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chumpsteak 08-11-2012 04:06 AM

Sharp bitterness
This is kind of a repost from a thread I started in the general forum, but I think I've narrowed my issue down to my water and was hoping to get some input from the water gurus as to how I should proceed.

The issue is that I'm getting a very sharp almost tart bitterness in my IPAs, Pale Ales, and other hop forward beers right in the front of the beer. While my beers taste good I'm frustrated because I crave the deep rich bitterness I taste in commercial IPAs.

Here's a copy of my water report I got about 6 months ago:

pH 7.8
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) Est, ppm 136
Electrical Conductivity, mmho/cm 0.23
Cations / Anions, me/L 2.4 / 1.8
Sodium, Na 13
Potassium, K 1
Calcium, Ca 27
Magnesium, Mg 5
Total Hardness, CaCO3 88
Nitrate, NO3-N 0.3 (SAFE)
Sulfate, SO4-S 7
Chloride, Cl 6
Carbonate, CO3 < 1
Bicarbonate, HCO3 72
Total Alkalinity, CaCO3 59
Total Phosphorus, P 0.22
Total Iron, Fe < 0.01

While I don't think the water in this report looks too bad I recently discovered that my neighborhood is fed by several different wells and the city rotates them every couple months or so, so my water will never be very consistent. To make things worse the Alkalinity and minerals can vary substantially from one well to another. The pH across all wells seems to be somewhat consistently in the high 7's though.

My question is, what is my best course of action for making sure I don't leech tannins and get any astringency that may be causing my sharp bitterness?

I do 10 gallon batches and do a double batch sparge exclusively. I treat my mash with gypsum and calcium chloride and always add about 2% acidulated malt in order to get my estimated mash pH in the mid to low 5's. I don't have a pH meter but I use the spreadsheets and test with strips to get a rough estimate.

My concern is that when I batch sparge with my questionably high alkaline water at a pH of 7.8 that I may be actually pushing my grains over 6 and leeching some astringency out. I've also been batch sparging with water at around 200 degrees to get the grain bed up to 168 which probably isn't helping things.

Anyway, I know I should probably just go to RO water and build it up, but my water really doesn't seem that bad and I'd rather not pay for water if I can just add some acid to the sparge water to keep my pH in check. I don't fully understand the relationship between pH and alkalinity, so my thinking may be way off, but I was thinking I could add some lactic or other acid to my roughly 8 gallons of sparge water to get it down below 6pH so that I don't get astringency when I batch sparge. Does this sound reasonable or should I just go RO and forget it?

ajdelange 08-11-2012 11:27 AM

The results of the test you posted aren't bad. Even the sulfate is not high enough to be causing the problem you report and the alkalinity is low enough that you can probably get away without acidifying your sparge water though it is always best to do a pH check with any water. But these data represent one sample and you indicate that your water supplier draws from different wells. A couple of miles between wells can make a lot of difference in mineral content. In such cases there are really only two approaches. One is to test before every brew. This is easy to do for alkalinity and the two hardnesses, not too bad for chloride, but very difficult to do for sodium. That leaves sulfate which is the main suspect here. Unfortunately there is no accurate sensitive sulfate test that doesn't require a nephelometer or photometer. The alternative is to swamp out the variations by dilution or the use of RO water built up to your specifications. I would recommend trying that for a few brews (see the Primer for how to get started) to see if that solves the problem. If you make a beer with RO water supplemented with nothing but some calcium chloride and it is harshly bitter the problem isn't the water. But if the RO water solves the problem it looks as if an RO system is in your future. These are not terribly expensive but do cost over $150 now (at least the last one I bought at Home Depot did).

mabrungard 08-11-2012 11:44 AM

I agree that alkalinity would be my greatest concern since it has the effect of increasing pH. The other ionic content is fairly low and unremarkable. I would wonder what the ionic content is when the alkalinity goes up.

Since an elevated mash pH and elevated wort pH in the kettle are pretty bad to beer flavor and perception, I would keep a watch on alkalinity as my primary indicator. An aquarium test kit for alkalinity is inexpensive and it can help you discern when the alkalinity is significantly different. The precision of those kits is only modest (maybe +/- 20 ppm at best), so you may not be able to rely on it as a true analytic, but it could help discern if the water quality is really different.

My personal preference for sparging water is to bring the alkalinity of that water down to under 25 ppm as CaCO3. That water has a bit too much alkalinity and should be acidified to bring it into a low range.

Based on the water quality above, it doesn't appear that going all or partially to RO water is necessary. The main concern is alkalinity which is controllable with acid. Bru'n Water can assist you in figuring your acid additions out.

If you know when the tap water quality is quite different from when this test sample was taken, it would be good to get another sample tested to see if it has substantially different quality.

chumpsteak 08-11-2012 04:48 PM

Thanks for the great responses guys. According to some more info I found on my local water the sulphates can range between 5 and 250 and the alkalinity can range between 50 and 300 depending on what well is serving my house at any given time. This is obviously a problem since I've been acidifying my mash and matching minerals to style by adding salts. So basically I've been shooting in the dark probably and most likely been causing problems. I found a place right down the road where I can get ro water pretty cheap so I'm going to try building that up and see how it goes. Thanks again.

ajdelange 08-11-2012 07:18 PM

Under variations of that magnitude I really don't see another option for you. Even if you were equipped to do the testing that is time consuming and you'd have to have several treatment regimens depending on what you measure on a given day and many of those would involve dilution with RO or DI water. Much simpler to just use RO. You might find the Primer helpful in getting you started.

chumpsteak 08-11-2012 08:49 PM

Found a place that has a super high speed filtration system that includes TDS, RO, and ultra violet filtration just 4 miles from my house. Super stoked and bought 17 gallons from him this morning for the oatmeal stout I'm brewing right now.

Thanks AJ for the replies, definately used the primer to get a feel for how to treat the "RO" water I just bought. The EZ water spreadsheet says I'll get a pH around 5.3 with the additions I added and dark grains I'm using, so I'm thinking that should be good. Also going to sparge with 170 degree water this time just to be safe instead of the normal 200 degree sparge water I use.

Measured the ambient pH of the water I bought with strips and while I know they aren't very accurate they came in around high 5's or 6 pH. I did the same test on my tap water and came in with 8, so I think this water is going to work much better.

I'll be making an IPA again in a couple of weeks and that will be the real test as this stout comes out great with my regular tap water. Just wanted to get a jump on using RO water this week.

Thanks again.

chumpsteak 01-13-2013 06:53 AM

Just want to update this thread with things I've discovered over the past few months that have helped my beer dramatically.

1. Campden tablets. If you're using tap water use campden tablets to ensure you are getting all of the chlorine and chloramine out of your water. I ran into several batches chock full of chloraphenols before I realized it was coming from my tap water. Campden tablets fixed the issue completely and now my beers are extremely clean.

2. Astringency. I was batch sparging with both tap water and RO water and still getting noticeable astringency that was partially responsible for making the hop profile in my beers seem sharp and harsh. I read on these forums that with batch sparging you don't have to worry about temp so much for the sparging so I was sparging anywhere from 180 to 200 degrees to try and get the grain bed up to 168. Since I started batch sparging with 170 degree water and treating my sparge water with acid to get it down to a pH of 6 I don't get any detectable astringency anymore.

3. Carbonation. I discovered that I was most likely overcarbing my beers slightly and that I prefer a lower carb profile with less carbonic bite in my beers. I now run my keezer at 40 degrees and 11 psi and am much happier with the results and flavors of my beers.

4. pH. I started getting into water chemistry and bought a pH meter. I'm finding that I prefer the hop profile and smoother bitterness of beers mashed at a higher pH and that have a higher finished beer pH. For hoppy beers I now try to target a mash pH of at least 5.5 and a final beer pH of at least 4.4. To me this brings out the hop bitterness and flavors better.

I've only used the pH meter on the last few batches but I'm taking several measurements and recording everything during the brew and am starting to see pH trends and how it affects taste.

mabrungard 01-13-2013 02:12 PM

Interesting findings. Colin Kaminski says that hop expression is diminished with reduced pH, so your preference for the higher pH range suggests you want that hop expression to be significant. That makes sense.

ajdelange 01-13-2013 02:49 PM

Bittering acids are acids. The higher the pH the more deprotonated they are and the more deprotonated they are the more soluble they are i.e. the cation is more soluble than the acid molecule.

pH 5.5 is pretty close to the sweet spot for most people i.e. it's in the range where the beers produced have the best flavor profiles and an ale mashed at pH 5.5 should finish with a beer pH of about 4.4 so everything appears to be kosher here.

Hermit 01-13-2013 03:23 PM


Originally Posted by chumpsteak (Post 4779767)
treating my sparge water with acid to get it down to a pH of 6

final beer pH of at least 4.4.

I've been wondering about people dropping their sparge pH this low and how it affected the final beer pH. I guess it doesn't hurt.

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