Blinded by Science: Water, water, everywhere!

Leave a comment

July 8, 2016 by fhsteinbart

RA Chart

Graphical representation of beer color and water hardness by Residual Alkalinity.

What is this thing we call water? It’s around 90~95% of what makes beer, but what do we really know about it? First of all, water isn’t just two hydrogen atoms bound to one oxygen; there’s other mineral salts in the form of ions that go along for the ride depending on their solubility. The most relevant brewing ions are Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), Chloride (Cl), and Sulfate (SO4). Calcium and Magnesium give water it’s “hardness” or ability to make soap; the softer the water, and the less Ca and Mg present, the soapier the water and vice versa. Typically, you’ll need 60ppm (60mg/L) of Ca to manage mash pH, so to do that you first need to ascertain how much Ca or Mg is in your water. If you’re on Portland Municipal water, then you’ll need to add about ¾gm per gallon of water of Calcium salts to your mash and boil. Why add salts separately into the mash and boil? Because not all of what you put in makes it into the boil, as some of the ions get bound up with other ions, preventing them from passing onto the boil. Water hardness test strips are cheap, and affordable, and allow you to measure your water if you’re on a well, for example, or use spring water for your brew. Alternatively, you can also get a hardness meter to measure your total dissolved solids (TDS) in your water. So if you’re brewing all grain, make sure that your dough-in water is at least 60ppm, and no more than 300ppm, lest it takes on a minerally character. For all brewers, do the same for the boil, and also check for pH as the pH of water affects the sparge, and also the boil. Here, the pH should be around 5.0~5.2, and can be observed by the formation of hot break material. I also acidulate my sparge water with 88% Lactic Acid, to ensure that the proper pH of the sparge water is maintained throughout the sparging cycle, as you’re constantly raising the pH numerically as you dilute the sugars in the mash, and pass them along to the boil. While I’ve tried to make a complex subject as simple as possible, you can also purchase the book “Water” by John Palmer and Colin Kaminski. We also have this book in stock at F. H. Steinbart Co. Good luck, hoppy brewing, and let us know what your water needs are, and we’ll be happy to help you out any way we can!



Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,754 other followers

beer sensory science

Dedicated to understanding the science of beer flavor

The Apartment Homebrewer

Brewing small batches of craft beer in a 650 sqft apartment

World's Oldest Home Beer & Wine Supply Store

Seacoast Beverage Lab

World's Oldest Home Beer & Wine Supply Store

The Not So Professional Beer Blog

World's Oldest Home Beer & Wine Supply Store

The Beer Here

World's Oldest Home Beer & Wine Supply Store


World's Oldest Home Beer & Wine Supply Store


World's Oldest Home Beer & Wine Supply Store


World's Oldest Home Beer & Wine Supply Store

World's Oldest Home Beer & Wine Supply Store

%d bloggers like this: