Sharp bitterness

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chumpsteak

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This is kind of a repost from a thread I started in the general forum, but I think I've narrowed my issue down to my water and was hoping to get some input from the water gurus as to how I should proceed.

The issue is that I'm getting a very sharp almost tart bitterness in my IPAs, Pale Ales, and other hop forward beers right in the front of the beer. While my beers taste good I'm frustrated because I crave the deep rich bitterness I taste in commercial IPAs.

Here's a copy of my water report I got about 6 months ago:

pH 7.8
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) Est, ppm 136
Electrical Conductivity, mmho/cm 0.23
Cations / Anions, me/L 2.4 / 1.8
ppm
Sodium, Na 13
Potassium, K 1
Calcium, Ca 27
Magnesium, Mg 5
Total Hardness, CaCO3 88
Nitrate, NO3-N 0.3 (SAFE)
Sulfate, SO4-S 7
Chloride, Cl 6
Carbonate, CO3 < 1
Bicarbonate, HCO3 72
Total Alkalinity, CaCO3 59
Total Phosphorus, P 0.22
Total Iron, Fe < 0.01

While I don't think the water in this report looks too bad I recently discovered that my neighborhood is fed by several different wells and the city rotates them every couple months or so, so my water will never be very consistent. To make things worse the Alkalinity and minerals can vary substantially from one well to another. The pH across all wells seems to be somewhat consistently in the high 7's though.

My question is, what is my best course of action for making sure I don't leech tannins and get any astringency that may be causing my sharp bitterness?

I do 10 gallon batches and do a double batch sparge exclusively. I treat my mash with gypsum and calcium chloride and always add about 2% acidulated malt in order to get my estimated mash pH in the mid to low 5's. I don't have a pH meter but I use the spreadsheets and test with strips to get a rough estimate.

My concern is that when I batch sparge with my questionably high alkaline water at a pH of 7.8 that I may be actually pushing my grains over 6 and leeching some astringency out. I've also been batch sparging with water at around 200 degrees to get the grain bed up to 168 which probably isn't helping things.

Anyway, I know I should probably just go to RO water and build it up, but my water really doesn't seem that bad and I'd rather not pay for water if I can just add some acid to the sparge water to keep my pH in check. I don't fully understand the relationship between pH and alkalinity, so my thinking may be way off, but I was thinking I could add some lactic or other acid to my roughly 8 gallons of sparge water to get it down below 6pH so that I don't get astringency when I batch sparge. Does this sound reasonable or should I just go RO and forget it?
 

ajdelange

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The results of the test you posted aren't bad. Even the sulfate is not high enough to be causing the problem you report and the alkalinity is low enough that you can probably get away without acidifying your sparge water though it is always best to do a pH check with any water. But these data represent one sample and you indicate that your water supplier draws from different wells. A couple of miles between wells can make a lot of difference in mineral content. In such cases there are really only two approaches. One is to test before every brew. This is easy to do for alkalinity and the two hardnesses, not too bad for chloride, but very difficult to do for sodium. That leaves sulfate which is the main suspect here. Unfortunately there is no accurate sensitive sulfate test that doesn't require a nephelometer or photometer. The alternative is to swamp out the variations by dilution or the use of RO water built up to your specifications. I would recommend trying that for a few brews (see the Primer for how to get started) to see if that solves the problem. If you make a beer with RO water supplemented with nothing but some calcium chloride and it is harshly bitter the problem isn't the water. But if the RO water solves the problem it looks as if an RO system is in your future. These are not terribly expensive but do cost over $150 now (at least the last one I bought at Home Depot did).
 

mabrungard

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I agree that alkalinity would be my greatest concern since it has the effect of increasing pH. The other ionic content is fairly low and unremarkable. I would wonder what the ionic content is when the alkalinity goes up.

Since an elevated mash pH and elevated wort pH in the kettle are pretty bad to beer flavor and perception, I would keep a watch on alkalinity as my primary indicator. An aquarium test kit for alkalinity is inexpensive and it can help you discern when the alkalinity is significantly different. The precision of those kits is only modest (maybe +/- 20 ppm at best), so you may not be able to rely on it as a true analytic, but it could help discern if the water quality is really different.

My personal preference for sparging water is to bring the alkalinity of that water down to under 25 ppm as CaCO3. That water has a bit too much alkalinity and should be acidified to bring it into a low range.

Based on the water quality above, it doesn't appear that going all or partially to RO water is necessary. The main concern is alkalinity which is controllable with acid. Bru'n Water can assist you in figuring your acid additions out.

If you know when the tap water quality is quite different from when this test sample was taken, it would be good to get another sample tested to see if it has substantially different quality.
 
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chumpsteak

chumpsteak

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Thanks for the great responses guys. According to some more info I found on my local water the sulphates can range between 5 and 250 and the alkalinity can range between 50 and 300 depending on what well is serving my house at any given time. This is obviously a problem since I've been acidifying my mash and matching minerals to style by adding salts. So basically I've been shooting in the dark probably and most likely been causing problems. I found a place right down the road where I can get ro water pretty cheap so I'm going to try building that up and see how it goes. Thanks again.
 

ajdelange

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Under variations of that magnitude I really don't see another option for you. Even if you were equipped to do the testing that is time consuming and you'd have to have several treatment regimens depending on what you measure on a given day and many of those would involve dilution with RO or DI water. Much simpler to just use RO. You might find the Primer helpful in getting you started.
 
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chumpsteak

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Found a place that has a super high speed filtration system that includes TDS, RO, and ultra violet filtration just 4 miles from my house. Super stoked and bought 17 gallons from him this morning for the oatmeal stout I'm brewing right now.

Thanks AJ for the replies, definately used the primer to get a feel for how to treat the "RO" water I just bought. The EZ water spreadsheet says I'll get a pH around 5.3 with the additions I added and dark grains I'm using, so I'm thinking that should be good. Also going to sparge with 170 degree water this time just to be safe instead of the normal 200 degree sparge water I use.

Measured the ambient pH of the water I bought with strips and while I know they aren't very accurate they came in around high 5's or 6 pH. I did the same test on my tap water and came in with 8, so I think this water is going to work much better.

I'll be making an IPA again in a couple of weeks and that will be the real test as this stout comes out great with my regular tap water. Just wanted to get a jump on using RO water this week.

Thanks again.
 
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chumpsteak

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Just want to update this thread with things I've discovered over the past few months that have helped my beer dramatically.

1. Campden tablets. If you're using tap water use campden tablets to ensure you are getting all of the chlorine and chloramine out of your water. I ran into several batches chock full of chloraphenols before I realized it was coming from my tap water. Campden tablets fixed the issue completely and now my beers are extremely clean.

2. Astringency. I was batch sparging with both tap water and RO water and still getting noticeable astringency that was partially responsible for making the hop profile in my beers seem sharp and harsh. I read on these forums that with batch sparging you don't have to worry about temp so much for the sparging so I was sparging anywhere from 180 to 200 degrees to try and get the grain bed up to 168. Since I started batch sparging with 170 degree water and treating my sparge water with acid to get it down to a pH of 6 I don't get any detectable astringency anymore.

3. Carbonation. I discovered that I was most likely overcarbing my beers slightly and that I prefer a lower carb profile with less carbonic bite in my beers. I now run my keezer at 40 degrees and 11 psi and am much happier with the results and flavors of my beers.

4. pH. I started getting into water chemistry and bought a pH meter. I'm finding that I prefer the hop profile and smoother bitterness of beers mashed at a higher pH and that have a higher finished beer pH. For hoppy beers I now try to target a mash pH of at least 5.5 and a final beer pH of at least 4.4. To me this brings out the hop bitterness and flavors better.

I've only used the pH meter on the last few batches but I'm taking several measurements and recording everything during the brew and am starting to see pH trends and how it affects taste.
 

mabrungard

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Interesting findings. Colin Kaminski says that hop expression is diminished with reduced pH, so your preference for the higher pH range suggests you want that hop expression to be significant. That makes sense.
 

ajdelange

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Bittering acids are acids. The higher the pH the more deprotonated they are and the more deprotonated they are the more soluble they are i.e. the cation is more soluble than the acid molecule.

pH 5.5 is pretty close to the sweet spot for most people i.e. it's in the range where the beers produced have the best flavor profiles and an ale mashed at pH 5.5 should finish with a beer pH of about 4.4 so everything appears to be kosher here.
 

mabrungard

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I've been wondering about people dropping their sparge pH this low and how it affected the final beer pH. I guess it doesn't hurt.
6.0 is not that low for sparging water, but it can be an acceptable target when the starting alkalinity of the sparging water source is low, ie: RO water.

If the starting alkalinity is much higher, then the ending pH target for the sparging water will need to be much lower. In some cases, a target of 5.3 might be needed to reduce the resulting alkalinity of the sparging water low enough. This is why Bru'n Water does not focus on a pH target for sparging water. It focuses on an alkalinity target and the user inputs the ending pH value needed to achieve that alkalinity.
 

ajdelange

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The attached graph makes it pretty simple to determine a reasonable target pH for sparge water. It shows the percentage of alkalinity that remains after treatment with acid to a a particlar pH. For example, if your water has alkalinity 100 and comes to you at pH 8 acidifying it to pH 6 with sulfuric or hydrochloric (CRS) or lactic acid will leave the alkalinity at about 32. OTOH if your water comes out of a well at pH 6.5 the post treatment alkalinity will be about 52. Note that Sierra Nevada treats all it's water to pH 5.5 with phosphoric acid (or so I'm told). For them the water, brew and sparge, will have alkalinity around 15% of the original pH given they are using phosphoric though it would be a little less (about 12%) if they used CRS all assuming they have source water with a pH 7 or greater.

Given that the guys at SN know a lot about this and that 15% of even 200 ppm as CaCO3 is only 0.6 mEq/L, that the boil will reduce pH and that the yeast don't have to take the beer lower than the pH at which alkalinity is typically determined (4.5 and that's the definition of alkalinity I used to develop the graph) it seems to me that going to pH 5.5 for sparge water seems the smart thing to do.

SpargeAlk.jpg
 
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chumpsteak

chumpsteak

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I'll need to find some phosphoric acid then. I've been treating to around 6 because all I have currently is lactic acid and I don't like to add more than 3 ml to the 9 gallons of sparge water I'm usually treating because I feel like I can taste it if I add too much. Shooting for close to 6 has been working out so far as I haven't gotten over 6 with my final runnings and on my last beer (Dusseldorf Alt) I only hit 5.5 with the final runnings.

I think for lighter colored beers it may be a problem but I can always cut my water with RO if necessary for those.

Anyway, thanks for the responses guys, keeping my pH in check has substantially improved my beers and gotten rid of astringent and sharp flavors.
 

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it seems to me that going to pH 5.5 for sparge water seems the smart thing to do.
Shooting for close to 6 has been working out so far as I haven't gotten over 6 with my final runnings and on my last beer (Dusseldorf Alt) I only hit 5.5 with the final runnings.
I've been chewing this one since I read it. If you are delivering 5.5 to the kettle then why go lower? I know people are wary of going over 6 which is the reason to lower the sparge temps to this. If you keep track of your sparge and you know it is adequately buffered by the mash should the sparge water still be lowered or is this just targeted at high alkalinity situations?
 

ajdelange

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There are really 2 things of concern here. First is keeping the runoff pH low enough that you don't get phenol extraction and second is being sure that the kettle pH doesn't get pulled too high by the alkalinity in the sparge water. I've never measured the buffering capacity of wort (I think Kai may have) but I'm thinking it's probably more than 10 mEq/L so that if the alkalinity of your water is 50 or less (1 mEq/L) you probably don't need to worry about acidifying it at all. If, OTOH, it's alkalinity is 200 then you do and getting that alkalinity under 50 (25%) is probably a reasonable goal. To do that for this particular example acid to pH 6 wouldn't be sufficient but acid to 5.5 would. It should be clear that sparge water acidified to pH 5.5 can never lead to runoff pH greater than 6 no matter what the extent of the dilution. However if mash pH is 5.4 and enough of this water is used in sparging the pH will rise to 5.5 if the sparge is continued long enough.

The proper thing to do, of course, is to check kettle pH both pre and post boil and make adjustments with acid directly in the kettle if necessary.
 
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chumpsteak

chumpsteak

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I've been chewing this one since I read it. If you are delivering 5.5 to the kettle then why go lower? I know people are wary of going over 6 which is the reason to lower the sparge temps to this. If you keep track of your sparge and you know it is adequately buffered by the mash should the sparge water still be lowered or is this just targeted at high alkalinity situations?
This last batch came out with final runnings at 5.5 because the mash contained some darker grains. I have made beers without acidifying the 100 ppm alkalinity sparge water and have come dangerously close to 6 pH. I have made plenty of beers in the past with astringency and even low levels of it really bother me, so now that I know all that it takes to avoid it is keeping the water temp under 170 and the sparge pH around 6 or lower I will always do both from now on. Measuring and acidifying sparge water is easy and cheap and unless you go crazy with the acid I don't think there's any down side.
 

Wynne-R

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OK you lost me here.

To do that for this particular example acid to pH 5 wouldn't be sufficient but acid to 5.5 would.
Seems to me, sparge at pH 5 is probably too much acid, pH 5.5 will work for sure, and pH 6 is marginal, depending on alkalinity and grain bill.

Am I missing something?
 
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chumpsteak

chumpsteak

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This threw me too. I think he meant to say acid to pH 6 wouldn't be sufficient but acid to 5.5 pH would. That's the way I'm reading it anyway, or I am going to be really confused.
 
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