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Old 01-24-2013, 09:18 PM   #1
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Default Super high Bicarbonate to get to my RA

Howdy all!
New to water science, went through the "how to brew", got the spreadsheet, figured out what profile(s) I want. I am looking to brew a big dark RIS, and my RA should be 250 minimum.

My starting water profile:

Ca+ 28ppm
Mg+2 28ppm
S04-2 26ppm
Na+ 20ppm
Cl- 27ppm
HCO3- 190ppm

My RA is sitting at 67. To get to 250 RA, I need to get my Bicarbonates up to 285ppm if I do not adjust ANY other ions in the water. As charts say 250 is the max you need for dark beers. If I wanted to peg out at 300RA (as it is a very dark roasted beer) I would need Bicarbonates at 335ppm.


Is there a drawback to having too much Bicarbonate? The brew uses a lot of roasted grains.

Thanks for any feedback!



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Old 01-24-2013, 10:36 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by Tall_Yotie View Post
New to water science, went through the "how to brew", got the spreadsheet, figured out what profile(s) I want. I am looking to brew a big dark RIS, and my RA should be 250 minimum.
No, it shouldn't. I have attached a chart showing the RA of many of the well known brewing cities reported water profiles. As you can see, no city has an RA near 250. I hope this is enough to convince you that you do not need an RA of 250. In fact there is no such thing as a 'required' RA. You need as much acid or base as is necessary to get your mash pH into the correct range. This is pretty easy to do with light beers but when you start using a lot of dark malt things get tricky because the dark malts contain a lot of acid - even enough to over come the alkalinity of your water which is fairly high at about 158 - and it's hard to tell how much.


The best way to proceed here is to make a test mash with a small portion of the grist you will be using and measure the pH of that with a properly calibrated meter. If you do not have a meter then there are spreadsheets which will attempt to calculate the amounts of acid or base you will need to add based on the color of the malts - not the beer. This is iffy and a mash test is much more reliable as if, indeed, you do require base the clear choice is calcium hydroxide (not bicarbonate) and it takes a fine hand to not overshoot with this stuff.

Given the alkalinity of your water I'd try the beer without supplementing. You might go under on pH but then you might not. You can get a rough idea with test strips - add 0.3 to the reading you get from them. If you read something in the 4's then add a pinch of pickling lime, stir and measure again repeating until you get to a reading a bit over 5. Do this with the test mash first to see if you are going to need lime at all. Best to get a pH meter, learn how to use it and, from experience, know how much lime you can be expected to have to add.




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Old 01-24-2013, 10:40 PM   #3
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Your water profile isn't that much different than mine, and I brew wonderful stouts with no adjustments. My HCO3 is just a little higher than yours.

I think that if you don't have a way to check actual mash pH, that the thing to do here is to just use the water "as is". I doubt your mash pH will be too low.

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Old 01-24-2013, 10:50 PM   #4
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ajdelange: Thanks for the chart. Unfortunately a "city water" value isn;t terribly good for looking at breweries as they treat their water afterwards.

Yooper: My stouts I make are delicious, I just wanted to see if going the extra step would help. My Sodium, Sulfates and Calcium seem to be a bit low on the recommended side, so I might have gotten caught up in the "make everything perfect" vision. I was just figuring having the mash pH in the right area would help my efficiency.

I will grab some pH strips (with the 0.2-0.3 adjustment) and see how it looks next brew.

Would you suggest then that I just worry about changing the water profile if I am making a hoppy beer?

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Old 01-24-2013, 11:00 PM   #5
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Would you suggest then that I just worry about changing the water profile if I am making a hoppy beer?
No. I think you're good for stouts, but for a lighter beer I'd definitely take stops to reduce the alkalinity.

I'd cut it with reverse osmosis water for a lighter colored beer. I would think that, like mine, a kolsch with that water would be very harsh tasting. Or a cream ale, or a pale ale. The only beer that comes out perfect for me with my tap water is a stout, or a robust porter. Every thing else I've find that I have to reduce the alkalinity, and also use RO for the sparge water (due to the high alkalinity).

The calcium in your water is a little low, so some calcium chloride isn't a bad idea. My calcium is a little higher.
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Old 01-25-2013, 04:03 AM   #6
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ajdelange: Thanks for the chart. Unfortunately a "city water" value isn;t terribly good for looking at breweries as they treat their water afterwards.
That's very true and I meant to mention that to reinforce the point that 250 is such a ridiculous number. You can be sure that none of them did anything to increase alkalinity. If they had high alkalinity they added acid - often in the form of dark malt.

With a lot of the profiles on the chart simply heating the water in the HLT would cause calcium carbonate to drop out. Since losing an equivalent of calcium hardness increases RA by 1/3.5 equivalents but losing an equivalent of bicarbonate decreases it by 1 it is clear that each equivalent precipitated decreases RA by 2.5/3.5 equivalent. This means it would be difficult to synthesize water with RA as high as 250 unless one used soda ash or lye or perhaps lime. Palmer's solution to this was to dump chalk into the mash where the acid from the malts would dissolve it. Fortunately (?), chalk dissolves so slowly that only perhaps half of it reacts in the early phases of the mash but the rest continues to dissolve until the sparge is completed. The result of this has been many a ruined beer but fortunately we are wiser now and this concept (high RA tied to high color) has largely moved out of the home brewers way of thinking.
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Old 01-25-2013, 06:43 AM   #7
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Ah, that does make a good amount of sense!

So what I am gathering from all of this is that the concept of super high RA (through bicarbonates of course) for dark beers is not as necessary as the math and previous literature states. However, I should watch my RA for lighter beers. And the other ion concentrations are a bit more key as far as flavor and balance and should be taken care of, while the RA can be put aside for darker brews at the levels I am starting at.

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Old 01-25-2013, 01:06 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Tall_Yotie View Post
So what I am gathering from all of this is that the concept of super high RA (through bicarbonates of course) for dark beers is not as necessary as the math and previous literature states.
John Palmer noted the correlation between dark beers and the alkalinity of the water they were brewed with and suggested that the correlation could be used to design beer i.e. dark beer - higher alkalinity and used some model to come up with an actual curve. He fully realized that the curve could at best be used to give a WAG at what the RA might be calling the concept in his own words 'a hand wave at best' but the community grabbed at it like a plank in a storm at sea and spreadsheets and calculators began to appear into which you entered your color and out of which came a 'required' RA number. As I noted in an earlier post most of us have discovered that this is not the best way to proceed.

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However, I should watch my RA for lighter beers.
RA was really developed in order to give brewers a tool for prediction of kettle pH for light lagers - the kind of lagers the brewers who were the target audience for the original paper (which you can get from http://www.wetnewf.org/pdfs/Brewing_articles/KolbachPaper.pdf) were brewing. RA is a great tool for comparing waters but not so great a tool for predicting and controlling mash pH when the beers start to get dark. Your task for light beers is pretty simple. See the Primer here for some starting guidelines. When the beers get dark you have to account for the acid in the malts and while that can be done approximately measurements are the best way to go. It is quite possible to make very dark beer with water like yours. Yooper does it and I do it and so do many others but when I see the word 'Imperial' that implies that you are going to use a lot of everything which means a lot of dark malts. If you keep them in proportion i.e. add double the patent but also double the base malt relative to a more modest stout then you should be OK as the base malt will buffer the patent. But if you double the base malt an quadruple the patent then pH will shift lower. I can't imagine that such a beer would taste very good by my tastes and yours are probably not the same and you might wish to make such a beer.

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And the other ion concentrations are a bit more key as far as flavor and balance and should be taken care of, while the RA can be put aside for darker brews at the levels I am starting at.
The two big myths out of the home brewing literature of the last decade were that one needs huge RA for dark beers and that one must have a particular sulfate to chloride ratio. Sulfate and chloride do both effect flavor but not in antipodal ways. Use as much of each as is needed for the flavor effects you want. It should be obvious that 10 mg/L of each does not give the same 'balance' as 100 or 200 mg/L of each.
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Old 01-25-2013, 03:04 PM   #9
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Thank you for the very detailed information! I had to deal with "myths" and such earlier on (always rack to secondary, etc.), so it is interesting to see some more waves of them come along.

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Originally Posted by ajdelange View Post
The two big myths out of the home brewing literature of the last decade were that one needs huge RA for dark beers and that one must have a particular sulfate to chloride ratio. Sulfate and chloride do both effect flavor but not in antipodal ways. Use as much of each as is needed for the flavor effects you want. It should be obvious that 10 mg/L of each does not give the same 'balance' as 100 or 200 mg/L of each.
I had gathered that a bit about the ratios. It makes sense that if I have one high for some flavor reason, I wouldn't want to automatically pump the other up to "balance" the ratio. Same with a low value. I see it more as a side-check; make the profile, see what the ration looks like, and see if I give a darn about actually changing it at all.

So, when I brew my RIS tomorrow, should I do a pH measurement and just use a stabilizer if it seems I am off enough to be an issue? Or would you recommend avoiding such products unless I am WAY off?
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Old 01-25-2013, 03:28 PM   #10
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So, when I brew my RIS tomorrow, should I do a pH measurement...
Always until you are experienced enough to know where your pH is going to go and even then on occasion as a check. I'd be ready with some, preferably, pickling lime, but if you don't have that, some sodium bicarbonate. Use either only if the pH is really low: below 5.2 as indicated on a meter or below 4.9 as indicated by strips. These are lower than you would really like but I'm thinking the dangers from you overdoing the dosing and winding up chasing pH all over creation are greater than the dangers of slightly low mash pH. If you can find time to practice on a small test mash before brew day then you could try to tweak mash pH to 5.4-5.5 as indicated by a meter or 0.3 less than that as shown by strips.

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... and just use a stabilizer if it seems I am off enough to be an issue? Or would you recommend avoiding such products unless I am WAY off?
I listed the two biggest myths from the last 10 years in my previous post. Guess what the third is? If you guessed that it is that mash pH stabilizers based on phosphate buffers actually work you were spot on. This is inherent in the nature of the phosphate system - it's pK's straddle the desired range of pH and midway between pK's is where buffers have minimum effect.


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