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Old 09-19-2010, 09:30 PM   #1
ElDuderino
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Default Soft Water Adjustment from Portland, OR

I have been reading about water chemistry and would like to adjust my very soft water to make a porter soon. I have played with some calculators and I think I am on the right track, but I just wanted to get some feedback and advice so I don't screw up ten gallons of beer.

My water character is soft, as gathered from http://www.portlandonline.com/water/...29551&a=309711
Ca 1.4
Mg .59
SO 1
NA 2.5
Cl 2.6
HCO 8.2
Alk 7

I am looking to do something like a london water, which according to the Brewer's Friend chemistry water calculator looks like this:
Ca 90
Mg 6
SO 24
NA 22
Cl 10
HCO 82
Alk 67

I am not so concerned with NA. I don't really understand the concept of SO4and Cl ratios, but I wanted to raise my levels up (without doing the same with NA). Anyway, I monkeyed around with the entrys for 14 gallons of liquor and came up with this:
Add 5.56 tsp CaCO3 Chalk
.59 tsp CaCl2
5 grams MgSO4 epsom salts (for some reason the calculator doesn't give a tsp measure for this one.)
This results in the following levels:
Ca 86
Mg 10
SO 38
NA 3
Cl 21
HCO 121
Alk 99

I have to admit this is all a little like black magic to me. I am going by what I've learned in How to Brew and Noonan's Brewing Lager Beer. I am interested in adjusting my SOFT water but am not too concerned with matching the classic profiles too exactly.

I've brewed about ten or fifteen AG batches without messing with water and its worke out, although I don't know how much better it would have been... I am especially interested in working with SO4 and Cl to accentuate hoppiness. We'll see what I get when I pay attention to water profiles.

Thanks in advance for your feedback!

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Old 09-20-2010, 04:55 AM   #2
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Default wrong forum...

I'm not sure this post belongs here... If an admin wants to remove it, please do so. I'm going to repost in All-grain/partial mash brewing.

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Old 09-20-2010, 12:58 PM   #3
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There has been lots of discussion of this subject here.

You guys out there are so lucky. I hope you appreciate what you have.

The London water profile, in common with many of the water profiles published in brewing magazine articles, books and on the web, cannot exist because it contains more than twice as many cation charges as it does anion charges. In order to have a target which you can hit the cation charge must balance the anion charge. To make this happen you would have to reduce the hardness (calcium, magnesium) and/or sodium or increase the alkalinity and/or sulfate and chloride appreciably. So let me propose the following as a target:
Ca 90
Mg 5
Sulfate 40
Chloride 10
Sodium 15
Alkalinity 217 (bicarb 267)

That's much better balanced and the numbers are not atypical of the London profiles in my collection with, of course, the exception of the alkalinity which is much higher than any of the profiles suggest. For some reason most published reports are shy on alkalinity by a substantial margin and I cannot figure out why.

The proposed profile can be synthesized quite accurately (no concentration error greater than 1%) but to do so would require you to add a fair amount of chalk (10.6 grams to treat 14 gallons of water) and then you would have to bubble CO2 through the water to get the chalk to dissolve which process might take more than a day. The result would be water very close to a profile that we had to take bold steps to make physically possible. As soon as you heated that water in the HLT much of the chalk would precipitate back out and you would have gone to a lot of trouble to match a questionable profile for nothing.

So what should you do? Simply add 5 grams of calcium chloride to each 5 gallons of your water and brew with that. You'll get a fine beer but the hops may not be "assertive" enough for your taste. So brew it again and this time add 5 grams of gypsum in addition to the 5 grams calcium chloride and see if you like the result better or not. Continue to tweak the amount of sulfate in subsequent brews until you have what you like.

The idea that you must have London water to brew a London style ale or Köln water to brew Kölsch gets much more credence than it deserves. Water treatment is definitely not something that beginning brewers should worry about. The important thing is to get mash pH right and at the same time avoid sulfate where fine hops are involved or make sure there is enough sulfate to your taste if you are using British hops.

Never add chalk to brewing water. It can only send your mash pH in the wrong direction. You should only use chalk in brewing if a pH measurement (with a meter - the strips are pretty useless) indicates a low (< 5.1) mash pH and then it should be stirred into the mash. If you are thinking "but I need alkalinity to balance the dark malts" and that is indeed the case (it is far more likely that you will need acid but we'll save that discussion for another day) then the place to get the alkalinity is from chalk added to the mash (unless you want to go through the drill with the CO2).

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Old 09-21-2010, 05:58 AM   #4
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Thanks for such a detailed response, ajdelange! You've given me a lot to work with and try.

Are you saying that I don't need to worry about sulfate chloride ratios? When I plugged in the 5 grams of gypsum and calcium chloride as you suggested, I got Ca, Cl and SO4 levels around 130, so even though the SO4/Cl amount seems higher than some of the published reports, it is about even. I don't really understand this aspect of water chemistry yet; I've just downloaded the brewstrong water series but haven't had a chance to listen yet.

I assumed I needed to adjust my alkalinity level, especially when doing a porter or stout, but from what you wrote, it sounds like I should just mix up my mash, test the PH and then adjust then if I am lower than 5.1... I don't ever see myself bubbling CO2 to get chalk into solution, but if I wanted to incorporate it into my mash, would I just sprinkle it on and stir it in a gram at a time to adjust PH? I've done dark beers before without having done anything, so I know it works, but all this reading about water chemistry has me thinking I should do at least a little to compensate for my pilsenesque water.

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Old 09-21-2010, 11:47 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ElDuderino View Post

Are you saying that I don't need to worry about sulfate chloride ratios? When I plugged in the 5 grams of gypsum and calcium chloride as you suggested, I got Ca, Cl and SO4 levels around 130, so even though the SO4/Cl amount seems higher than some of the published reports, it is about even. I don't really understand this aspect of water chemistry yet; I've just downloaded the brewstrong water series but haven't had a chance to listen yet.
Both chloride and sulfate are "stylistic" ions i.e. they don't have an appreciable effect on mash pH but they do effect the way the beer tastes with chloride giving impressions of fullness, roundness and sweetness to the beer and sulfate sharpening the hops experience. Thus you adjust them to make the beer taste the way you want it to. I usually recommend people with very soft water start with just the chloride as the calcium salt because calcium is a benefit in nearly all beers with the Pilsen style lagers and Helles being the notable exceptions. Chloride nearly always improves the beer by making it taste more mellow. Sulfate, OTOH, leads to harshness which is appropriate in some some styles and to some peoples' tastes. That's why I recommend adding sulfate incrementally to subsequent brews until you get the amount that pleases you.

There are some who think that the ratio of chloride to sulfate has great significance and that you can "dial" in along a malty/hoppy continuum by setting this ratio. This is based on some taste panel work in Britain which found that panelists preferred beers with higher chloride to sulfate ratios than ones with lower. But acceptance of this principal is by no means universal. German brewing texts tend to advise keeping the sulfate as low as possible (though there are certainly some German beers brewed with high sulfate water).

Quote:
Originally Posted by ElDuderino View Post
I assumed I needed to adjust my alkalinity level, especially when doing a porter or stout, but from what you wrote, it sounds like I should just mix up my mash, test the PH and then adjust then if I am lower than 5.1...
That's what I advise people to do but I am well aware that
1) The strips don't work very well
2) Putting a pH meter into the hands of someone who has never used one and expecting him to appreciate the subtleties of using it is a bit of a stretch.


Quote:
Originally Posted by ElDuderino View Post
I don't ever see myself bubbling CO2 to get chalk into solution,
You would only go to those lengths if you absolutely wanted authenticity. The only time I ever do it is when I am doing example beers for classes.



Quote:
Originally Posted by ElDuderino View Post
but if I wanted to incorporate it into my mash, would I just sprinkle it on and stir it in a gram at a time to adjust PH?
Yes. Be sure to give it some time to react before checking pH.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ElDuderino View Post
I've done dark beers before without having done anything, so I know it works, but all this reading about water chemistry has me thinking I should do at least a little to compensate for my pilsenesque water.
If I've learned one thing over the years fiddling with brewing water chemistry it is that the softer the water the better the beer. I use RO water with just a bit of calcium chloride for everything now and my beers are, IMO, appreciably better. Granted I do mostly lagers but do the occasional Kölsch and Weizen as well. If I were to do an Export, this would not work as the mineral profile is part of Export. But I don't do export because it's not to my taste. I do not, personally, like what high sulfate levels do to any beer but recognize that some do. I've seen someone post in this forum words to the effect that the more sulfate the better. If your tastes run in the same direction then use more sulfate. Ultimately it's a matter of taste unless you are trying to win ribbons. In that case if the style guidelines call for "mineral crispness" give them mineral crispness.
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Old 09-21-2010, 12:28 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by ajdelange View Post
So what should you do? Simply add 5 grams of calcium chloride to each 5 gallons of your water and brew with that. You'll get a fine beer...
Let me jump in here if I may (hijack the thread)...

So given the above water and someone was trying to brew a very dark beer (porter, stout, etc.), would the only 5g CaCl2 recommendation still hold?

I have very similar water although it is slightly harder and higher alkalinity and from all this reading a 40 SRM beer is on paper the hardest brew water-wise. What would you recommend? No NaHCO3 I know all this is academic until I get a pH meter and just check it, I am working on this.
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Old 09-21-2010, 12:51 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Beerrific View Post
Let me jump in here if I may (hijack the thread)...

So given the above water and someone was trying to brew a very dark beer (porter, stout, etc.), would the only 5g CaCl2 recommendation still hold?

I have very similar water although it is slightly harder and higher alkalinity and from all this reading a 40 SRM beer is on paper the hardest brew water-wise. What would you recommend? No NaHCO3 I know all this is academic until I get a pH meter and just check it, I am working on this.
I brew a ~40 SRM American Stout with water with RA = 12 and get a mash pH of about 5.5. I'd need to double the specialty malts to be worried about the pH being low.
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Old 09-21-2010, 12:56 PM   #8
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I don't really understand this aspect of water chemistry yet; I've just downloaded the brewstrong water series but haven't had a chance to listen yet.
Nobody truly understands how chloride and sulfate affect the flavor of beer. We have observations and opinions which AJ summarized for UK and German brewers above. It is all worth noting that we have people like Charlie Bamforth who thinks the whole issue is overstated.
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Old 09-21-2010, 01:06 PM   #9
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I have very similar water although it is slightly harder and higher alkalinity and from all this reading a 40 SRM beer is on paper the hardest brew water-wise.
Color really has very little to do with it. Beer of any color can be brewed with water of practically any composition. For example:

Quote:
Originally Posted by remilard
I brew a ~40 SRM American Stout with water with RA = 12 and get a mash pH of about 5.5. I'd need to double the specialty malts to be worried about the pH being low.
And I do Irish stout with color around 70 SRM using water with RA about 50 and also get pH 5.5 in a mash that's 10% roast barley. In the lab it takes 3 times this to get to pH 5.2.


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What would you recommend? No NaHCO3 I know all this is academic until I get a pH meter and just check it, I am working on this.
What I do not recommend is adding any bicarbonate or carbonate until a pH meter measurement confirms that your mash pH is too low. As my and remilard's experiences show, that would require a lot of roast grain.
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Old 09-21-2010, 01:16 PM   #10
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We have observations and opinions which AJ summarized for UK and German brewers above. It is all worth noting that we have people like Charlie Bamforth who thinks the whole issue is overstated.
I hope I've made it clear that my "opinions and observations" are no more than just that: opinions and observations. I certainly agree with Charlie B on this score and note with interest that Gordon Strong has made comments about "overcompensated beers that taste like AlkaSelzer" (I hope I quoted that correctly).

Personal Philosophy: Get the mash pH correct without depending on minerals to do it and then control the minerals to taste. Use your personal taste for the best beer (beer the way you like it) or what you think the judges' tastes will be in the case of competitions.
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