Water adjustment for highly hopped beers.

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ICWiener

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Hi all,

I've been brewing for about 10 years or so. I make some fantastic beers and some decent beers. Some garbage too, once in a while. I've never really worried about my water. I've always followed the old mantra "If it's good to drink, it's good to brew with."

This approach has always been fine, except now I want to get into the nuts and bolts of brewing water. My liberal arts-granola brain is having a tough time. Long story short, my hoppier beers have never been as good as I think they should be. Luckily I don't make them often. So, can anyone help me make sense of this? My Belgians, stouts/porters, and English beers turn out great. Can't say the same for my IPAs and IIPAs. Is my water to blame?

Here's my water profile:
Sulfate: 2.1 ppm
Total Dissolved Solids: 56 ppm
Alkalinity as CaCO3: 23.1 ppm (range of 16-33 depending on time of year)
Bicarbonate Alkalinity: 39 ppm
Calcium: 8.6 ppm
Magnesium: 1.9 ppm
Sodium: 4.0 ppm
Total Hardness: 29 ppm
pH: 8.1 average (ranges from 7.3 to 9.1)

I don't check my mash pH, and very rarely have I ever added anything to my water. I was under the impression that unless my mineral levels were really high, I shouldn't worry...so I haven't.

Should I be adding gypsum or calcium chloride to my mash when making hoppy beers, or should I be looking elsewhere to solve this problem?
 

mchrispen

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Your water is perfect for the Primer approach (look in the sticky section of this sub forum)

As a starting point, it should prove that you can modify your water with positive effects in your beer, without getting too deep into chemistry and measurement. Essentially, for very bitter beers - for each 5 gallons of water (pre-treated for chlorine/chloramine removal) - use 1-2 tsp each of calcium chloride and gypsum. That level of mineralization will help you get into the lower mash pH requirements with a standard grain bill. You will definitely see a difference in the kettle with the higher levels of calcium.

If you need further encouragement, you can make a solution of gypsum and distilled water (1 gram per liter) and dose your existing IPA or Pale Ale - or any of your beers - to get a sense of what levels of sulfate you might prefer. If you track the levels - then you can estimate the exact amount of gypsum to use in a future batch.

At some point, you will likely want to transition to a spreadsheet to help you make the proper calculations, as well as utilize a calibrated pH meter and monitor mash pH along the way.
 

Qhrumphf

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That looks like some great versatile starting water. But for hoppy beers, that sulfate content is WAY too low. You could probably get away with just using a bunch of gypsum to both supply extra calcium and up that sulfate level. I tend to target 150-200 ppm sulfate for my hoppier beers. I wouldn't mess with the other stuff too much.
 
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ICWiener

ICWiener

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Thanks man. I appreciate it. I'll give it a shot. Making an IPA tomorrow...Amarillo, Nelson Sauvin, and Galaxy. Yum.

At some point, you will likely want to transition to a spreadsheet to help you make the proper calculations, as well as utilize a calibrated pH meter and monitor mash pH along the way.
I started reading up on pH meters. Man, with all the calibration solutions and buffers and what-not, I pretty much went cross-eyed. I love science, but I do not try to tame it.
 
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ICWiener

ICWiener

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But for hoppy beers, that sulfate content is WAY too low. You could probably get away with just using a bunch of gypsum to both supply extra calcium and up that sulfate level.
I thought that there must be something missing, since my hop-forward beers simply don't seem to ever shine. Thanks for the info.
 

mabrungard

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Sulfate is an important component in helping dry the finish of a beer. That dryness helps improve the perception of hoppiness. In the case of that otherwise great water source, its sulfate content is far too low for emphasizing hoppiness and bittering.

Matt's recommendation to mix up a gypsum solution is OK, but I would bump that nearer to the solubility limit of gypsum so that the solution wouldn't dilute the beer too much. 2g per liter is more like it. That solution would provide over 1100 ppm sulfate. If you are worrying about dilution, then adding sulfate directly to the glass is OK too. On the order of 0.25 g in a pint of beer will boost the sulfate by about 300 ppm. That should be plenty for any drinker. Obviously, vary that amount to find a level that works for your tastes.

There could still be a problem with adding a bunch of gypsum to that tap water. It doesn't have much alkalinity and the amount of calcium added will end up dropping the residual alkalinity too much. That will result in a low mash pH and subsequently low kettle wort pH. To help bring out the hopping and bitterness, it is important to keep the wort pH around 5.4. If the pH is much lower than that, the hop expression will be muted.

The pale ale profile in Bru'n Water is an example of how the interplay of alkalinity and high gypsum content can be managed.
 
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ICWiener

ICWiener

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Thanks Martin. Like I said, I haven't experimented too much with my water, so for the next few months I'll be working on the problem. This is going to take a lot of brewing, it'll be tough, but I'll just have to suck it up.
 
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ICWiener

ICWiener

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I just thought I would share with everyone...I was having trouble nailing my hoppier beers so I reached out to HBT, got helpful and practical advice in this thread, and began to address the issue with my water....

Then California proceeded to embark on the worst drought we've had in 434 years. My water company is now providing me with well water, which is super hard, a complete 180 from the normal profile. Okay then.

Just my luck!
 

mtnagel

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Wow, that sucks. Might want to switch to distilled or RO water assuming you can get your hands on that. Good luck. Wish we could send you some of our extra precipitation.
 

mchrispen

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That sucks. As does the drought. We have a similar problem here.

I don't brew with my tap water anymore - but running a cleaning cycle this morning using tap water and the whole thing smells like a swimming pool that just got shocked.

The advice above should work really well with store bought R/O water as well!
 
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ICWiener

ICWiener

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Good luck. Wish we could send you some of our extra precipitation.
What's funny its that it's been raining here for 2 straight days but they're telling us that it won't help becuase the ground is way too dry now to properly absorb the water. Can't win, I guess.

the whole thing smells like a swimming pool that just got shocked.
HA! That's what my tap water smells like right now.
 
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