Sunday, May 4, 2014

Brewing Water Demystified - Part II

The first chapter of this multipart series on brewing water properties Brewing Water Demystified - Part I touched on the two water properties a brewer needs to be concerned with in order to brew a really great tasting beer, alkalinity and mineral content. In this chapter, using a favorite all grain beer recipe of mine, I documented the same steps and directions used to create the brewing water profile I used to brew up a five gallon batch of IPA. To brew along with me you obviously still need to get the grains, hops and yeast just like you would for any other recipe.

You don't have to buy a digital pH meter, but if you have one you can use it to see and record the actual pH values as the water properties change. Small amounts of minerals and salts from gypsum, Epsom salt and calcium chloride combine to season the taste of the water while lactic acid and baking soda are used to lower or raise the brewing water pH so you'll need those too. I picked up my minerals and salts from Princeton Homebrew but they are also readily available at other fine home brew shops as well.

Screwy's Clock Str├╝kker IPA

The example recipe calls for a pound of CaraPils and 11 pounds of US Two Row grain with Centennial and Cascade pellet hops. An ounce of Centennial is added to the kettle during the lauter, followed by an ounce of Cascade and a quarter ounce of Centennial at 18 minutes remaining to the boil. With 10 minutes remaining to the boil add another ounce of Cascade and a quarter ounce of Centennial.

At knock out add another ounce of Cascade and a half ounce of Centennial. For this recipe I recommend removing all the hops from the boil before adding the knock out hop addition and then removing the knock out hop addition before transferring the cooled wort to the fermentor. After the first full week of fermentation you can add another ounce of Cascade hops to the fermentor and let them soak in the beer until it's ready to package.

The Crystal Clear OG Sample Came In At 1.060

For the yeast I pitched an 11g package of Danstar Nottingham dry yeast to ferment the batch at 65F until the final gravity was reached. Before pitching the yeast you may want to rehydrate it in 95F sanitized water until it forms a nice smooth consistency. Optionally you can add a bit of yeast nutrient to the kettle just before flameout and oxygenate the wort before adding the yeast and closing the fermentor.

For this batch I used a single infusion mash at 156F and fly sparged the grains with 172F water to collect almost eight gallons of wort in the kettle. You can just as easily do a batch sparge or brew the batch using BIAB as the intent is to brew the beer as you typically would and then taste for yourself the difference that a modified brewing water profile makes on the finished beer.

The Water Profile

After a few quick calculations to determine the grain absorption, trub and boil loss for a five gallon batch of beer, the recipe was estimated to need nine gallons of water for both the mash and sparge. Filling a single food grade container with nine gallons of distilled water made mixing in the minerals, salts and taking pH readings while adjusting the water properties a lot easier to do. Next enter the nine gallon water volume into EZ Water Calculator under the B. Volume section, along with the weight and types of grain used in the recipe to find out what additions will be needed to get the water properties within the recommended range for this style of beer.

** Distilled water and reverse osmosis (RO) water provide perfect starting points for modifying brewing water profiles. Distilled water and reverse osmosis water in general have had salts, minerals, fluoride, chlorine and other substances removed from them by as much as 99%.

Distilled water could possibly contain oils even after the distillation process, volatile oils will be boiled off with the water and then condense back into solution once that steam has cooled. It's important to note that the ion concentrations of the original water are not changed during the distillation process and that the distillation process doesn't do a good job of removing chloramines or chemicals.

Reverse osmosis using Thin Film Composite membrane removes up to 99% of water impurities so the processed water is free of salts, minerals and other contaminants. The processed reverse osmosis water contains no chloramines and has only a few parts per million of salts or minerals than distilled water.

** Deionized (DI) water is processed by running reverse osmosis water through a special deionization resin filter that removes nearly all the ions from the water. The imbalance of the water properties due to these missing ions however complicate the solution of minerals, salts and pH range adjustments made to the brewing water profile. The use of deionized water should also be confirmed safe for human consumption and free from any traces of deionizing resins, adding a carbon block filter stage after the deionizing resin membrane is recommended.

Calculating Both Mash And Sparge Properties The Same Way
It's up to you the brewer to determine the best way of calculating the water property additions though. You may later decide that adjusting the pH of the mash water is more important to you and that the salt and mineral additions are best left for the kettle at boil. For me it's just easier treating both my mash and sparge water the same way, adjusting the pH the same for each and the using the same salt and mineral additions.

Doing it this way you only have to modify nine gallons of water to fall within the 5.4 to 5.6 pH target range and have enough buffering to keep it there once it comes into contact with the grains in the mash. I'm a single infusion mash fly sparger by nature so rinsing my grains with the same modified water properties as the water used in the the mash tun makes the most sense to me.

Add Your Grain Bill To Let EZ Water Calculator Know Where To Begin
Now that EZ Water Calculator knows how much water volume it has to work with it next needs to know what types of grains are being used in the recipe and in what amounts. Entering the grain bill provides the average pH value for each grain type and are applied to the calculations that follow. The pH value printed on sack of grain varies by maltster, year, season and countless other factors. The calculations used to determine these pH values have been tweaked and tuned over the years based on feedback from brewers who use EZ Water Calculator to calculate their mash pH.

At Room Temperature The Recommended pH Range Is 5.4 To 5.6
The first goal of modifying your water profile is to get the water's pH reading within the recommended range of 5.4 to 5.6 with the water at room temperature. Using distilled water all it took was 2.5 milliliters of lactic acid added to the water and stirred for several minutes. The pH readings should be taken fifteen minutes or so after making that last adjustment to allow the water enough time to stabilize. When adjusting pH going slow is a good idea because adding two milliliters may not make a huge difference but adding another may move the needle a whole lot more than you'd think.

Season The Water Based On The Style Of Beer
Using distilled water and adding lactic acid will adjust the pH downward, if you find the pH too low it can be raised by adding some grams of baking soda. Baking soda will add a bit of sodium to the water but it's easily calculated and displayed to make sure you stay within the recommended range. Lactic acid has a flavor threshold of about four milliliters per gallon so unless you're modifying your water for a sour beer you'll want to stay well below those amounts.

Think Gypsum For Crispness Calcium Chloride For Maltiness
It all breaks down to this, with your mash pH staying nearer to the lower end of the recommended pH range, you'll get better conversion a more fermentable wort that's clear, colorful and flavorful with a very low risk of tannin extraction. Towards the upper end of the recommended pH range, you'll still get better conversion a slightly less fermentable wort that's clear, colorful and flavorful with a very low risk of tannin extraction.

The salt and mineral amounts can be adjusted to enhance the crispness and hop character of the finished beer or to highlight the beer's malt flavor and they do it in a way that's not possible by using only different grain bills or yeast types. The flavors of the beer are clearer and more pronounced, the clarity and color of the beer is cleaner and the overall perception of the beer is taken to a higher level of enjoyment.

Cleaner Tasting Beer With Bolder Flavor
"Buffers, moles, ions, cations, anions, acid, base, atomic weights, valence, electrons, Lewis structures, central atoms, bonding sites, mg/L as CaCO3, mg/L, ppm, milliliters, teaspoons. Really? Let me just arrange all that information in a way that's interesting and understandable by the majority of brewers" ~ Screwy Brewer

There you have it, the perfect IPA recipe and all the details and steps taken to create a matching water profile, what could be easier than that. Using EZ Water Calculator and distilled water to tune and tweak my brewing water profiles I've since brewed a light colored IPA, an amber ale, a wheat beer and two dark beers using chocolate malt and they've all tasted much better. It's interesting to learn with each style of beer brewed the impact on the levels of flavor different water properties have on some ingredients.

For example the coffee and chocolate flavors extracted from Carafa III and Chocolate malt went through the roof, when compared to similar batches brewed with unmodified water profiles. Now I know why some recipes call for 3 ounces of each where before I was happy to just round it off to the nearest half pound. Other additions like coriander and flaked rye seem to suddenly pop out in front or take a more subdued role in the background flavor. One thing is for sure once you've learned the basics to modifying your brewing water profiles and tasted the huge differences in your beer you'll be hooked too.


  1. Just really starting to get into working with water profiles. This was a great read. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for this - it's an awesome writeup! I will be doing the same shortly - installing a high flow RO filter to treat 20 gallons of brewing water in my HLT. So it would seem that using RO and some standard style charts for brewing IPAs, Double IPAs, Stouts, Pilsners, etc., you could specify the amounts of brewing salts for your buddies to use as a part of the recipe if they also used RO water - correct?

    Would you have such a chart that you may use for different amounts of salts for each style - maybe in an Excel spreadsheet so the only variable is HLT volume? (The assumption would be using your same brewing system of treating all the water at once.)