Water Chemistry

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

Help Support Homebrew Talk:

mrcej23

Active Member
Joined
Mar 23, 2014
Messages
36
Reaction score
2
Hi everyone. I'm still relatively new to brewing. I've done 7 all grain batches so far and have already learned a ton since I started. One thing I haven't even touched on though is water chemistry. I know to avoid the big no-no's like using chlorinated or distilled water. I've been using the gallon sized bottles of drinking water (the kind with the clear plastic that doesn't leach into the water). It's been brought to my attention from another thread on here that incorrect ph levels or water profile can lead to a thin watery mouthfeel in beer. While this hasn't been a huge problem for me, I have noticed that some of my beers have been on the thin side. I know that this could potentially not be a water chemistry issue, but I would like to learn about the topic anyway. My question to you guys is what is a good starting point for someone who knows nothing about water profile to start manipulating this aspect of brewing? Is bottled drinking water good enough? I'd like to stay away from expensive water treatment equipment although a carbon filter is one of the next things on my purchase list.
 

jdauria

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Sep 14, 2010
Messages
1,376
Reaction score
620
Location
Braintree
There is nothing wrong with distilled water, or reverse osmosis water, as long as you add minerals (gypsum, calcium chloride mainly) back based on style of beer. Bottled spring water can have close to zero minerals (like distilled or RO), or in some cases is nothing more than tap water which can be all over the place. Without adjustments, your mash pH is not falling in the 5.2-5.6 magic range that is required.

I suggest you start here...https://www.homebrewtalk.com/forum/threads/a-brewing-water-chemistry-primer.198460/
 

ajdelange

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Aug 5, 2010
Messages
11,959
Reaction score
2,730
Location
McLean/Ogden
What to tell a guy just starting out? That is a non trivial question for sure!
Water needs to be treated for two reasons. The first is to insure that a reasonable level of pH will be achieved in the mash. This is quite simple to do. Just get the water as mineral free as possible (in particular get the bicarbonates out). Thus RO or DI water make the best, or perhaps better, most convenient sources of brewing water. The second reason involves getting desired flavor and other qualities into the beer. This requires some dissolved salts. The Primer (linked in No. 2) will tell you, in essence, that you can make a decent, even good, beer with nothing more than RO/DI water with a half tsp of calcium chloride per gallon and that is true. Thus I often recommend this approach. Realizing that water with nothing more than a little CaCl2 dissolved in it will make good beer you can focus on getting mash pH right and once that is under control go back and start tuning the water as by adding some sulfate, adjusting the amount of CaCl2, adding some sodium and so on.

Really the first step is to see what's coming out of your tap. To do this look up Ward Labs and order one of their tests (there's a Sticky here on this). You may be one of those blessed (PNW, NYC...) with excellent brewing water or you may have water that you will have to throw away. Thus installing an RO unit or trucking water may be your only options but in any case this is something you will want to know about ASAP. If your water is clean then a carbon filter won't do anything for you unless it is chlorinated or chloraminated in which case a carbon filter will remove those but so will a pinch of Na2S2O5 (campden tablet). OTOH if you have musty smelling lake or well water then a carbon filter can be a big benefit.

A pH meter should be high on your list of equipment. Good ones that last 4 years are now available for a little over $100.
 

tellyho

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2011
Messages
616
Reaction score
262
Location
Braintree
I'll be the devil's advocate here. Been brewing for 12 years, probably 9 all-grain. I have only recently thought about water chemistry. You can turn out perfectly tasty beers while ignoring it completely.
 

couchsending

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Jun 21, 2016
Messages
2,951
Reaction score
1,955
Yeah you must be lucky to have some really amazing water.

I can say some of the worst commercial beers I’ve had are made by brewers who are ignorant or just plain lazy about their water.

I would make undrinkable lightish colored beer with my water.
 

mabrungard

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Feb 22, 2011
Messages
6,013
Reaction score
1,954
Location
Carmel
While I could brew a decent stout with my tap water, I know that its not going to produce a satisfactory or desirable result for other styles. Knowing those limitations and how to deal with them are a part of good brewing practice.

Moving to 'drinking water' may not be ideal unless that water has relatively low mineralization. And even with that, some styles that you may want to brew could benefit from minor water modifications. If your goal is to brew good paler colored beers, then you would be well served by following the recommendations posted in the Water Primer thread. Its not perfect, but its simple and does a good job. That method relies on distilled or RO water as the starting point.

Brewing water chemistry really does make a big difference.
 
OP
M

mrcej23

Active Member
Joined
Mar 23, 2014
Messages
36
Reaction score
2
I just finished a keg which was the first batch that I paid attention to water chemistry on (I don't get to brew as often as I'd like). I followed the advise that you guys gave me which was to follow the brewing water chemistry primer linked in this thread, adding 1 tsp of calcium chloride to each 5 gallons of distilled water as well as 2% sauermalz to the grist. As far as I can tell, it turned out good, but I have a couple questions I've been thinking about:

1. Why exactly do people keep saying to not use straight distilled water? Does it have something to do with giving nutrients to the yeast (and would that not occur naturally in the malt?), or is this more of a taste thing? 1 tsp calcium chloride to 5 gallons of distilled water doesn't seem like much. What exactly does this do? Should I add more than just this for a better result, or is this good enough?

2. Can 2% sauermalz (in my case 5 oz in about a 14 lb grist) come through taste wise? I thought I detected something that reminded me of how the raw malt tasted, but that could have easily been something completely different. I'm getting ready to brew a beer with 2 oz chocolate malt in it and beer smith says the mash ph will be acceptable without the sauermalz. Im guessing there is no need for it in this case since its only purpose is to adjust mash ph?
 

ajdelange

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Aug 5, 2010
Messages
11,959
Reaction score
2,730
Location
McLean/Ogden
1. Why exactly do people keep saying to not use straight distilled water? Does it have something to do with giving nutrients to the yeast (and would that not occur naturally in the malt?), or is this more of a taste thing?
DI water has nothing in it. When the nothing under consideration is bicarbonate that is, in most cases, good but may not be in a dark beer. When the nothing is calcium that's not terrible but calcium does benefit the mash, wort and beer in several ways so while good beers can be made with very little of it it is best to have some (I stab at 20 mg/L). Absent any chloride ion beers lack body, fullness, roundness and subtle sweetness so some of that is definitely desired. I'll, again, take a stab at it and say 20 mg/L. Sulfate is another ion that many but not all find add to the flavor/mouthfeel of a beer. It sharpens hops bitterness perception and lends a dry quality. I'd say the lower limit on sulfate is 0 but the upper limit is probably 300 or more. It depends on personal taste.

1 tsp calcium chloride to 5 gallons of distilled water doesn't seem like much. What exactly does this do? Should I add more than just this for a better result, or is this good enough?
That's actually too much (though at the time the Primer was written people were commonly using that much. Half that (.5 grams per 5 gal) contributes 45 mg/L Ca++ (at one time considered just below the minimum acceptable level) and 84 mg/L. This is an acceptable chloride level and the calcium level is enough to get much of the benefit it provides. Use more at your own peril. You may like the results better with double the current recommendation but you may not. Experiment starting from conservative additions.

2. Can 2% sauermalz (in my case 5 oz in about a 14 lb grist) come through taste wise?
Sauermalz is malt and, if you have a good palate, you will be able to taste the subtle malt flavors that it provides.

I thought I detected something that reminded me of how the raw malt tasted, but that could have easily been something completely different.
Not beyond the realm of belief but probably that came from something else.

I'm getting ready to brew a beer with 2 oz chocolate malt in it and beer smith says the mash ph will be acceptable without the sauermalz. Im guessing there is no need for it in this case since its only purpose is to adjust mash ph?
Whether that is the case or not depends on the rest of the grist and what you think 'acceptable' pH is. In a typical mash of 80% ale malt and 20% 20L crystal 2% sauemalz would be likely to drop the pH 0.133 units whereas 2 Oz 600L chocolate is only likely to drop it 0.012 pH units. Thus the sauermalz is 10 times 'stronger' in this regard.

Be very wary of what spreadsheets and calculators tell you. Especially when it comes to dark beers and where sauermalz is used.
 
OP
M

mrcej23

Active Member
Joined
Mar 23, 2014
Messages
36
Reaction score
2
DI water has nothing in it. When the nothing under consideration is bicarbonate that is, in most cases, good but may not be in a dark beer. When the nothing is calcium that's not terrible but calcium does benefit the mash, wort and beer in several ways so while good beers can be made with very little of it it is best to have some (I stab at 20 mg/L). Absent any chloride ion beers lack body, fullness, roundness and subtle sweetness so some of that is definitely desired. I'll, again, take a stab at it and say 20 mg/L. Sulfate is another ion that many but not all find add to the flavor/mouthfeel of a beer. It sharpens hops bitterness perception and lends a dry quality. I'd say the lower limit on sulfate is 0 but the upper limit is probably 300 or more. It depends on personal taste.

That's actually too much (though at the time the Primer was written people were commonly using that much. Half that (.5 grams per 5 gal) contributes 45 mg/L Ca++ (at one time considered just below the minimum acceptable level) and 84 mg/L. This is an acceptable chloride level and the calcium level is enough to get much of the benefit it provides. Use more at your own peril. You may like the results better with double the current recommendation but you may not. Experiment starting from conservative additions.

Sauermalz is malt and, if you have a good palate, you will be able to taste the subtle malt flavors that it provides.

Not beyond the realm of belief but probably that came from something else.



Whether that is the case or not depends on the rest of the grist and what you think 'acceptable' pH is. In a typical mash of 80% ale malt and 20% 20L crystal 2% sauemalz would be likely to drop the pH 0.133 units whereas 2 Oz 600L chocolate is only likely to drop it 0.012 pH units. Thus the sauermalz is 10 times 'stronger' in this regard.

Be very wary of what spreadsheets and calculators tell you. Especially when it comes to dark beers and where sauermalz is used.
Thank you for the thorough answers. Glad to see the original writer of the primer reply. I think what I'm trying to figure out is what is the bare minimum I can get by with and still have acceptable brewing water. You can be sure that I'll get way more in depth into water chemistry later on but right now I'm still learning/more interested in getting my brewing process right and learning the proper uses of ingredients and how to build a good recipe. I'm also a poor college student and a ph meter is not currently in my budget.

That being said, I don't want water thats gonna drastically impair the quality of my beer. I keep seeing people's water profile's and theres a lot more than just calcium chloride in it, so I'm just making sure that using calcium chloride and nothing else is good enough. I also want a good rule of thumb of getting my mash ph somewhere in the ballpark of 5.1-5.5 without needing a ph meter and without negatively affecting flavor. I do think I have a pretty good palate, but I'm not sure if what I was perceiving was the acid malt. Just trying to get an idea of the chances that 2% could negatively affect flavor and also the taste threshold of acid malt in general.

The recipe I'm talking about that I'm going to brew is a red IPA thats 6 lb Red X, 4 lb 2 row, 10 oz crystal 40, and 1.5 oz chocolate. Based on what you told me I'll still add 2% acidulated.
 

couchsending

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Jun 21, 2016
Messages
2,951
Reaction score
1,955
Thank you for the thorough answers. Glad to see the original writer of the primer reply. I think what I'm trying to figure out is what is the bare minimum I can get by with and still have acceptable brewing water. You can be sure that I'll get way more in depth into water chemistry later on but right now I'm still learning/more interested in getting my brewing process right and learning the proper uses of ingredients and how to build a good recipe. I'm also a poor college student and a ph meter is not currently in my budget.

That being said, I don't want water thats gonna drastically impair the quality of my beer. I keep seeing people's water profile's and theres a lot more than just calcium chloride in it, so I'm just making sure that using calcium chloride and nothing else is good enough. I also want a good rule of thumb of getting my mash ph somewhere in the ballpark of 5.1-5.5 without needing a ph meter and without negatively affecting flavor. I do think I have a pretty good palate, but I'm not sure if what I was perceiving was the acid malt. Just trying to get an idea of the chances that 2% could negatively affect flavor and also the taste threshold of acid malt in general.

The recipe I'm talking about that I'm going to brew is a red IPA thats 6 lb Red X, 4 lb 2 row, 10 oz crystal 40, and 1.5 oz chocolate. Based on what you told me I'll still add 2% acidulated.

Water is way more important than recipe... focus on water first and you’ll make waaaaaay better beer.
 

ajdelange

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Aug 5, 2010
Messages
11,959
Reaction score
2,730
Location
McLean/Ogden
Well I'm not sure I'd go that far. Getting mash in the right range is a sine qua non for sure but do that (which is pretty easy to do) and you have tremendous latitude in what you can do with recipe. I'd say get the water nominally right, then find a recipe you like and finally fine tune the water.
 

ScrewyBrewer

ezRecipe - Beer Recipe Design Made Easy!
Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Jun 5, 2010
Messages
1,860
Reaction score
478
Location
New Jersey
Several years ago when preparing for a presentation at a homebrew club meeting I brewed two different beers. One was a bitter IPA mashed at 149F the other a sweeter Wee Heavy mashed at 155F. The water for the IPA was heavy on sulfate and gypsum with a small amount of calcium chloride and had a ~5.30 pH. The Wee Heavy water was heavy on calcium chloride with smaller amounts gypsum and sulfate and had a ~5.50 pH.

Out of the dozen or so members in attendance, all could immediately and clearly tell the differences between the two beers including the owner of the LHBS hosting our meeting. Earlier that year he said to me in his experience no one ever drank a beer and said 'it could've used more gypsum'. In the end, the LHBS owner was right. The two beers were influenced by their brewing water properties for sure. But also by grain bill mash temperature hop schedule, etc.
 

couchsending

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Jun 21, 2016
Messages
2,951
Reaction score
1,955
Yeah I might have had a few beers when I made that statement. I just think as homebrewers and especially as beginning homebrewers you obsess over recipes but in all reality they’re one of the smallest pieces of the puzzle. The best beers in the world are generally made with the simplest recipes. It’s more process and water that will create the intricate details not the recipe itself. Not in all beers, but most.
 

mabrungard

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Feb 22, 2011
Messages
6,013
Reaction score
1,954
Location
Carmel
Out of the dozen or so members in attendance, all could immediately and clearly tell the differences between the two beers including the owner of the LHBS hosting our meeting. Earlier that year he said to me in his experience no one ever drank a beer and said 'it could've used more gypsum'. In the end, the LHBS owner was right.
That is an odd comparison with which to make any differentiation of water. A better and easier test to exhibit the stark difference that sulfate drying can make on a beer is to take an overly sweet or malty beer (Many Rogue beers can be used) and compare side by side cups of the beer. One is unadulterated and the other is dosed with a thin pinch of gypsum that is mixed in. When properly dosed, you don't get any chalky or minerally notes, but the dryer finish is evident.

A similar trial can be made with calcium chloride in a relatively drying beer such as Bud Light to show how that addition adds to the perception of fullness on the palate and the dimming of drying.
 

Genuine

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 19, 2011
Messages
1,036
Reaction score
545
Location
Putnam
I've been brewing for 6 Years and just got into water chemistry this past spring. I used to use just tap water or well water when brewing at a buddy's. I learned about water chemistry and have made about 6 batches with Distilled and built a water profile. I can't believe the quality difference in my beers. They're now very clean, and I love having the ability to influence the flavor characteristics of the beer. I'll never go back to using just any kind of water.
 

ScrewyBrewer

ezRecipe - Beer Recipe Design Made Easy!
Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Jun 5, 2010
Messages
1,860
Reaction score
478
Location
New Jersey
That is an odd comparison with which to make any differentiation of water. A better and easier test to exhibit the stark difference that sulfate drying can make on a beer is to take an overly sweet or malty beer (Many Rogue beers can be used) and compare side by side cups of the beer. One is unadulterated and the other is dosed with a thin pinch of gypsum that is mixed in. When properly dosed, you don't get any chalky or minerally notes, but the dryer finish is evident.

A similar trial can be made with calcium chloride in a relatively drying beer such as Bud Light to show how that addition adds to the perception of fullness on the palate and the dimming of drying.
@mabrungard thank you for your suggestion. This is something I could easily put together at a club meeting. It's a good group activity and a way to have some fun demonstrating the influence of water on brewing. We have over 30 members but less than 2% of them do anything with their brewing water chemistry.
 
Top