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Blinded by Science: Water, water, everywhere!

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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!

 

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