Help with BIAB Process and Switched Water Source - Beer Tastes Different

Homebrew Talk - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Forum

Help Support Homebrew Talk - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Forum:

Spin711

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Feb 25, 2015
Messages
180
Reaction score
171
Hi all,

I'm asking for any advice/critique on my process and any insight in how to take my beer up a notch. Unfortunately, there's no brew clubs around my area to critique my beers, so I figured with the vast experience of brewers on this site, it would be a great place to turn to. I will try to make this as detailed as I can (this will be a multi post as there is a lot).

*In my last 10 or so batches, I recently started using brewing salts with city water and notice my beer is tasting different and not as good. I used to use bottle water and that is described below. I'm not sure if that's what caused the recent beer to taste "different" and not as good as my first 40 batches. I realize it could be a combination of things, so I listed out my process below which has generally stayed the same.
I'm looking for:
1) What am I doing wrong in my process?
2) Any improvements to help my beer achieve better quality using BIAB techinques?

First a little background:
I have almost 50 BIAB batches done so far with good results, most of my family and friends love the beer. I have only done all grain BIAB, never traditional 3 vessel all grain, however I understand the methods associated. I taught myself how to brew mainly from this site and a few others. I have brewed a slew of different styles from recipes posted on this site and the Zymurgy mag (Biermuncher's Blonde Ale, Apfelwein, Zombie Dust, Pliny, Pale Ale, Kolsch, Lager, etc.). I find that I generally can repeat recipes batch after batch as my efficiency is constant and my fermentation is controlled in a chest freezer. I recently switched to city water instead of bottled, and my batches have started tasting different. I brew in my basement, single vessel, with an Avantco 3500 induction burner with my 15.5 gallon brew kettle.

Grain
I use a cereal killer grain mill and keep the crush constant. I believe its mill gap is set around 0.03" guessing by the printed measurements on the side (never measured it, however it is thinner than a credit card). I messed with it once after I read someone's post that their FG was too low after making their crush too fine, not sure if that's true? I have since stopped worrying about that and keep it constant. I generally buy grains before brew day and crush them right before I mash in. I don't keep grains for very long, usually less than a few months.

Mash

The brew kettle equipped with a false bottom that sits about 2.75" from the bottom, about 2 gallons of dead space below the false bottom. I use a Wilser bag which I have not found any issues with. The kettle has two layers of reflectix to maintain mash temperatures without applied heat. I find the two layers is enough for maintaining temperatures for 60 or more minutes. At one time, I was considering adding a pump, as my kettle is ported already (towards the top on the side), but I'm not sure how much that will improve my mashing.

I stir like crazy in the beginning with a large whisk to break up dough balls and try to even the water temperature throughout the grain. I will stir again about every 10-min or so just to check on temperature, or if I'm really paranoid I will monitor closely for the first half hour.

Brewing salts are added as the mash water is being heated. Mashing is either 60-min or 90-min depending on the recipe. I check pH during the mash to make sure I'm in the 5.2-5.6 range, and add lactic acid in 1 ml adjustments if necessary. I check pH by taking a sample out about 5-10 minutes into the mash, letting it cool to 70ish, and use my $15 dollar amazon meter. I only double calibrated it once with the provided solution, and always rinse it with distilled water before storage. Not too concerned with pH as long as my efficiency remains in the 80's.

Speaking of efficiency, it's generally in the mid to high 80's. I have been at a steady 86% for awhile with sparging.

Sparge
Before I add the grain, when strike temperature is achieved, I take out 0.5-1.0 gallons of water. This way, the brew salts are already in it and the temp is close to 120*F during sparging. To sparge, I have a large strainer that fits over the kettle and put the bag in and slowly dump the water over. It will free drain as the kettle is brought up to boiling temperature. I have squeezed the bag before, not squeezed, lightly squeezed, etc. and haven't noticed a difference in the final product (that I know of).

Boil
I use a stainless hop spider for my hop additions. Boil is usually 60-90 minutes for ales and IPA's and always 90-mins for lagers. I can produce a rolling boil with the induction plate and reflectix, and I'm calculating around 1.3 gallons per hour boil off. Since my kettle has a false bottom, I have two means of filtering, however I still have some hot break/trub entering my kettle with the nature of BIAB. I never boil with the lid on and have an exhaust hood which carries out all the steam, never have drip back into the kettle. I just started skimming the hot break foam right before boiling, about 1 quart worth, as to limit the amount of trub into the fermenter. Again, not sure if that helps or not.

Continued on next post ->
 
OP
OP
S

Spin711

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Feb 25, 2015
Messages
180
Reaction score
171
Chilling

I have a duda diesel 30-plate chiller that can chill my boiling wort to 50 degrees in a single pass, 5-10 gallons no problem. Usually once the boil is over, I turn the water on for the plate chiller and open the kettle valve, no stirring or whirlpooling. It takes about 5-10 minutes from flameout to achieve pitching temps. Generally about 0.3 gallons of leftover material in the kettle that's usually filled with trub. Never had the plate chiller clog, and always gravity feed it with great results. Always flush it out with hot water, starting with a backflush, and then feed hot PBW, then rinse followed by star san.


Lagers I cool to 50 and other styles generally 65-70 depending on the yeast strain. One question I have, since I don't whirlpool, how do I add whirlpool hops in recipes that call for it (Pliny)? I have added them at 1-min, however I have no idea if thats even close to the same IBU level and extraction the recipe is looking for.


Yeast

I always use mrmalty's recommended pitch rates. If I needed a starter, I would add yeast to a growler and intermittently shake. I recently purchased a flask and stir plate and pitch the starter during high krausen, which is usually around 15-18 hours. Sometimes I use harvested yeast, sometimes fresh, but always reference mrmalty. I use bottled water for rehydrating dry yeast and making yeast starters, and boil beforehand.


I use WY1272 or US-05 for light blonde ales, w34/70 or similar for lagers, or if the posted recipe has a yeast associated with it I will use that.


Fermentation

I have used a combination of buckets, carboys, and minibrew 15gallon conicals. My basement has a thermostat where I can quickly adjust temperature if need be. I always run about 45-60 seconds of pure oxygen once the beer is in the fermenter, before I pitch the yeast. I run the flow of oxygen so it’s not vigorously bubbling at the top, but just enough so I can see it bubble at the top and know oxygen is flowing. Temperature is always taken from either inside the fermenter or the side of it; I never consider ambient temperature fermentation temp.


Lagers:

I ferment lagers in my temperature controlled chest freezer by taping the temperature probe to the side of the bucket with insulation over it. I target 48-50 for initial fermentation and then ramp up as suggested by the quick lager method http://brulosophy.com/methods/lager-method/ . I sometimes keep my D-rest temperatures maintained for a week or longer, then ramp down slowly and crash cool with gelatin. A mexican lager had noticeable acetaldehyde, which I think was from underpitching.

**The batch I did three weeks ago, a Mexican lager, has a corn taste to it. Not sure why it's so prominent in this batch, however it’s only been in the keg for a week using the method outlined above. I explain this more at the end of this post.


Ales and other styles:

They are kept at 65-68 during initial fermentation and when they are at projected FG, I ramp up to 72 to help the yeast finish out. I try to always keep my beer in the primary for two weeks or longer to aid this process. Some beers I've taken out of the primary too soon and they definitely have off-flavors that take a long time to subside. Not great with identifying off-flavors, I just know they tasted worse than my other versions. I dry hop using hop bags right into the conicals or buckets for about 3 days usually, 5 days max, and try to time it with 4-5 points of gravity to go.


One thing to note, my minibrew 15 gal conical is not airtight, as I have the older model without a gasket. Not sure how this plays with oxidation as I don't keep beer in it longer than 2-3 weeks and only lift the lid slightly to take gravity/tasting samples.


*I am looking into fermenting in corny kegs with this post as a reference: https://www.homebrewtalk.com/forum/threads/pressurized-closed-loop-corny-keg-fermenting.600563/ (Thanks Schematix for posting) I'm hoping that will help the beer improve as to limit oxygen exposure. Will I be required to use a thermowell in the keg lid or can I tape a probe and use a fermometer strip to the outside of the keg?


I know when fermentation is complete by checking the gravity with my refractometer, using Beersmith to correct the reading as it contains alcohol. Everytime I open the bucket or conical, I do so in the quickest way possible, and use the pipette to draw a small sample. The pipette is sanitized before this with star-san. Even after fermentation is done, I like to keep the beer on the yeast for a few days to a week so they can clean up.


Transferring/Racking

I have always used an autosiphon and elevate the fermenter above the keg. The siphon is sanitized every time prior to use by sticking into a bucket of starsan and cycling through a few times. I will be fermenting in corny's and using the method posted above.


Kegging

I first started out kegging by opening the lid, dropping the autosiphon hose to the bottom and filling. I would then purge the headspace with CO2 after filling using about 20 psi, and would vent it about 10 times. Now, I water purge the keg with star-san, by pushing out a full keg with CO2. I then autosiphon into the out post by connecting a swivel nut to the end of the siphon and vent through the PRV. Still not ideal but I believe limits the amount of oxygen in contact with the fermented beer. I then purge the headspace and force carb in my keezer.

Continued on next post ->
 
OP
OP
S

Spin711

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Feb 25, 2015
Messages
180
Reaction score
171
Sanitation

Equipment is cleaned with PBW after use and I always use star-san on fermenters immediately prior to filling them. Kegs and keg parts are soaked with PBW and star-san once a keg kicks. Sometimes I immediately fill the keg with a similar type beer once it’s kicked and ready for filling without cleaning, and do not notice any negative effects. Have not done this recently.

Star-san is always prepared using the 1 ounce per 5 gallon ratio they call for.


Water adjustments - The Biggest Change

This is where I am in newer territory. I used to use bottle water without adjusting, but with brewing more frequently it started to be inconvenient (and I now have access to city water regularly). Here is what my bottled water profile used to look like:


Bottled Water

Ca: 32.0mg/l, Mg: 2.8mg/l, Na:3.0mg/l, So4:7.8mg/l, Cl:7.5mg/l, HCO3*:93mg/l, pH:6.6

*Bicarbonate is taken as 1.2 times CaCO3 bicarbonate.

Note: I used this water for my first 40 batches and did not add any salts or acid to the mash, never checked pH. Efficiency was generally around 80%.This looks like a very soft profile, and my batches usually always came out to my expectation in taste.


City Water (base, what I now use)

Ca: 6.8mg/l, Mg: 1.5mg/l, Na*:23.3mg/l, So4:14.2mg/l, Cl:4.3mg/l, HCO3:54mg/l, pH:9.6

*Big jump here but I do not believe it would affect taste that much?

Also pH is a lot higher.

I do not filter the water at all, just split it off from where the washing machine connects to, using cold water only. Very short run from where it enters the house to where I tap it from.


With the use of city water, and brewing 5-10 gallons, and the residual chlorine level at 0.9mg/l, I always crush a half tablet of campden and add it to the water before on brew day (before heating starts). Not sure if that is the correct amount to use? Brew salts I add in and try to stir as the water heats so they can more easily dissolve.


I use Kal's website, http://www.theelectricbrewery.com/ (thanks for info Kal), for determining salt concentrations for different styles. I only use Gypsum, Epsom Salt, and Calcium Chloride in amounts as calculated by Beersmith. I made the additions of brewing salts the same time I switched to city water, so I'm unaware how the beer will taste using the city water by itself.


Conclusion

Thanks for making it through a long post! With the ten or so batches I did recently after switching to city water and using salts, I find my beer tastes different. All the beer does not taste as good (in my and some friends perspective) compared to before I made the switch.


For example, a Mexican lager I did had a more pronounced corn flavor to it than previous batches. I targeted this water profile:

Ca: 40.0ppm, Mg: 10ppm, Na:10ppm, So4:50ppm, Cl:80ppm

Recipe:

67% Pils
22% Flaked Corn
11% Vienna

Not sure why I can taste more corn, however it has only been at 36*F for a week in the keg. I don't think DMS, if it is DMS, will subside over time. This was mashed for 90 minutes at 148*F, boiled for 90 minutes, and cooled in under 10 minutes after flameout using WLP940. Fermentation was the accelerated method referenced above.


My Pliny clones have had a harsher bitterness, not pleasant, that lingers using Kal's "hoppy" profile. Biermuncher's blonde ale that definitely tastes more bitter using Kal's "balanced" profile. Again I don't know if it's part of my process or if its in the recipe (the recipes have been kept the same). It's been frustrating as I'm brewing for a rehearsal dinner and want it to be up to my standards at minimum.


Can anyone help me out an offer some insight as to why my beer isn't coming out as good as it was previously using bottled water? Again, I do not filter the city water, just add campden and salts. Also, anything I can do with BIAB to increase quality and overall taste?


Thanks in advance!
 

North_of_60

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 27, 2018
Messages
213
Reaction score
120
Location
Justin, TX
I feel your pain, before I moved I had my own well, 175 feet deep clear, clean and tasted good. I don’t know what the composition was, other than high calcium, but it made great beer.

Now I’m on city water and the beer is ok to good, never great. I use campden but haven’t tried water additives. I wish I could help but I’m dealing with the same issue. I’ll be watching this thread hoping to find an answer too.
 
OP
OP
S

Spin711

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Feb 25, 2015
Messages
180
Reaction score
171
The taste of my city water isn’t bad, but definitely not as clean and crisp as the bottled I was using. It is very frustrating and I’m still not sure if I can equate it to that or not
 

Drewed

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 5, 2017
Messages
452
Reaction score
144
Location
Waukesha, WI
Did you take your own water chemistries, or did you get a report from the city? You are pretty low on Ca and Mg, but high on salt, do you have a water softener? Your water profile looks like my softened water profile. Where are you located? And do you know your city’s water source?
 
OP
OP
S

Spin711

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Feb 25, 2015
Messages
180
Reaction score
171
I sourced my info from an annual water report conducted in 2016. I'm located in Central New York, where our water is held in Hinckley Lake Reservoir with water originating from a 373 square foot watershed from the Adirondack Mountains. It is at the reservoir where it is treated, and I would guess travels over 20 miles to my home, picking up who knows what along the way. I have not conducted tests on the water in my home, just used the annual water report.

I do not use a softener, just tap it from the same line my washing machine hooks up to, no filtering. It's a short run from where the water enters in the basement to my kettle.

I agree it's soft water and high on salt, which is why I thought treating it with salts (Gypsum, Epsom Salt, and Calcium Chloride) to match common profiles associated with certain styles would be beneficial. Again, I did not try brewing with the city water by itself (no salts), only brewed with salts and a half tablet (crushed) of campden for 5-10 gallon batches. My beer made from the previous bottled water was never treated with salts as I was concentrating on my brewing and fermentation process first.
 

BrewInspector

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 30, 2013
Messages
329
Reaction score
163
Location
Charlotte
Looks to me as if you have answered your own question regarding why it tasted different. Or at least narrowed it down to 2 or 3 things.

Water and it's composition
Salt additions

Eliminate the salt additions to city water.
Does that make a difference?
Better/ worse?

Try adding salts to bottled water.
What did that do?

Use a partial mix of city and bottled with and without salts.

It's the salt or the water. My bet is on the water and it composition. I doubt the campden has any effect on the taste. Dosage is fine for 10 gallons. Try to alter one thing at a time to narrow it down further. Preferably on the same recipe.
 

Drewed

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 5, 2017
Messages
452
Reaction score
144
Location
Waukesha, WI
You based your additions off of a old water report that wasn’t taken from your taps. If your going to make alterations to your water, you should have a water profile done on your water, not the water from where ever the city took their samples. If you don’t want to get a test kit, or send a sample out to a lab, check with your local home brew store, or brewing club.
 
Top