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Blinded by Science: The Greatest Impact on Beer Character

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May 12, 2016 by fhsteinbart


mash pH

Typical range values of mash pH

When most people speak of character in a beer, they are primarily talking about flavor and aroma characteristics of that particular beer. Most of the time we assume that the flavor and aroma comes from the ingredients we choose to use, and to a small degree this is true. What really comes into play when a finished beer is imbibed is the interplay between the malt(s), hop(s), and yeast character. The intensity however is controlled mainly by something that a lot of brewers take for granted, which is the pH or acidity of the finished beer. When most home brewer’s think about pH, they tend to focus mainly on the mash, which is also important. Even extract brewer’s should measure the pH of their finished beers, just to ensure that for the given style that it falls into the corresponding correct range.

ales vs lagers ph

Comparison of beer styles by pH, going from lower left to upper right.

Lagers for example are typically less acidic than ales, and thus have a higher pH as compared to ales given the usual and customary fermentations of their respective worts. So after reviewing the above links, I feel that all grain brewer’s would benefit from some acidulated malt, and that all brewer’s, both extract and all grain would benefit from having the finished beer at or near the proscribed pH for their finished beer. The best way to accomplish the correct finish would be to use a natural acid like that found natively in beer, namely lactic acid. I always use a wee bit of acidulated malt in all of my beers, and a tablespoon or so of lactic acid in the finished beer if it needs it. Also, ensuring enough free amino nitrogen’s (FAN) in the wort helps with that by encouraging greater yeast growth, and therefore a lower pH in the finished beer. If you have any questions, feel free to make comments or ask any of our staff and we’ll be happy to help you with your questions. Cheers!

 

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