Water / Efficiency question

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sdbrew1024

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After doing many all grain brews I have noticed a trend. When I brew a dark beer such as a porter or a stout my efficiency numbers are good (for me), and the fermentation is very active. When I brew lighter beers my efficiency drops by up to 20%, and the fermentation isn't nearly as active.

My questions are:

1. Could this have to do with the water I use (San Diego tap water)? I have been using some 5.2 buffer in all my mashes, but maybe not enough for my water?

My water contains:
PH 8.4
Calcium 46
Magnesium 20
Bicarbonate 127
Sodium 73
Chloride 81
Sulfate 129

I have never taken my mach PH before. I just picked up some strips and plan on doing this next brew.

2. I plan on brewing a Bohemian Pilsner tomorrow. I am going to try a significant dilution with distilled water to try to come close to the very soft Pilsen water, resulting in numbers 16 3 18 12 28 22. Is this "close enough" to Pilsen water?

I really want to avoid being 20 points off of my estimated efficiency! Is there anything I should have ready on brew day to add to the mash if my PH is way off? Am I missing some other detail entirely about the whole process?
 

BigEd

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It's more than just pH. Your water does look like a decent match for darker beers with the carbonates and alkalinity. For lighter beers you are on the right track. You need to get those numbers down and for a pilsner the sulphate should come down too. By using the 5.2 you are forcing the mash pH into the desired range but this does not mean the ion balance of the water is ideal for lighter beers and in fact the 5.2 may be masking this problem. For simplicity in brewing the pilsner I would start with distilled water and then add enough calcium chloride to get the calcium to about 50ppm. :mug:
 
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sdbrew1024

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That's good to know.

This brings up another question. The last time I tried diluting my water and adding water additives everything that I added just sank to the bottom of the kettle that I was heating the water in, and never dissolved. Is there a trick to adding water additives? Where and when do you add them? IE do you add them while heating water, add them to the mash and stir, what's the correct way?

Also, would the water alone (any maybe resulting PH of the mash) account for 20% efficiency drop for light beers? I have not read of anyone else experiencing this...
 

frolickingmonkey

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I have been dealing with this very same trend, but adding 5.2 made the difference in my situation. I was getting 12-15% lower efficiency with my pales and blondes, and now they are within 2-3% of my darks. It's interesting that it hasn't made a difference for you, but I think BigEd is on the right track... Water chemistry is a complex beast!
 

BigEd

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That's good to know.

This brings up another question. The last time I tried diluting my water and adding water additives everything that I added just sank to the bottom of the kettle that I was heating the water in, and never dissolved. Is there a trick to adding water additives? Where and when do you add them? IE do you add them while heating water, add them to the mash and stir, what's the correct way?

Also, would the water alone (any maybe resulting PH of the mash) account for 20% efficiency drop for light beers? I have not read of anyone else experiencing this...
Some brewing salts dissolve poorly in water. Adding a portion of the salts to the mash is the best way to go. This makes the needed ions readily available and the reactions in the mash will help get the stuff into solution. Add the amount of salts proportional to the water used for the mash and put the rest in the kettle. I don't know if the water is the only factor in your efficiency drop but it is almost certainly a contributor. Double checking on all other potential factors like grain crush, thermometer accuracy, measurements, etc wouldn't be a bad idea.
 
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