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Craft The Perfect Draft - Brewing Water Part 3

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This is the third installment in the Brewing Water series. The links below will direct you to parts one and two if you wish to read them to.
Craft The Perfect Draft - Brewing Water Part 1
Craft The Perfect Draft - Brewing Water Part 2
Today we look at some of the easy to use tools that are available to homebrewers for tuning and tweaking their brewing water profiles to match the styles of beer they brew.

We know that mashing at the lower end of the recommended mash temperature range of 148-158F [64-70C] produces a more fermentable wort and a thinner bodied beer, what isn't so obvious is that the same thing happens when the mash pH is held at the lower end of the 5.4 to 5.6 pH range. Mashing at the lower end of the recommended pH range not only increases conversion efficiency it also reduces chill haze, enhances hot break, beer color and taste while reducing harsh bitterness in the beer.

The Right Brewing Water Can Enhance Color, Flavor And Taste
Keeping the mash pH within range also eliminates any risk of introducing tannins or other harsh flavor components into the finished beer and improves the rate of diacetyl reduction during conditioning. It also promotes more efficient conversion of starch into sugars and the development of insoluble phosphates that precipitate into the grain bed increasing its filtering capacity making the wort passing through it extremely clear and bright.
There are so many ways that a beer benefits from being brewed with a water profile designed specifically for a certain style of beer that its almost unbelievable. In the past most home brewers never advanced their brewing skills to a level where they started taking a closer look at their brewing water.

Extremely Clear Wort With Plenty Of Cold Break
Back then information about brewing water properties was pretty scarce and what was available was enough to cause the eyes of only the most passionate brewers to glaze over and quickly lose interest in the subject. Fortunately in recent years more brewing water information has been made available to home brewers than ever before and it's written in a way that's easily understood by non-chemistry majors.
Understanding the chemistry happening behind the scenes will enable you to look at a standing glass of water and imagine how the frenzied hydrogen and hydroxyl ions are constantly being split apart only to combine again into new water molecules. You don't have to understand all of the water chemistry involved to brew great tasting beer as long as you understand what's in the brewing water you plan to use and what changes need to be made to it.

Cooler Used To Adjust Water pH And Mix In 'Seasonings'
Using local tap or well water means starting with seasonal differences in the source of water that can only be measured accurately after having the water analyzed and then recalculating the water property adjustments needed to recreate a favorite water profile. Once you know the properties of your source water you'll need to plug them into a tool like EZ WaterCalculator in order to calculate the adjustments that will be needed to bring the source water into range of your favorite water profile.

Brewing Water Calculator Crunches The Numbers
When using tap or well water your water report should provide the parts per million of calcium, magnesium, sodium, chloride and sulfate to plug into the calculator to get started. You also enter the total volume of brewing water you need and the percentage of that brewing water volume that will be made up of distilled or reverse osmosis water. After entering the type and amounts of grain in your recipe the calculator will begin to display the pH, alkalinity and mineral levels of the water profile.

Use A Water Calculator And A pH Meter To Confirm Your Results
Using readily available ingredients like 88% lactic acid or Acidulated malt you then start adjusting the water profile pH level to be within the 5.4 to 5.6 range adding in gypsum, calcium chloride and Epsom salt to increase the alkalinity level to match the style of beer and add 'flavor' to the brewing water. The calculator is smart enough to display the pH level in green when it's within the recommended range and in red when the values fall outside of the range making it very easy and safe to use.
The calculated salt and mineral additions also display in green when they're within the recommended range and red when they have gone outside of the range. A built in chloride to sulfate ratio display provides feedback on whether the water profile is better suited for brewing a malty or a bitter beer.

Take A Final pH Reading Of Your Finished Beer
EZ WaterCalculator is a great water profile tool to use because it is easy to understand, uses easy to find ingredients and it lets you do an infinite number of 'what if' calculations to determine just what water property adjustments are needed to brew a perfect beer every time. With an understanding of water property basics and some practice you will know exactly what's in your water.
Vince "Screwy Brewer" Feminella
www.thescrewybrewer.com
[email protected]

 
I'm still new to the whole water chemistry adjustments - but I have noticed on the EZ Water spreadsheet, it estimates a pH of about 0.5 points higher than what I actually measure during my mash (I use a pH meter to measure and I have the brewing pH strips to verify that my meter isn't too far off). I have just started building this into my recipes when calculating my water profile, I play with EZ Water until I get a mash pH of about 5.7 since I know on my system, I will actually be hitting about 5.2-5.3. My first couple times using EZ Water, I added the recommended 2% acid malt to get my estimated pH down, but then ended up with an actual pH around 4.8 and horrible efficiency. I'm not sure if anybody else has this experience with this spreadsheet...
Also, according to the EZ Water spreadsheet, it says that you can go up to 250 ppm for Chloride and 350 ppm for Sulfate, what I have read from some of the water experts on HBT is that you don't want either of those numbers to go above about 100 ppm. I have been following this recommendation and my last few beers have been my best ever.
 
Great series of articles @sreweybrewer. Thanks for these. I was wondering waht benefits there are to be had by knowing the pH of the finished beer. Are there certain unspecified style guidelines to shoot for or is it more to do with applying the data to future brews? Probably a dumb question.
 
@Gavin C, First of all thank you for your positive comments! I try to target pH values of 4.3 to 4.6 in my finished beers. It's not imperative that everyone has to take this extra step. I tend to think my IPAs taste a bit crisper in the lower pH range of the scale where my maltier beers benefit being near the higher range.
 
@TheHappyHopper since the acidity of acid malt can vary a lot I trust using 88% lactic acid in it's place because it is more consistent. While I do have an ATC pH meter I allow my wort samples to cool to 75F before taking any readings.
As for any software I've learned to trust but verify the results displayed against my actual pH readings. Of course the accuracy of your meter's calibration, temperature of the samples taken and amount of time given for the pH meter to stabilize before reading the display will all play a role too. As for the ppm let your taste buds be the deciding factor, at the end of the day you want to brew the best beer that you like and do it consistently.
 
@TheHappyHopper since the acidity of acid malt can vary a lot I trust using 88% lactic acid in it's place because it is more consistent. While I do have an ATC pH meter I allow my wort samples to cool to 75F before taking any readings.
As for any software I've learned to trust but verify the results displayed against my actual pH readings. Of course the accuracy of your meter's calibration, temperature of the samples taken and amount of time given for the pH meter to stabilize before reading the display will all play a role too. As for the ppm let your taste buds be the deciding factor, at the end of the day you want to brew the best beer that you like and do it consistently.
 
Great articles, Screwy. If all they do is convince new brewers of the importance of PH and mineral content then they've already succeeded. BTW, I didn't know mashing at a lower PH had so many benefits! I always just targeted being "within the range"....durgh.
 
Great read. I found these very interesting and I appreciate the time you put into these.
One question. The spreadsheet states the target mash pH is at room temp of 5.4-5.6. However, beer isn't mashed at room temp. I've always been under the understanding this is the range we want pH at mash temps (148-158F). Am I correct in thinking the mash pH range is actually lower; 5.2-5.5 perhaps?
Antidotal Reference: I've been tracking my pH on nearly every brew I've done for the past 3 years at ~15 minute intervals from strike on my HLT to dough in to mash out. Where I'm located, our tap water is pretty hard. Even going from 60F to 120F, our local water starts to precipitate out minerals (it is even visibly noticeable as a thin white film in my HLT) and my pH is dropping from my base point to before I even dough in. I don't have my brew notes with me at work, but I recall our base water having a pH around 7.5 (60F) and at dough in, my dough in water is already around 6.8 (120F) from this precipitation effect. I could be slightly wrong on these exact numbers, and I need to just heat water up to 152-156 to see the losses at mash temp. It's an interesting phenomenon and I haven't gone about calculating the losses yet.
In any case, the clarification on the room temp pH versus mash temp pH is appreciated.
 
I have read it can take up to 15 minutes for mash pH to stabilize (though my 5, 10, and 15 minute readings tend to all be essentially the same), and have also read the majority of conversion occurs within the first 10-15 minutes (or less) of a mash (though I still do 45-90 minute mashes and don't have much interest in pushing that envelope). How would you describe what's going on here. If a mash pH comes in too high or too low at first, will it just have poor conversion until you recognize and remedy the issue, at which point it becomes more efficient and all is well again? Any idea how long it takes to leach out "tannins or other harsh flavor components" or otherwise negatively impact a beer? Obviously it's best to nail your pH out of the gate, but I guess my question is, if you're off the mark, how big of a rush do you need to be in to get it back in line?
 
@Zane I always take my water and mash pH readings at room temperature even though my meter has automatic temperature correction [ATC] built in.
In short pH readings taken at mash temperatures will be lower than readings of the same liquid taken at room temperature. Example: A pH reading of 5.4 at 77F will read about 5.2 at 155F. I hope this helps.
 
@Tippsy-Turvy thank you, this was exactly my intent when I first wrote this article. Haha...once you have a precision meter capable of displaying .01 accuracy you can play around like that, something test alone strips won't allow you to do..
 
@bunt1828 that's a tough one. I'd suggest writing down just how far off the mark your pH was and make a compensating correction in what your brewing water calculator recommends the next time. If your mash tun has enough room adding distilled or RO water will raise the pH some and reduce the buffering strength. Trying to lower the mash pH with lactic acid doesn't seem to be an accurate alternative for me.
 
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