My water profile - Novato, CA
So I finally sent in my water test to Ward Labs to try and dial in one of the few variables I have left to try and nail down. I've played around with it a bit and come to the conclusion that I'm a little lost in all this. I understand (I think) basics but need some clarification.
Here's my water profile:
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) Est, ppm 202
Electrical Conductivity, mmho/cm
Cations / Anions, me/L 0.34/3.4 / 3.1 ppm
Sodium, Na 21
Potassium, K <1
Calcium, Ca 26
Magnesium, Mg 15
Total Hardness, CaCO3 128
Nitrate, NO3-N 0.4 (SAFE)
Sulfate, SO4-S 5
Chloride, Cl 7
Carbonate, CO3 <1
Bicarbonate, HCO3 154
Total Alkalinity, CaCO3 126
Fluoride, F 0.11
Total Iron, Fe < 0.01
"<" - Not Detected / Below Detection Limit
My main concern is when I do a darker beer like a brown ale or similar, I don't treat the water and everything tastes fine. When I do IPA's or similarly hoppy beers I don't feel I'm getting the full hop character I'm looking for. I've done gypsum additions to try and get it in range but I don't think I'm doing enough.
Chemisty guru's, what can I further learn to help my understanding of all this information? FWIW, I'm using Bru'n water spreadsheet as a starter to get general ideas.
The first step is to be sure that mash pH is proper. Your alkalinity is fairly high - a little over three times what we'd like it to be so your mash pH is probably high. In darker beers you are supplying pH reducing acid to the mash through your use of darker grains. In paler beers that acid must come from another source. Calcium reacting with malt phosphate supplies a little but the rest must come from elsewhere. In Britain they use hydrochloric and sulfuric acids sold as 'Carbonate Reducing Solution'. It is not available here in the US so most brewers use lactic or phosphoric acid and some use acidulated malt which is just malt that has either had lactic acid sprayed on it or has been treated to allow lactic acid bacteria to partially ferment it.
As the name of the the acid product suggests acid reduces the bicarbonate which is responsible for the alkalinity so an alternative approach is to dispose of as much of the alkalinity as possible. It is much easier to put acid in than it is to take bicarbonate out but you can reduce alkalinity to about 50 (which is OK) by treatment of the water with lime plus gypsum and/or calcium chloride. This is a little tricky. It is also very instructive if you really want to learn about this stuff. The only other way to get rid of bicarbonate is deionization of the water by distillation, ion exchange or reverse osmosis (RO). There are several advantages to this approach once you get past the hurdles of paying for and installing an RO unit but I for one feel that the ready access of home brewers to RO water is revolutionizing the craft as it has done in commercial brewing. The idea here is that you start out with essentially a blank sheet of paper each time you brew and add the salts you need to control the pH and set the flavor profile you want. It is, at first blush, pretty simple and the general idea is set forth in the Primer. You can also continue to use any of the spreadsheets or calculators - just set the source water profile to pH 7 with 0 for all the ion concentrations.
The reason for all the foregoing is that getting mash pH correct (and this, of course, implies that you have a means for checking it fairly accurately) is that this tends to 'fix' a lot of problems. The beers just get dramatically better. No guarantee that this will fix your hops problem but it might.
The traditional answer to wimpy hops is that more sulfate is needed and hour is pretty low at 15 mg/L. Some home and commercial brewers use inordinate amounts of sulfate dosing their brewing liquor with more than the EPA's SMCL of 250 mg/L (above an SMCL the water is deemed to be unpleasant for aesthetic reasons i.e. it doesn't taste good or smell good). I think the secret to getting good hops punch is to bring out the flavors while keeping the bittering 'fine' and this is done with lower levels of sulfate and higher levels of chloride (your chloride is pretty low too). This last comment includes lots of opinion on my part and that opinion is influenced by my palate and preferences.
The Primer will get you an RO based water with enough calcium and chloride in it to make a decent beer if you use the recommended amounts of sauermalz (acid). There are hints in it as to what to do to get more prominent hops (replace some of the calcium chloride with gypsum). But whereas the Primer will get you a decent beer you will have to experiment, as you have indicated you are already doing, to get the best beer. Unfortunately that is the only way to beer Nirvana.
Thanks for all the feedback. That's the information I needed. I'll have to read through the primer and re-read other water information I have again. This does help me a lot and I'll need to get my pH meter out and start utilizing it. It's been in a box for a few weeks now.
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