done is not representative of what you would get if you waited long enough for it all to react. I would think the undissolved chalk would get retained by the mash but I have had reports of the finished beer tasting chalky from people who have followed the prevalent advice that chalk should be added. I have no first hand experience with this.

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Then I've been adding .5teaspoon of CaCl and .5 teaspoon of Gypsum to the boil that should bring the levels to around
90ppm Ca, 40ppm Cl, 50ppm SO4, 80ppm CO3
Calcium chloride is always good because yeast benefit from calcium and chloride almost always improves the taste/mouthfeel of the beer. Half to a full tsp per 5 gallons is a good level depending on the style. Less is better in Boh Pils, for example.

Whether you use gypsum or not and how much depends on how you want the hops to be perceived. With delicate continental lagers you should add none. For Burton style ales a bunch. Both gypsum and calcium chloride levels should be tweaked for taste.

Quote:
Originally Posted by gbx View Post
Everything I read seems to suggest that this should be pretty good brewing water if I add some yeast nutrient for the other trace elements...just I can't get the pH to work but maybe thats as simple as bad pH strips.
I'm sure the pH problem is the strips. You really need a meter to do this. Adding chalk should not be done unless a meter reading says you should do one.

Quote:
Originally Posted by gbx View Post
What are your feelings about not mashing the steeping grains?
My feeling is that it shouldn't be necessary from the pH setting perspective and it hasn't been for me so I have never done it but I don't brew a lot of beers using roast malts (just Irish stout). My feeling (and notice I keep using that word IOW these comments represent no more than my opinion) if it is necessary to hold the dark grains back because the pH is going to low you are using too much dark grain, not measuring pH properly or have not added enough alkali to the mash. I have seen some people hint that cold steeping of the black grains improves the quality/quantity of flavor extracted and compare it to cold steeping of coffee. As I don't drink coffee and I've never cold steep dark grains I cannot comment further.

Quote:
Originally Posted by gbx View Post
I've seen it listed as a method of keeping the mash pH from getting too low but wouldn't that pH drop happen when the darks are added at sparge? That might be good for sparging but wouldn't that potentially cause the finished beer's pH to be low?
You actually want kettle pH to be a bit lower than mash pH. I believe that if mash pH is managed properly kettle pH will be OK though you might actually improve the beer by adding some acid to the kettle. Some commercial operations do this.

Quote:
Originally Posted by gbx View Post
I have a decent science background (did chemistry my first 2 years of university) and a lot of what I read in books doesn't sit right with me. They all have the same or similar classic cities water profiles but the citation is other brewing books, never a city of london water report. It seems like a nice little story about water and the influence of beer styles but a lot of the story doesn't make sense - eg. they talk about the london water and bitters but london brewers burtonized their water for pale ales so their starting water is irrelevant.
You are quite right that there is a vacuum on this subject. The basic chemistry is not that tough (acid/base reactions of carbonic and phosphoric acids) - to a chemist but when you try to figure out where pH is going you have to consider not only carbonic but phosphoric acid (lots of phosphate in malt) and you wind up with 10 simultaneous equations to solve) and that's the simple case. Add the other buffers in malt and it's really not solvable though some of the spreadsheets have simple emprical formulas that do a decnt job in many of not most cases. Clearly this is well beyond the avearage home (and even commercial) brewer. That's why the big boys have inorganic chemists on staff.

Back, for a moment, to your point about A citing B citing C. If you do a cation/anion balance check on most of those profiles you will find them way out of balance. pH is never give. Etc.

John Palmer and Colin Kaminski have written a water book. We'll see if they have managed to come up with a way to express things simply and accurately. I haven't been able to figure out how to do that in 20 years.

You can have a look at my website, www.wetnewf.org where there are a couple of papers/articles on this stuff at a level you as a trained chemist might appreciate. There is nothing there that will tell you how to predict mash pH. With experience you will be able to do that, at least for the beers you brewe frequently, but you have to have good feedback ( a pH meter) in order to gain that experience.
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