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Is 5.4 to 5.6 too high a target pH? Questions...

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bobbytuck

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So, I came across John Kimmich on this ChopAndBrew YouTube video speaking on all things beer:

[ame]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdfySDN2mF0[/ame]

Of particular interest is the water treatment discussion starting at around the 42:00 mark.

But at 43:14, he says something confusing: "If you're not hitting between 5.1 and 5.3, you're at a disadvantage."

Then he goes on to say that anything -- anything -- above 5.3 is hopeless.

My understanding from reading here for years and the Palmer water treatment book is that anything in the 5.2 to 5.6 range is acceptable. And for darker beers, the preference tends to be in the 5.4 to 5.6 range.

What Kimmich is saying doesn't necessarily go against any of this -- he's speaking, I assume, about his own HeadyTopper -- but I'm wondering if (in general) the common-wisdom 5.2 to 5.6 target levels is a bit misleading? Should we, in fact, be aiming at 5.2 instead of 5.4? Will it make that much of a difference as Kimmich seems to (emphatically) imply?

After seeing this, I've been working on Pale Ales (100% RO) and using fairly high sulfate additions (and low chloride additions). I use phosphoric acid to bring it down into the 5.1 to 5.2 range. It's a pretty narrow window, but on the past few beers, I've been successful -- one was too low(under 5.1) -- and one hit 5.23 or so @ 75F.

I've also been increasing my bittering and late hop additions to compensate for this low pH. Some purely anecdotal observations after two pale ales (around 95% 2-row, 5% munich or vienna (1 batch with carapils, one batch without -- and no caramel. Mash temp between 148 to 150.):

- Cooled into the fermenter is incredibly (to my mediocre palette, at least) sharp and snappy -- hoppy as hell from the late additions. Much more so than my older 5.4 to 5.6 beers which were always sweet and malty and not very hoppy at all. The bitterness in the cooled wort is front and center. No malty fuzziness. It's sweet, of course, so it's hard to distinguish for certain. But the cooled wort definitely pops (inasmuch as cooled, sugary wort can actually pop).

- Out of the fermenter, the finished, kegged beer is quite a bit sharper. It has a bite, but it's not unpleasant. Hops are there. I've been using Safale-05 to keep the yeast as neutral as possible. The beers are only a few weeks old, so I don't know if they'll change more over time. I know, too, that as the beer carbonates the carbonic acid adds (usually) a not unpleasant sharpness. So there's that, too.

I guess my question is this: if I like what I'm making, it's obviously the way to go. And I'll keep targeting 5.1 to 5.2 for now. But is Kimmich's view -- that if you're over 5.3 you're hopelessly lost -- a fairly common view among professional brewers (for IPAs and similar beers, I assume)? I haven't tried this yet with a stout or porter -- but would this kind of pH make the darker beers overly acrid and sharp?

BTW, Kimmich also implies that a lower pH is more forgiving in the finished beer than a high pH. So this makes me wonder if, in fact, it is better to target the 5.1 to 5.2 window -- and then assume if I go too low (as I did with one beer above) I'll be okay. (Whatever "okay" means in this context -- I'm not sure. Astringency in the wort? Poor efficiency? I'm doing BIAB, and I'm getting 60% efficiency. Low, I know, but I'd rather just compensate with more grain than to work another variable -- sparging -- into the mix. Most BIABers don't sparge anyway -- as I gather that's the point. Thin mashes, low efficiency, no sparging -- relatively quick brewday.)

As I say, I'm confused. I was always afraid to go *under* the accepted pH norm of 5.4 -- but now I'm intrigued.
 

mabrungard

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From John's point of view, there is little doubt that he is correct. However, his point of view is this: "We are currently focused on brewing one beer perfectly – Heady Topper". That is from their website. I agree that you shouldn't allow the mash and wort pH to rise above 5.4 with pale beers. The flavors can quickly become muddy and less pleasant. In the case of Heady Topper, I can believe that reducing the pH target to 5.3 may be necessary in that lupulin bomb (yummy!). But that point of view does not hold for our entire spectrum of beer.

I and thousands of other brewers have found that some beers demand a slightly higher pH target in order to smooth and refine some flavors. Most pointedly, most porter and stouts are better when their mash and kettle pH is in the 5.4 to 5.6 range. I've even assisted a large regional brewery that was having flavor problems with their porter. After implementing treatment that boosted their mash pH, that beer was recently ranked as one of the top 25 porters in the country. It had been on its way to a thin and acrid death.

So, pH does matter and its inappropriate to state that 5.1 to 5.3 is the range for brewing. The proper breadth of the range is more like 5.1 to 5.6 and there are subsets of that range that generally favor certain beer brewing. To blindly follow John's advice is akin to saying: "One size fits all". I'm hoping that I've illustrated why we need to be a little more open with respect to mashing and kettle pH.
 

dfhar

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Ludwig Narziss states in his books that it is preferable to run the mash at a slightly higher pH than the boil, even for pale beers. Alpha amylase is badly inhibited at 5.1. A pH of 5.5 is the best compromise for alpha and beta enzymes and there is no risk of tannin extraction. 5.5 is also a good pH for generating nice big hot break flakes, and going down to 5.1 or 5.2 will make them smaller. However, 5.1-5.2 is the optimal pH for cold break formation and also smooths the hop bitterness because less of the harsh or rough tannins are extracted. Flavors are also heightened at the lower pH, since acid in food has a similar effect on your taste buds as salt, making things taste more intense.

One good strategy then is to adjust your pH in the mash to be in the neighborhood of 5.5, boil until hot break forms, adjust the pH of the boil down to 5.1, and then add your bittering hops. I think that this would work very well for an IPA. However, as Martin said there's no one-size-fits-all approach, and different beers may require different strategies. If you want to inhibit beta amylase, you can mash at a higher pH. If you want to inhibit alpha amylase, you can mash at a lower pH. Remember not to go too low even if you want a highly fermentable wort, as some alpha amylase activity is necessary to break beta limit dextrins into smaller pieces that beta amylase can further break down. As a rule of thumb, though, it's a good idea to run the boil at a lower pH than the mash.
 

PlinyTheMiddleAged

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So, I came across John Kimmich on this ChopAndBrew YouTube video speaking on all things beer:

Of particular interest is the water treatment discussion starting at around the 42:00 mark.

But at 43:14, he says something confusing: "If you're not hitting between 5.1 and 5.3, you're at a disadvantage."

Then he goes on to say that anything -- anything -- above 5.3 is hopeless.

I emailed Kimmich about those values. He was quoting values at mash temperatures. The 5.4 that homebrewers target is room temp. So, his 5.1 is our 5.4 - there's about a 0.3 pH difference.
 
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Don't most pH meters correct for temperature?
My understanding is that ATC actually corrects for the temp of the pH instrument, not that of the wort sample.

So, wort at ~155*F that reads pH ~5.1 will actually read as ~5.4 when the wort temp is ~68*F.

Again, at least that's my understanding....

Oh, and most pH probes aren't meant for use at mash temps. Ask me how I know. :eek:
 

Iseneye

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I emailed Kimmich about those values. He was quoting values at mash temperatures. The 5.4 that homebrewers target is room temp. So, his 5.1 is our 5.4 - there's about a 0.3 pH difference.
I'm no pH expert but my first thought was that he was talking about mash temperatures (0.3ish different than room temperature). 5.1 at room temperature is very low.
 
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My understanding is that ATC actually corrects for the temp of the pH instrument, not that of the wort sample.

So, wort at ~155*F that reads pH ~5.1 will actually read as ~5.4 when the wort temp is ~68*F.

Again, at least that's my understanding....

Oh, and most pH probes aren't meant for use at mash temps. Ask me how I know. :eek:
Ah, right, I'd say you're right there. I do chill my pH samples to room temp (just this morning in fact).
 
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bobbytuck

bobbytuck

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Thanks for all the responses!

Wow -- it never dawned on me that was talking about pH at mash temp. I assumed (wrongly now, I realize) that all mash pH values are always at room temperature -- or at least at calibration temperature (which, in my own case, is around 68F in my basement).

Well, what's interesting out of this is that the two pale ales I've made after watching Kimmich's video at low pH are still very, very good (again, to my own taste) -- the hops pop and the beers are nicely crisp. Nothing that says, oops, I messed that batch up.

FG, too, is right on target -- 74-75% attenuation with Safale-05.
 

Bellybuster

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you also have to remember that all these discussions and values are from those that "need" to hit certain targets. The average home brewer just needs to make beer and most mashes will maintain a ph level that will for sure make great beer.
Hell.... i brewed for 20 years before even having a ph meter. Within 3 brews of getting the meter, I retired the meter.
Friggin majic..... I still make beer.
 

Iseneye

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you also have to remember that all these discussions and values are from those that "need" to hit certain targets. The average home brewer just needs to make beer and most mashes will maintain a ph level that will for sure make great beer.
Hell.... i brewed for 20 years before even having a ph meter. Within 3 brews of getting the meter, I retired the meter.
Friggin majic..... I still make beer.
Not sure how helpful this is to the discussion. The OP is talking about making better beer - not just beer. From my sample size of one my beers are better since measuring and controlling pH.
 

dfhar

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Thanks for all the responses!

Wow -- it never dawned on me that was talking about pH at mash temp. I assumed (wrongly now, I realize) that all mash pH values are always at room temperature -- or at least at calibration temperature (which, in my own case, is around 68F in my basement).

Well, what's interesting out of this is that the two pale ales I've made after watching Kimmich's video at low pH are still very, very good (again, to my own taste) -- the hops pop and the beers are nicely crisp. Nothing that says, oops, I messed that batch up.

FG, too, is right on target -- 74-75% attenuation with Safale-05.
Just about everybody talks about pH at room temperature because the probes are usually not designed to get that hot. The guy talking about pH at mash temps is the weird one.
 

mabrungard

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you also have to remember that all these discussions and values are from those that "need" to hit certain targets. The average home brewer just needs to make beer and most mashes will maintain a ph level that will for sure make great beer.
Hell.... i brewed for 20 years before even having a ph meter. Within 3 brews of getting the meter, I retired the meter.
Friggin majic..... I still make beer.
True! We don't need a pH meter or perform any semblance of water treatment to make beer. The processes and mechanisms present in brewing make it very likely that you will create beer no matter what you do.

The other truth is that you would be extremely lucky to produce a great beer without incorporating some form of treatment that ultimately affects mash and wort pH. The difference between beer and good or great beer is pretty stark. Unfortunately, there are way too many brewers and breweries that employ the attitude above and they make beer. As a customer and judge, I've had the mispleasure of sampling beers that should have seen the sewer and not my throat. They were often NOT that bad...no infections, bad flavors, etc, but they just weren't balanced, flavorful, or pleasing to drink.

In many cases, a small tweak to the water (or a recognition that their water sucks) could have enabled those brewers to move that beer from so-so to pretty darn good. The unfortunate (and typically false) statement above that a mash will maintain a pH level that will make great beer, is also false.

Don't ignore your water, it truly can prevent you from ever producing a great beer. You can have the best ingredients, methods, and practices, but unless you pay attention to the largest ingredient in your beer, there is little opportunity for your beers to be great.

The article on brewing water treatment in the Nov/Dec 2015 Zymurgy provides a "Dummies" approach to assessing if your beer might be helped by simple water treatment and gives brewers simple additions that they can try to see if their beer improves. The idea there was to get brewers to dip their toe into the 'water' and see if it helps. If it does, maybe they will recognize the importance of tailoring their water and creating better beer.
 

BugHunter

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Just about everybody talks about pH at room temperature because the probes are usually not designed to get that hot. The guy talking about pH at mash temps is the weird one.
This is absolutely true. Most professional grade (not to mention consumer grade) pH meters are most accurate, even with ATC, at roughly room temperature. Not crash cooling your sample down to room temperature before
testing it is simply bad protocol, and I'm surprised to see anyone advocating doing so.
 

ajdelange

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I believe that pH is like any other parameter in brewing and that for a particular beer there is a narrow range for each parameter outside of which there is diminishment in the quality of the product relative to the consumers criteria for optimality. From what I have read about Heady Topper it is a very eccentric beer with, for example, the liquor reasonably close to saturation WRT calcium sulfate. It would not surprise me, therefore, if its creator(s) felt that an unusually low pH gave them more of whatever it is they are striving for. However it seems that the confusion may stem from the time honored tradition of not saying whether a pH measurement was made at room or mash or strike temperature. There can be considerable difference and it depends not only on the particular temperature but on the particular grains in the grist.

I think it has been cleared up here with respect to ATC: it is there to correct for the fact that a pH electrode produces a voltage which is directly proportional to temperature and pH for the temperature.

A pH meter works just as well at elevated temperature (within limits) as it does at room temperature. The reason room temperature more or less evolved as the standard was that samples usually had to be taken to the lab for pH analysis in the days when a pH meter didn't slip into the shirt pocket. The reason we recommend room temperature today is not that the readings would be less accurate at mash temperature but because moving the probe from hot mash to room temperature and back to mash temperature subjects the delicate parts to thermal stresses which may shorten its useful life.

Another aspect of this relates again to the relationship of probe voltage and temperature. The voltage from the electrode is

E = E0 +s*N(T/Tref)(7-pH)

N is a constant dependent on Tref, T is the temperature of the sample, s is the slope of the electrode (s should be cose to 1) and E0 is the offset that is the voltage the electrode produces when it is in pH 7 buffer at Tref. s and E0 are found by solving a pair of equations in which the voltages are those produced in a pair of buffers at known temperartures. The 7 in the equation is actually the isolectric pH (the pH at which the electrode is insensitive to temperature change). It is, in a good electrode, always very close to 7 to the point that all meters today assume it is exactly 7. As the meter estimates pH from
pH = 7 - (E-E0)*(Tref/T)/sN
it is clear that there will be an error if the isolelectric pH isn't exactly 7. If, however, the calibration buffers and sample are all measured at the same T, this error cancels. Thus, for most accurate pH measurements at other than room temperature one should calibrate at that same temperature. This is, in effect, saying "For best results don't rely on ATC".
 

BugHunter

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However it seems that the confusion may stem from the time honored tradition of not saying whether a pH measurement was made at room or mash or strike temperature.
It's worth noting that the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC), the standards body for pretty much all brewing-related testing, states that all pH measurements must be done at room temperature (RT), and all pH values given in any paper submitted to them must be RT values unless otherwise noted. Anyone who is testing their pH at elevated temperature is not testing to ASBC specifications, or simply doesn't know any better.
 
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