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Old 01-21-2011, 12:02 AM   #1
flipper51
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Default Water report questions

I just got my results back from Ward Labs (pasted in below). I'd really appreciate any comments about styles, modifications, etc. But also, after playing around with the EZ water calculator I have some specific questions that are bugging me ---

1. My water is low in everything -- soft, but also low in pH and all minerals. So I can change the chloride:sulfate ratio with just a couple grams of gypsum, but do the actual mineral concentrations matter to flavor?

2. Similar to question 1, but for mash pH: If I use 5.2 stabilizer (which should work well since the water is soft, I think?), does the SRM and alkalinity balance matter? In general, does pH matter much aside from efficiency?

3. Is it a problem that my water is acidic? I haven't seen any other reports posted that were under 7.

Ok, I'll stop there before I bore everyone to death. Here's the report:

pH 6.4
Sodium, Na 15
Potassium, K 2
Calcium, Ca 3
Magnesium, Mg 3
Total Hardness, CaCO3 20
Nitrate, NO3-N 1.5 (SAFE)
Sulfate, SO4-S 3
Chloride, Cl 17
Carbonate, CO3 < 1
Bicarbonate, HCO3 9
Total Alkalinity, CaCO3 8

(S04 should be 9 for EZ calculator)

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Old 01-21-2011, 01:12 AM   #2
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Quote:
3. Is it a problem that my water is acidic? I haven't seen any other reports posted that were under 7.
No, my water is 5.1. Water pH will not effect mash pH.

Quote:
1. My water is low in everything -- soft, but also low in pH and all minerals. So I can change the chloride:sulfate ratio with just a couple grams of gypsum, but do the actual mineral concentrations matter to flavor?

2. Similar to question 1, but for mash pH: If I use 5.2 stabilizer (which should work well since the water is soft, I think?), does the SRM and alkalinity balance matter? In general, does pH matter much aside from efficiency?
I have no experience with the 5.2 product. If you have a water report, you can use John Palmer's or any of the other online calculators to figure out just how much of what minerals to add to get any SRM into line. One thing I would suggest, you not use the 5.2 but use gypsum, calcium chloride, and chalk in combination (if necessary). These will add calcium to your brew. A minimum of 50 ppm is important for beer clarity and yeast health. You might also want to use 1/2 tsp of epsom salt too to bring Mg into minimum range.
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Old 01-21-2011, 05:39 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by flipper51 View Post
1. My water is low in everything -- soft, but also low in pH and all minerals. So I can change the chloride:sulfate ratio with just a couple grams of gypsum, but do the actual mineral concentrations matter to flavor?
Yes, you can change the ratio just by adding gypsum (or epsom salts) but the ratio is way overplayed. As your common sense is telling you the actual concentrations do matter. You should be thankful you have the low sulfate. It is essential for the delicate pale beers of the continent.

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Originally Posted by flipper51 View Post
2. Similar to question 1, but for mash pH: If I use 5.2 stabilizer (which should work well since the water is soft, I think?), does the SRM and alkalinity balance matter? In general, does pH matter much aside from efficiency?
Unfortunately 5.2 doesn't work under any conditions. In DI water it buffers to around pH 6. With pale grain present to about 5.6. There are better ways to set mash pH e.g. sauermalz. pH has a range of effects on beer besides efficiency. The best description I have seen is that pH, properly set, results in flavors that are brighter. But it also leads to faster runoff, brighter (optically) wort, healthier fermentation, better flocculation and quicker conditioning/lagering.


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3. Is it a problem that my water is acidic? I haven't seen any other reports posted that were under 7.
No because your water isn't very acidic at all. The low pH is caused by CO2 from the respiration of soil bacteria. This dissolves in the water as it percolates through the soil on the way to the aquifer that supplies your well. Allowed to stand this CO2 will gas off and the pH of the sample will rise. The reason this small amount of CO2 can change the pH so much is that there is so little bicarbonate to oppose the change (the water has low buffering capacity). The malt buffering systems will overcome the water easily.

You are very lucky to have water this nice. You may wish to have a look at the Primer here in order to get starting ideas about how to use it to make good beer.
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Old 01-21-2011, 06:25 PM   #4
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Thanks so much for the replies. AJ, after reading the primer thread I have to thank you for all the great info you've provided, and being willing to help out the newbies with the easy questions as well.

I'm inferring from that thread and some of your other posts that you think the recommended ion concentrations from Palmer are generally too high. I'm on board with your thoughts on sulfate, but I'm worried about calcium. If I follow your baseline instructions from the primer, I get 34 ppm Ca, which is out of Palmer's range (50-150), but a lot higher than my tap water (3 ppm). I have always had problems with clarity, so I'm wondering if I should heed pkeeler's advice above (and Palmer) and make sure I have at least 50 ppm? If I also add a tsp gypsum I get 59 ppm Ca, but that pushes the sulfate to 72, which is not super high but so much higher than what I'm used to (9 ppm) that I'm afraid it will screw up my bittering rates.

Also, I've been using the 5.2 product for a long time but will now probably stop (because of the good case you've made for it's pointlessness, and the fact that I finally have a water report and have an alternative). So my new question is, how much sodium does it add at the recommended dosage, and is it large enough that I've gotten used to the flavor of the sodium addition? When I'm comparing the taste of my new beers to my old ones, I'm already going to be trying to consider the possible effects of lots more calcium, maybe more mg and sulfate, and hopefully better pH. If the dependent variable in this experiment is taste, I'm manipulating lots of IVs simultaneously. That makes for a lousy experiment, but I'm not about to intentionally make worse beer than I can after starting the process of water chemistry enlightenment.

Finally, after reading more of these threads I really do appreciate my water more! According to the EZ calculator I get a pH under 5.4 for any SRM 10+, without sauermalz which is pretty nice. Only downside is, that means my past pH's were probably pretty ok, so there might not be too much of an improvement in my beers' flavor -- that's why I'm really hanging a lot of hope on boosting the ion concentrations.

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Old 01-22-2011, 12:36 AM   #5
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Chefs all over the world know sodium brings out flavor. While too much is too much (and yeast don't like it), I generally use a 1/3 teaspoon in every brew. This also adds Cl. I don't think 74 sulphate is very high, especially if Cl is also in the same ballpark. But, you can always use Calcium Chloride (pickle crisp) instead of gypsum.

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Old 01-22-2011, 04:05 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by flipper51 View Post
I'm inferring from that thread and some of your other posts that you think the recommended ion concentrations from Palmer are generally too high.
I certainly do think that in cases (darker beers) where his spreadsheet recommends grams of calcium carbonate. In the case of light beers his spreadsheet calls for highly negative RA and, consequently, high calcium concentration. For some styles, such as Burton ales and Exports, this is very appropriate. For delicate European lagers it is very inappropriate.

I do have a personal pet theory and that is that the best beers are made with soft water. I don't claim that to be true and I don't push people in that direction (not consciously, at least) but the more I brew using that philosophy the more I like my beers which doesn't mean you or anyone else would. IOW I like those delicate continental lagers more than most other styles.

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I'm on board with your thoughts on sulfate,...
Either you like sulfate or you don't. I don't, others do.


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Originally Posted by flipper51 View Post
but I'm worried about calcium. If I follow your baseline instructions from the primer, I get 34 ppm Ca, which is out of Palmer's range (50-150), but a lot higher than my tap water (3 ppm).
I wouldn't worry too much about calcium. No question it has beneficial properties but some very fine beers are made with water quite low in it.


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Originally Posted by flipper51 View Post
I have always had problems with clarity, so I'm wondering if I should heed pkeeler's advice above (and Palmer) and make sure I have at least 50 ppm?
Lack of clarity can come from several causes. Calcium does result in bright runoff but if you have mismanaged the protein rest then you can still get protein haze. If you think calcium might solve a haze problem then try using more and if your hypothesis turns out to be true then you have to make the trade between the fine qualities of soft water beers (such as Bohemian Pils) and clarity. You should be able to make a brilliant Boh. Pils with soft water. People have been doing it for generations.

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Originally Posted by flipper51 View Post
If I also add a tsp gypsum I get 59 ppm Ca, but that pushes the sulfate to 72, which is not super high but so much higher than what I'm used to (9 ppm) that I'm afraid it will screw up my bittering rates.
Then I recommend that you don't add a tsp of gypsum (or any gypsum at all) for your early brews. Do add it in small increments on successive brews to find the level you like.

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So my new question is, how much sodium does it add at the recommended dosage, and is it large enough that I've gotten used to the flavor of the sodium addition?
I did measure that but I cannot find my notes. It was pretty substantial. I'll make a wild guess and say about 150 mg/L. I'll also keep looking.

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Originally Posted by flipper51 View Post
I'm manipulating lots of IVs simultaneously.
Try not to do that if possible but instead work on one at a time. Start with your very soft water with 1 tsp calcium chloride per 5 gal as a baseline and using that get pH under control. Then work on the sulfate. Then adjust the choride etc. It means lots of brewing (and lots of drinking) but that's what the hobby is about.

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Originally Posted by flipper51 View Post
According to the EZ calculator I get a pH under 5.4 for any SRM 10+, without sauermalz which is pretty nice.
.
It's not likely that you got pH under 5.4 without sauermalz with water this soft unless there was quite a bit of dark/roast malt in the grist.

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Originally Posted by flipper51 View Post
Only downside is, that means my past pH's were probably pretty ok, so there might not be too much of an improvement in my beers' flavor -- that's why I'm really hanging a lot of hope on boosting the ion concentrations.
One of the biggest favors you can do yourself as a brewer is remove the "probably" by buying a pH meter and finding out what your mash pH actually is (and then controlling it). You might be surprised by what you find WRT pH and you might be surprised as to how much you can improve your beer.
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Old 01-22-2011, 06:07 PM   #7
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Chefs all over the world know sodium brings out flavor. While too much is too much (and yeast don't like it), I generally use a 1/3 teaspoon in every brew. This also adds Cl. I don't think 74 sulphate is very high, especially if Cl is also in the same ballpark. But, you can always use Calcium Chloride (pickle crisp) instead of gypsum.
Thanks -- this gives me more confidence in using NaCl to try to replace what I'm losing from dropping the 5.2 stabilizer. One question (for anyone) is whether it's Na or Cl that is mostly responsible for bringing out malt flavor/sweetness? If it's mostly the Cl component of NaCl that's important, I might not need to worry so much about replacing the Na from the 5.2 stuff, since it's coming from phosphate salts, not chloride.
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Old 01-22-2011, 06:53 PM   #8
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IOW I like those delicate continental lagers more than most other styles.
It is likely that we have different tastes, or at least different intentions. I love those continental lagers, but I rarely try to make anything in that style because it's currently beyond my abilities. When I make a very lightly flavored beer I'm usually unhappy with it because of the yeast aroma and taste I get, which I assume is in all my beers but either tastes good (in an IPA) or is masked by roasted malts. So my practice is to brew big and aggressive beers, which happen to be my (and my wife's) favorites anyway. But here's hoping that by improving my water chemistry someday I'll be able to make something that will impress with something other than raw power!

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I did measure that but I cannot find my notes. It was pretty substantial. I'll make a wild guess and say about 150 mg/L. I'll also keep looking.
That's very helpful. Realizing that's just a ballpark figure, you're saying it would be that much pure Na+, not an equivalent amount of NaCl, right? So to replace the lost Na+ from the 5.2 I'd need to figure out the amount of Na in ppm contributed by a gram of NaCl.

Quote:
Try not to do that if possible but instead work on one at a time. Start with your very soft water with 1 tsp calcium chloride per 5 gal as a baseline and using that get pH under control. Then work on the sulfate. Then adjust the chloride etc. It means lots of brewing (and lots of drinking) but that's what the hobby is about.
I strongly agree with you in principle, and badly wish I could agree in practice! I've got enough of a science background to know that, from an experimental perspective, what I'm trying to do is terrible. The problem is that I brew both as a hobby and for practical purposes. I can't afford to (well, technically, don't want to) buy commercial examples of styles I like. I also can't afford the time or wasted ingredients to risk a truly bad batch. So, while I'm a scientist when making pizza (no, you can't put peppers on one because I already varied the parmesan levels!), I'm going to rely on everyone else's knowledge as much as I can for this one.

Unfortunately, a decent pH meter is way out of the budget right now (I am assuming the $20 pool testers on eBay won't cut it). I will go back to testing with the cheap test strips I have -- I stopped bothering after finding that my pH was always within some decent range, considering how inaccurate they are anyway.
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Old 01-22-2011, 07:24 PM   #9
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The normal dosage for 5.2 is about 10 grams per 5 gallons which works out to about 500 mg/L. It's mostly (93%) monobasic with the rest being dibasic sodium phosphate. This would give about 122 mg/L sodium. Now sodium is generally thought to be pretty worthless at low levels and problematic at high so most people try to avoid it unless they are doing a beer which is intended to taste salty. For example, brewers wishing to increase sulfate will use calcium sulfate and/or magnesium sulfate rather than sodium sulfate for that purpose.

It is definitely the chloride that gets the credit for rounding, smoothing, sweetening and mouth feel enhancement. Again, brewers generally prefer the calcium salt (calcium chloride) to the sodium salt for enhancement of chloride but some old recipes call for sodium chloride (and citric acid...) and if one is trying to match a sodium containing ion profile then of course sodium chloride is required as well.

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Old 01-22-2011, 07:41 PM   #10
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I also can't afford the time or wasted ingredients to risk a truly bad batch. So, while I'm a scientist when making pizza (no, you can't put peppers on one because I already varied the parmesan levels!), I'm going to rely on everyone else's knowledge as much as I can for this one.
Problem is that you will get wildly differing advice and some will lead you to make if not terrible pretty bad beer. O course I think I've found the Philosopher's Stone of water chemistry but I've been around long enough to know that I would be a fool claim that my methods will get you the best possible beer but I am comfortable promising a good beer. People are reporting modest to dramatic improvements in their beers but I know someone is out there waiting in the wings to report that he followed my recommendations and got a terrible beer. So either you follow my "rules of thumb" knowing that rules of thumb are great much of the time but not all of the time or you use the models in someones spreadsheet which are good a lot of the time and terrible others. Or try something in between.

Tasting beer brewed by other brewers who use your water (if there are any such) and asking how they handle water is a good way to learn.
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