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Old 08-25-2010, 02:46 PM   #1
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Default Using lots of chalk to raise the RA

I've been using the EZ water calculator and have noticed that with my darker beers, I end up adding a boat load of chalk to get the RA in the proper range for the SRM.

What's the deal? Is there an error in the spreadsheet? At what point do I just give up on matching the RA to the SRM? All this chalk can't be needed.

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Old 08-25-2010, 03:01 PM   #2
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Check out AJ's post here. It's in that uber-long thread about the spreadsheet. AJ has been adding some really good stuff on water chemistry lately, if not a little myth-busting as well.

Cliff notes: You probably don't need to add any chalk at all or at least not nearly as much as the spreadsheet tells you to (I don't know your water).

Are you actually measuring mash pH? If not I think that's another thing that will be suggested; measure then correct (as opposed to just calculating and hoping).

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Old 08-25-2010, 03:05 PM   #3
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I can't think of ANY reason to use chalk in a beer. If your RA is low, that's probably ok. You want a good mash pH, so if your pH is too low you could add some base to brng it up, but I don't think that would be an issue.

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Old 08-25-2010, 03:45 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by maida7 View Post
At what point do I just give up on matching the RA to the SRM?
The best time is before you brew your first batch of beer.

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All this chalk can't be needed.
It isn't. There is an error in the spreadsheets - they shouldn't advise you to set mash chemistry dependent on color.

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I can't think of ANY reason to use chalk in a beer.
For 99% of brewing that's true. The one exception I can think of is where you wish to be absolutely authentic in terms of duplicating the conditions under which the beer was brewed e.g. you want to brew a Burton Ale with genuine Burton water. If you set out to synthesize Burton water from deionized water you will have to add epsom salts, gypsum and chalk but you will have to dissolve the chalk with carbon dioxide and, as this is a big pain, you are better off finding a water source with the desired level of bicarbonate (alkalinity) and adding the other salts. This may not, of course, be possible.

I guess the other case is where you brew a very dark beer with a very soft water. I have had correspondents tell me that they have to add chalk to the mash to keep it from going too low. My experiments tell me that the black malt content in these beers would be more than I could tolerate. Adding to this that many brewers use strips for pH measurement and that they apparently read 0.3 low and I come back to the conclusion that it would be very rare circumstances in which one actually needed to add chalk.
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Old 08-25-2010, 03:54 PM   #5
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if your pH is too low you could add some base to brng it up
What base? It was my understanding that the chalk is used to balance the acidity of the darker malts. If not chalk what would you use to raise the RA?
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Old 08-25-2010, 04:04 PM   #6
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What base? It was my understanding that the chalk is used to balance the acidity of the darker malts. If not chalk what would you use to raise the RA?
Right- I meant chalk or another base. It's NOT the RA, though. It's the mash pH. That's the only use I can see for adding chalk to the mash water. If your pH is too low (not likely at all!), that would be the only indication that a base would be needed. (and the base in this case is usually chalk).

Ajdelange explained it much better than I did.
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Old 08-25-2010, 04:04 PM   #7
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What base? It was my understanding that the chalk is used to balance the acidity of the darker malts. If not chalk what would you use to raise the RA?
Any of several bases can be used. There is nothing wrong with chalk for this purpose except that you will seldom, if ever, actually have to balance malt acids. But if, for whatever reason, you wanted a mash pH higher than what you have got you can add some chalk to it. Other candidates are lye (sodium hydroxide). I am notrecommending adding Drano to your mash (and not because of the aluminum content). Sodium bicarbonate will work too as would sodium carbonate. All these are not so good because they add sodium. Potassium hydroxide would work (no sodium). Lime (quick = CaO or slaked = Ca(OH)2) would also work. Milk of magnesia (Mg(OH)2), and magnesium carbonate (MgCO3) could be used as well.

I have never heard of anyone actually using any of these with the exception of chalk. The one I would probably go for before any of the others would be lime because that can be bought at any supermarket in food grade.
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Old 08-25-2010, 04:06 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by SpanishCastleAle View Post
Check out AJ's post here. It's in that uber-long thread about the spreadsheet. AJ has been adding some really good stuff on water chemistry lately, if not a little myth-busting as well.

Cliff notes: You probably don't need to add any chalk at all or at least not nearly as much as the spreadsheet tells you to (I don't know your water).

Are you actually measuring mash pH? If not I think that's another thing that will be suggested; measure then correct (as opposed to just calculating and hoping).
My tap water has a alkalinity of 31 as CaC03.
0 calcium
0 magnesium
10 sodium
3 sulfate
2 chloride

I have tried to measure the mash pH but the strips I bought at the LHBS don't seam to work. I dip them in the mash and they just don't change color.

I've been using the EZ spreadsheet and the beer tastes great but I the dark beers use a ton of chalk and/or baking soda get the RA to match the SRM
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Old 08-25-2010, 04:08 PM   #9
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Is there a better spreadsheet that you recommend.

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Old 08-25-2010, 06:00 PM   #10
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AJ has a spreadsheet on his site (wetnewf.org) but he says it's more complicated and I haven't used it.

I envy you for having that water. You can always add some calcium.

FWIW, my experience with pH strips has not been very good. I had a canister of the 'beer range' strips and they were telling me my mash pH was fine and dandy. They were showing low 5s and all I was doing was diluting with distilled and using the common salts. But I was running out of strips so I got a new canister...then next brew day decided to compare the old strips to the new ones. Woopsie. New strips said I was way higher, like 5.8, which if I'm understanding some of AJs posts is exactly what I should have been expecting. Using the new strips I haven't gotten a mash pH below 5.7 (I just got some lactic acid and sauermalt so I hope to change this). A pH meter is on my list. I'd rather have no reading than an incorrect one.

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