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Old 03-09-2011, 03:23 PM   #1
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Default Help with bitterness in multiple batches

I’m new to brewing, and I have 3 batches under my belt (and one fermenting). Although I have hardly any practical experience, a knee surgery has kept me immobile, so I’ve read hundreds, if not thousands of posts on this great board to research. My problem is this: I have a reoccurring bitterness in my beers. The first batch was undrinkable, the second is barely tolerable. Now, the third batch, BM’s Centennial Blonde, tastes ok, BUT that same bitterness is still present. If this were my first batch I wouldn’t even sweat it, but after tasting this bitterness in the other batches, I’m hyper sensitive to it. (First batch was a brown ale that conditioned for 3 months with no improvement, and second batch is 2 months in with no improvement)

The only thing I can think of that these three batches have in common is the same water..either whole or in part. (I’ve bought new equipment, different LHBSs for ingredients, different techniques—extract, Partial mash, and AG) After my first batch, I researched my water and found out it is minerally and alkaline, so I’ve been diluting it with RO water. I also read extensively about water chemistry via Palmer, Dr A.J. Delange, and Kai from these boards to help with the profile.

Here’s my water profile for the Blonde after it’s been cut 50/50 with RO/tap, treated with ½ a Campden tab, and Lactic acid to get RA down
Ca – 32
Mg – 20
NA – 24
Cl – 28
SO4 – 20
RA – 21

I’ve added CaCl and Gypsum to this profile get my Calcium up to 55ppm and keep Cl/SO4 at “malty” to ensure my bitterness isn’t from SO4.

A few questions nipped in the bud....
-I keep sparge water below 170° (verified by two thermometers)
-pH of last mash was 5.3
-temp controlled at 68 for ferment

The bitterness is not the “medicinal” or “band-aid” flavor I’ve heard a lot of. It’s kinda an “earthy” bitterness. The amount of bitterness is proportionate to the amount of tap water used, so it seems to be the water. I know I could build straight RO water if I can’t get this taste nailed down, but I know many use their own water, and if possible, I’d like to do the same.

At this point, I’m asking for some suggestions on what might be the cause of my bitterness…I’m assuming it’s water related, but let me know if anything else comes to mind.

Thanks


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Old 03-10-2011, 10:26 PM   #2
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Is it sour and not bitter? It could be a bacterial infection.


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Old 03-11-2011, 01:20 AM   #3
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It's definitely not sour. It's a different kind of bitter I haven't tasted before. I've been spraying everything that contacts the beer with Star San since after the 1st batch in hopes of thwarting a bacterial infection.
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Old 03-11-2011, 03:20 AM   #4
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Make sure your water report actually is SO4. If it is Ward labs, they report it as SO4-S or something (many labs do this too). This SO4-S result is 1/3 of your actual SO4. If this is the case in your water, your starting Cl/S04 is actually 28/60. 60 is a good chunk of SO4, and adding gypsum will rocket you up. This could be where your bitterness is coming from.

Your water is pretty alkaline, do you acidify your sparge water? I'd try adding lactic or phosphoric acid to get your sparge water under a pH of 6.0, if it is not already.

Are you calculating IBUs correctly? My experience is that an IBU for you is different than an IBU for me, or whomever wrote a recipe. If your beers are too bitter, lower the IBUs.
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Old 03-11-2011, 01:36 PM   #5
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As no alkalinity number is given I had to take a stab at the carbo content of the water and as there is uncertainty about the sulfate I tried it using both the as sulfate and as sulfur description. I was able to get a better balance with "as sulfur" though the RA is 81. If, OTOH, I uses as sulfate the RA is 122. Quite a bit of guesswork in here but as the as sulfate gives a more reasonable RA compared to what is posted I'm assuming that it is closer to the truth. This is 60 ppm sulfate which is enough to give you hops roughness. Wheter it's appropriate for style or not is immaterial if you don't like it. Cut the water 3:1 or 4:1 with DI and make the calcium back up with the chloride i.e. no gypsum. Try with that and if things get better then you know what the problem was and can continue on that basis.

"Earthy" bitterness suggest British cultivars. You might want to try different hops varieties. One of the reason the noble hops are called noble is because the bitterness is "fine". You might want to try one or more of them. And finally, of course, you can just pull back on the amount of hops and/or add them later in the boil.
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Old 03-11-2011, 01:53 PM   #6
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I had a bitterness in my beers that I couldn't figure out, and as soon as I started charcoal filtering my water it went away. I assume it was chlorine or chloramine.
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Old 03-11-2011, 03:43 PM   #7
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Sorry for not listing the alkalinity, which is 155 at this dilution...and I did add acid to my sparge water was well.

After reading my water report MANY times to make sure it's right, it lists SO4 as "sulfate." BUT as I've read, sometimes the water company misreports SO4 and SO4-S. Given what pkeeler said, it could be that my sulfates were mislabeled, and it could be closer to 60ppm at 50% dilution, which means the bitterness would be worse with gypsum added.

What clicked for me here, was when ajdelange mentioned that the earthy bitterness describes English hops. I know from drinking commercial craft beer what the English hops "earthiness" is supposed to taste like.

My first two batches were, in fact, English hopped. If the SO4 numbers were way off, like suggested, that would mean the earthiness would be magnified, hence a terrible "earthy" bitterness. With the subsequent batch, if my SO4 numbers were way off, even with American hops, an unnatural bitterness would still show up.

With my next batch, I'll use the higher number for SO4, no gypsum additions and see what that gets me......I hope I get it right because the Haus Pale Ale is up next!!
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Old 03-11-2011, 06:23 PM   #8
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According to Palmer, Sulfate levels of up to 400 ppm could be acceptable depending on the style of beer.

I agree with sudsmcgee. I think your issue is likely chlorine/chloramine. Add campden tabs (1 tab treats 20 gallons) to all water used.

But I would also be aware that your water is alkaline and so I would be hesitant to do partial boils unless you acidify your top-off water.
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Old 03-11-2011, 06:55 PM   #9
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That level of alkalinity is just about what I calculated assuming the sulfate is "as sulfate" and balances the profile very nicely. Interpreting the sulfate number "as Sulfur" would seriously imbalance the profile. Note that water authorities do not report sulfate in any way except as sulfate (AFAIK). The only organization that seems to report as sulfur is Ward Labs. So I think we are safe in assuming the actual sulfate is 20 mg/L.This is not excessive for anything except the most delicate nobly hopped lagers but I still think you should try at an even higher dilution than your 1:1. Not that you necessarily need to do as I do but in the hopes than an example may be beneficial I cut my water which is at 27 ppm sulfate with 9 parts of RO so that the sulfate is 2.7. And I do it to get the sulfate down to that level.
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Old 03-11-2011, 07:14 PM   #10
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Sorry, missed that you already use campden. I guess that rules that out as long as all of your water is treated.

But - correct me if I'm wrong... mg/L is a close equivalent of ppm and you are talking about tap water with 40 ppm of SO4. Unless you are trying to emulate Pilsner Urquell, I can't see how this would be an issue. Granted a blonde is fairly light, but still...

BTW, I am happy to be corrected but I'm really not following the need to dilute solely on the basis of SO4 of 40.


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