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Old 04-07-2012, 02:56 PM   #1
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Default Residual alkalinity not matching style

I've read a lot to understand water chemistry and mash pH, and have spent many hours working with Palmer's water spreadheet to correct my own water, depending on the style I brew. I understand also the relation between a beer style and the local source water: a very light pilsner is a perfect style for the soft Pilsen water, as is Guinness for the highly alkaline water in Dublin. But, there are anomolies when looking at local water versus the popular style coming out of some places. For example, Dortmund, Germany is known for the Dortmunder Export style which has a color of about 5 SRM, cooresponding to a range of residual alkalinity (RA) of -61 to -2 (from Palmers SS). If you look at the Dortmund water profile, it's pretty extreme - at the other end of the spectrum from what you would expect. It'svery high in Bicarbonates and calcium and generally has a very high buffering ability that looks suited to a stout instead of a lighter beer. The RA cooresponding to the Dortmund water is 258 (!). This translates to a suitable color of about 29 SRM.


How can a decent light beer be brewed with water that is so far off from where it should be? Wouldn't the mash pH be way off? Does a Dortmunder Export use treated water?

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Old 04-07-2012, 03:28 PM   #2
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The problem with "historic" water profiles is that the water varies considerably even within the same city, and also has varied over time. You also have no idea what the brewers did to the water to make it usable.

Germans decarbonate by boiling, which removes most of the temporary hardness and alkalinity. That's why they can brew dark and light beers in Munich, for instance.

Arthur Guinness threatened to move his brewery to Wales unless the parliament lowered his tax rate. If things had gone differently, people would be obsessing over Cardiff's water as the perfect stout water.

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Old 04-07-2012, 03:49 PM   #3
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Also, you must be calculating RA wrong, because the RA corresponding to the Dortmund profile that I found online was about -75. This was an estimate using Palmer's nomagraph. However, you should really get a pH meter instead of relying on an RA to color relationship. Plus, I've found EZ Water Calculator 3.0 to be much more accurate than Palmer's spreadsheet.

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Old 04-07-2012, 03:59 PM   #4
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Thanks for the feedback. I figured something must be done to the water to make it suitable for the particular style, boiling, treating, etc. Guess the public won't know for sure, but I the conclusion is that it's changed if/when necessary. Regarding EZ Water: I've worked with it too, and have generally found the same results between it and Palmer, but prefer the latter. EZ W seems (to me) like a swiss army knife with no locking blades

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Old 04-07-2012, 04:44 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by RumRiverBrewer View Post
Thanks for the feedback. I figured something must be done to the water to make it suitable for the particular style, boiling, treating, etc. Guess the public won't know for sure, but I the conclusion is that it's changed if/when necessary. Regarding EZ Water: I've worked with it too, and have generally found the same results between it and Palmer, but prefer the latter. EZ W seems (to me) like a swiss army knife with no locking blades
So, are you measuring the mash pH? What type of results are you talking about?
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Old 04-07-2012, 05:48 PM   #6
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Bru'n Water is so much better than Palmer's spreadsheet and EZwater. Bru'n water consistently gets me within 0.2-0.3 pH of where I want to be.

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Old 04-07-2012, 05:49 PM   #7
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How can a decent light beer be brewed with water that is so far off from where it should be? Wouldn't the mash pH be way off? Does a Dortmunder Export use treated water?
That isn't really the question you should be asking yourself. The real question should be "Is there really a requirement for a particular alkalinity or residual alkalinity for a beer based on its color?" The answer is NO. Light beers are brewed with water with residual alkalinity ranging from say 10 to - 80. Dark beers are brewed with residual alkalinities ranging from near 0 to over 100.

Do yourself a big favor and forget that you ever heard about an RA requirement based on color. It is one of the cruelest hoaxes the home brew community has perpetrated upon itself and is probably responsible for more ruined beer than any other cause. And it was the homenbrew community that did it - not John Palmer. He said it was 'nothing more than a handwave'.
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Old 04-07-2012, 06:15 PM   #8
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Yes, I've measured mash pH after correcting my alkaline water with salts and dilution for my last 3 brews, using Palmer's SS. The pH came in right where I expected it, about 5.3 for each. Using uncorrected water I know I was having problems in past mashes (astrigent taste) and I'm certain my pH was way too high (I'm just starting AG, but have brewed 50+ batches Extract). The 2 light beers I brewed earlier this year were completely undrinkable due to astringency. After searching this site and seeing others with the same problems using alkaline water, especially ones light in color, I followed the solutions proposed (correcting using salts, amounts of which provided in Palmer's SS).

So..... RA is irrelevant when it comes to color? Then what are the variables you use to draw the correlation between the water used in a brew and the particular brew style? If I'm to forget about RA / Style SRM what do I replace it with? I needs to take another look at Bru'n water...

Getting back to the original topic, Are the explanations I hear that Pilsen water makes a good pils and Dublin water makes a good stout compete BS?

Again, thanks for your feedback and help.

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Old 04-07-2012, 06:27 PM   #9
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Getting back to the original topic, Are the explanations I hear that Pilsen water makes a good pils and Dublin water makes a good stout compete BS?
No, and yes, respectively. Modern Guinness water is very soft. Since macro brewers need to keep their water consistent, no matter where they brew, I think RO systems are common.

The best (subjectively) Bohemian pilsners use soft water, though some breweries use moderately hard water. Many German pilsners use moderately hard water.

But just talking about hardness and softness is misleading. Ca and Mg are both "hardness" but 100ppm of Ca is OK, 100ppm of Mg would be undrinkable. Same thing with the "flavor" ions, Cl, SO4, and Na.

A little salt in a recipe makes it taste better, too much salt and it tastes awful. In Bru'n Water's "water knowledge" tab, there is a lot of info about how the ions affect your beer and what ranges are reasonable.
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Old 04-07-2012, 06:38 PM   #10
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So..... RA is irrelevant when it comes to color?
For the most part, yes. The appeal of the RA concept is that it simplifies and otherwise rather complex subject to a great extent.

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Originally Posted by RumRiverBrewer View Post
Then what are the variables you use to draw the correlation between the water used in a brew and the particular brew style? If I'm to forget about RA / Style SRM what do I replace it with?
You need to understand not only what the water of Dortmund is like but how the brewers there treated it. Being that it is in Germany it is very likely that it was decarbonated by boiling or lime treatment and then acidified by sauergut (or the mash was). For Export you want that crisp mineral quality. You have to understand how to get that. One approach would be to use RO water with calcium chloride but no alkalinity at all. That will control mash pH. You can fiddle with the calcium chloride addition until you optimize the taste of the beer. You can even do this after the beer is brewed and in your glass i.e you can add calcium chloride to finished beer and use the tasting results to guide you for successive brews. Please understand that I have never brewed and Export and am therefore speaking only in very general terms.

The point is that you can't take the easy way out and hang your hat on RA alone. You must research the style. Ray Daniels "Designing Great Beers" (or something close to that may give you ideas. I don't think there is one for Export but the AHA has monographs on many other styles.

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I need to take another look at Bru'n water...
That's probably a good idea.

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Getting back to the original topic, Are the explanations I hear that Pilsen water makes a good pils and Dublin water makes a good stout compete BS?
No, not at all. In the case of Pilsen the very low mineral content is a major characteristic of the style. But you can make a better Pilsner (IMO and opinion does count a great deal when talking about something like beer quality) by increasing the chloride to just below the point where the associated cation(s) begin to be noticeable (beer starts to taste minerally).

Burton ales require a lot of sulfate to give them the authentic hops punch that one expects of such beers. But again you can make a better beer by holding back on the sulfate.

With stout you have lots of flexibility as the roasty flavors are the dominant ones even though you can have them sweet, dry, hoppy, smooth...

As it might help, here's the thought process that goes into designing a stout:
1 How roasty do I want it to be. That determines how much roast barley
2 How dry do I want it to be. That determines what sacharification temperature to use, whether lactose will be added or not.
3 Will it be too thin? Dry stouts can be pretty watery and so either lactose is added or flaked barley
4 How hoppy do I want it to be and how do I want the hops character? That determines cultivar and wheter sulfate is to be allowed or not.
5 How big a stout do I want? That determines the base malt amount (with roast barley, flaked barley and any other additions being percentages of that).

My feeling is that the color will come out to be whatever it comes out to be. There isn't much difference (except to a spectrophotometer) between a 40 SRM stout and a 140 SRM stout.
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