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Old 11-22-2011, 12:24 PM   #1
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Default Requesting Help / Water Profiles for a Stout

I originally posted this in General Discussion.. Not much response and I was advised to post here - so here's my copy/paste job.

So. I'm pretty new to brewing. I have been messing around with building water from RO - but it's too soon to report on exactly how those batches have turned out.

I want to brew a sweet oatmeal stout next, looking at something around 38-42 SRM.

I want to use water from a local artesian well - here is the water profile provided by the city (it's really consistent over the last 10 years so I'm confident what I'm pulling from the well will be really close to this profile)

Anyway, here's the profile:

Ca: 131
Mg: 52
SO4: 182
Na: 55
Cl: 170
HC03: 278

228 RA


According to John Palmer's spreadsheet this would be good for the 23-28 SRM range. I understand the chloride:sulfate ratio and have a basic understanding of how it effects flavor.

My question is really this: If I brew a 38 SRM oatmeal stout with this water will I have pH problems? If I use a pH stabilizer will that fix any complications or is it better to hit the appropriate pH organically through salt and mineral additions?

I am new to this and appreciate any suggestions or comments that will help me make a better beer. Even if you have some oddball advise that is totally off-topic I would appreciate it. Mostly I'm looking to figure out how to build water to make great beer though.

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Old 11-22-2011, 12:38 PM   #2
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Forget the pH stabilizer, it does not work. Forget the spreadsheet, its indicating far too much alkalinity for the beer.

That well water profile is pretty tough. Many ions are significantly higher than desirable. A minimum of a 50% dilution with RO is needed and even that might not be enough. Bru'n Water gives you the tools to build a water with this existing water and a dilution water.

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Old 11-22-2011, 01:36 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Backslider View Post

Ca: 131
Mg: 52
SO4: 182
Na: 55
Cl: 170
HC03: 278

228 RA
Where did the RA number come from? Assuming all the other numbers are correct (and that's a stretch because they are often averages measured or measured at different times - correct here means describe a physically realizable water) these data suggest pH of 8.5 (do you have a pH value?) which implies, with the given bicarbonate, calcium and magnesium levels, an RA of more like 114 with an alkalinity value of 237 (did they give you an alkalinity number?).


Quote:
Originally Posted by Backslider View Post
According to John Palmer's spreadsheet this would be good for the 23-28 SRM range.
There is really no relationship between color and water parameters other than a very general one. I don't even consider color when planning water treatment. I brew stouts which come in 60 - 80 SRM with water at 40 RA or less as a matter of course. Forget that anyone ever told you that you "need" a certain level of RA for a particular beer color. It's a myth.

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Originally Posted by Backslider View Post
I understand the chloride:sulfate ratio and have a basic understanding of how it effects flavor.
This is another common myth. Do you really think beers brewed with 1 mg/L sulfate and 1 mg/L chloride would be anything like beers brewed with 200 mg/L each? Chloride and sulfate each have distinctive roles and they do not offset one another which means you cannot offset high sulfate by adding more chloride or conversely.

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Originally Posted by Backslider View Post
My question is really this: If I brew a 38 SRM oatmeal stout with this water will I have pH problems?
You might. You are fighting a lot of alkalinity here but you have a lot of hardness to fight it with. This hardness could potentially drop your mash pH almost 0.2 pH units relative to the base malt's distilled water pH. But you will need to go further than that.

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If I use a pH stabilizer will that fix any complications
No. As indicated by Martin all it will do is increase the saltiness of your beer and you already have a fair amount of sodium

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Originally Posted by Backslider View Post
... or is it better to hit the appropriate pH organically through salt and mineral additions?
There are multiple routes for you to choose here. Some of them are:

1. Just brew with the water you have. Go heavy on the roast/high color crystal malts. They may contain enough acid to offset that RA of 114. Check mash pH to verify this. Too much dark stuff and you can go under the desired pH (not to mention that the beer will taste to roasty). Too little and the pH may be too high. A nominal recipe would probably come out OK but you can never be sure without a pH check.

2. Cut the water 10:1 or more with RO water and make simple salt additions as per the recommendations in the Primer here. As you are cutting so much you might as well use straight RO water. This will probably make a better beer because as much mineral as you have in your tap water will make a minerally beer. If you like that, of course, you are in good shape.

3. Decarbonate the water by boiling or lime treatment. This still leaves quite a bit of chloride and sulfate. Again, these may be desired, but in general lower mineral water makes tastier beer.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Backslider View Post
I am new to this and appreciate any suggestions or comments that will help me make a better beer. Even if you have some oddball advise that is totally off-topic I would appreciate it. Mostly I'm looking to figure out how to build water to make great beer though.
Relatively recent improvements in RO technology, availability and affordability make building from "a blank sheet of paper" an option available to almost any brewer. As recently as a few years ago the brewer was much more constrained - he had to learn to brew with the water he had. Guys with water like yours were limited in what they could do.
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Old 11-22-2011, 02:07 PM   #4
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Thanks - I think this is the most in depth spreadsheet I've seen yet. Great information that really clarified a few things for me under the Water Knowledge tab.

One problem though, the water report I have access to does not give me a value for some items the spreadsheet asks for.

Do you think it would be easier to build from RO? This spreadsheet recommends not adding any of the three chemicals that would add bicarbonates - so I'm not sure how to get to the appropriate levels for this particular beer.

Is where any way someone can give me a sample of water additions they would make to RO water to brew a darker colored beer? I understand now (thanks to mabrungard) that despite what I believed before color and RA are not directly related. I can post the recipe if needed.

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Old 11-22-2011, 02:19 PM   #5
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aj -

Thanks for your detailed response. I read so much conflicting information about brewing water chemistry that I just end up confused at the end.

Can you give me a recommendation as to what additions you might make for this beer?

The recipe I'm using calls for about 80% Maris Otter, some flaked oats, and all the dark grains additions are 1lb or less - they include roasted malt, chocolate malt, crystal 120, and a smidge of cara-pils. If you need more detail I can provide it.

Sorry for the noob questions, I've had some adventures in building water for pale beers from RO, but it hasn't been long enough to decide whether or not it was a success. Now that I'm reading this information and this spreadsheet I'm worried they might not turn out too tasty.

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Old 11-22-2011, 03:12 PM   #6
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Don't worry about the water that much. In this case and others, less is better. AJ's Primer does provide good basic guidance excepting that it assumes that you're starting with something like a low mineral RO water. AJ's comments above are all good.

In the case of that well water, there isn't anything that can be added to that water excepting acid to help reduce the RA. Every other ion is already pretty high and a brewer would not want to elevate them any more.

I'm sure you haven't had the chance to read the fine print in Bru'n Water, but it appears that you have enough of the important water info already. Those other ions can be included if they are available, but they are typically at pretty low concentrations and don't affect the results much.

The good thing about that well water is that you can use it in conjunction with RO water to create some decent water. The dilution tool in Bru'n Water makes it easier to assess that. Just play with it and see if you are comfortable with the outcome. Just remember that 'less is better'. Fortunately, Bru'n Water includes visual cues that let the brewer know that they are going overboard with any ion concentrations.

Enjoy!

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Old 11-22-2011, 03:17 PM   #7
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I would start by following the guidance in the Primer (just realized as I wrote that that I have been brewing for over 20 yrs and do so today following the guidance of the Primer). IOW just some calcium chloride in RO water. If you know you want hops drive then use equal amounts of calcium chloride and gypsum with the total being about 5 grams per 5 gallons. You should not need any sauermalz with the dark grains. Try different levels of gypsum and chloride in subsequent brews.

The Primer recommendations are pretty bullet proof (but I suppose it is possible to screw up with them) so I expect the RO beers will turn out fine if you followed the Primer guidelines. If you used a spreadsheet to prepare the RO water and what you did differs appreciably from what is in the Primer then you may or may not have problems. The most common error is to use one that tells you that for a particular color you need a certain amount of chalk and consequently put chalk into the prepared water or mash (and reading back over the thread it looks as if this may be what you did). Time will tell but even if you fell into this trap the beer will be drinkable or even good. But it could be better.

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Old 11-22-2011, 03:31 PM   #8
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I haven't used any chalk in previous brews yet, I was adding gypsum, calcium chloride, epsom salts and and canning salt to create soft water with a very low RA for a hefeweizen.

When you say "primer" are you just referring to this spreadsheet? Sorry, not sure what you mean here.

Using the spreadsheet and building from RO I've come up with the following (trying to hit the "Black Balanced" targets) Are these additions ok or would you use different additions to hit the same targets?

Ca: 82.2
Mg: 6.5
Na: 33.7
SO4: 47.9
Cl: 55.9
Bicarbonate: 215.5

RA: 116

The additions I would be making are:

Gypsum: .15g/gal
Epsom Salt: .25g/gal
Canning Salt: .15g/gal
Baking Soda: .25g/gal
CaCl: .25g/gal
Chalk: .25g/gal
Pickling Lime: .2g/gal

I would of course follow the values calculated by the spreadsheet as far as what amounts to add to the mash/sparge.

I'm sorry for all the questions and really do appreciate the help. I was hoping to talk to the guys at the LHBS but it's always really busy when I go in there and rarely do they have time for lengthy conversations.. I'd buy you both a beer or six if I could!

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Old 11-22-2011, 03:34 PM   #9
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Also, incoming donation for this spreadsheet (later tonight, at work with no wallet right now) - definitely the most detailed and descriptive one I've seen, wish I had found this much earlier.

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Old 11-22-2011, 04:35 PM   #10
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I'm not sure you need to go to all the effort to create the water from RO. It appears that using 3 parts RO and 1 part well water (75% dilution) will help retain some of the mineral qualities from the well water while reducing the excessive levels. More importantly, it retains some of the alkalinity from the well water that a dark beer is likely to need.

An important issue to recognize is that there IS NOT a target RA for any beer style or color. Its based on the actual grist used and the water characteristics. A RA of 116 might or might not be the correct amount of alkalinity for a particular beer. You have to try it out in the model. Do not stop at the Water Adjustment sheet and think you're done. You have to test the water against your grist on the Mash Acidification sheet. This is not as good as testing with a pH meter in a test mash, but its proven to be reasonably close.

Enjoy.

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