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Brews & Views Bulletin Board Service * Brews and Views Archive 2010 * Archive through January 19, 2010 * Bicarbonate question < Previous Next >

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Kevin Whyte
New Member
Username: Kwhyte

Post Number: 3
Registered: 11-2009
Posted From: 67.174.85.238
Posted on Friday, November 27, 2009 - 08:24 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

I've been trying to understand water better and I'm confused by some timing questions. For example, brewing a pale ale with Burton on Trent water. As I understand it hard water would be a problem for the style, both in mash ph being too high and making the hop bitterness harsh and unpleasant. The bicarbonate level is closely balanced by calcium there, so boiling should precipitate out a lot, but this doesn't quite make sense to me:

1> I thought that traditional breweries didn't boil the water before the mash, so the bicarbonte would still be there to raise the ph.

I'm guessing I must be missing something about the chemistry and the calcium levels somehow make this ok even without precipitating.

2> Similarly, if the bicarbonate is still there after the mash, is the wort boiled to reduce it before the hops are added? If not, wouldn't some of the negative effects on bittering show up?

Again this could be something about calcium fixing it, or maybe the harshness disappears if the bicarbonate is precipitated later?

From a practical point of view if brewing a pale beer with water with high bicarbonate and calcium levels do you need to boil before mashing? If a ph buffer is added, does the bicarbonate level in the mash matter much at all? Finally, what effect does all this have on first wort or mash hops?
 

Graham Cox
Senior Member
Username: T2driver

Post Number: 2281
Registered: 11-2004
Posted From: 72.15.96.251
Posted on Friday, November 27, 2009 - 10:13 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

1) Yes, the carbonates would still be there to raise the mash pH, but so would the calcium to lower it. Net result is nearly zero.

2) I'm not sure I understand your concern with carbonates and harsh bitterness. High levels of sodium and sulfate together can create a harsher bittering sensation, but I don't recall ever reading about any negative flavor aspects of carbonates except that in very high concentrations, they can taste chalky or dusty or "minerally", to use a more generic term. I'm not saying you're wrong, I just don't recall reading that anywhere.

As to the rest, sorry, two questions maximum per customer.
 

Kevin Whyte
New Member
Username: Kwhyte

Post Number: 4
Registered: 11-2009
Posted From: 67.174.85.238
Posted on Saturday, November 28, 2009 - 12:04 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Thanks. If the carbonates and calcium cancel in the mash and don't have much effect on hop flavors then I think you've answered my other questions as well.

I'll ask another one: I understand that one couldn't brew pale beers in areas with hard water because the mash ph would be too high. Similarly, brewing hoppy beers where the sulfate/sodium/chloride is not suited to it wouldn't work well. But what's stopping the other side of things? For example, would anything go wrong brewing a stout or bock with Burton on Trent water?
 

Tony Legge
Intermediate Member
Username: Boo_boo

Post Number: 477
Registered: 05-2005
Posted From: 174.116.59.12
Posted on Saturday, November 28, 2009 - 11:22 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

From Terry Fosters book on Pale Ale, he says that, Burton water is unique because it has a high ion concentration with high levels of disloved solids.
The sulfate level is high which makes the bicarbonate not so much a problem. The combination of the mineral flavour of the sulfate and the high level of hops more than likely will cause a slight sulfury flavour. He goes on to say that Burton water is so complex and unusual that you are better off not trying to match it excatly, but to stick to adding gypsum to adjust your water.

His water profile for pale ale is;

ION mg/l (ppm)

Calcium 100 - 200
Magnesium 10 - 20
Sodium 10 - 20
Bicarbonate 50 maximum
Sulfate 200 - 500
Chloride 20 - 40
 

Graham Cox
Senior Member
Username: T2driver

Post Number: 2282
Registered: 11-2004
Posted From: 72.15.96.251
Posted on Sunday, November 29, 2009 - 04:24 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Kevin, let me try to briefly impart my rudimentary but hopefully ever-expanding view on water and water treatment.

World beer styles did not evolve because the water in a particular site, e.g. Burton-on-Trent, was ideal for brewing a particular style of beer. Rather, it was more often the case that a particular beer style was one of the only ones that could be successfully brewed, given the handicap of the local water. I can't think of a single example off the top of my head of the "classic" cities in which I would say that the water profiles widely quoted in the literature are truly perfect for brewing the style with which they are associated. I therefore believe that trying to precisely replicate the water profile of a so-called "classic brewing center" in order to brew their style of beer is a fool's errand. The fact is that most breweries treat their water in some fashion anyway, so these numbers you see are not what the breweries are using today, and haven't been for decades.

You obviously understand that calcium lower pH and carbonates raise it. Neither has much of a flavor impact at nominal levels, i.e. less than about 200 ppm. Sodium and chloride add "roundness" and counteract, but compliment, sweetness at low levels. Sulfate accentuates hop bitterness and adds a certain crispness to hoppy styles.

Now, take for example an English IPA. Conventional wisdom would be that you need to "Burtonize" your water to successfully brew this style. I would counter that you most assuredly don't need the carbonate, and thus you will not need most of the calcium to counteract that (although you always want at least 50 ppm, in sharp contrast to Pilsen's nearly zero - but that's another example.) The real ion you want in this style is sulfate, so if your water isn't particularly high in either calcium or sulfate, a judicious addition of gypsum would be all you need. If you wanted to add some chloride to accentuate the malt (a good idea), some calcium chloride would be a good choice as well. You could use table salt, but sodium chloride would add sodium, which, combined with sulfate, can produce a harsh bitterness. It's a balancing act, but the proper balance is, IMHO, never the water profile of one of the "classic" cities that is oft-quoted in the literature.

Step 1 is to learn about your own water. Step 2 is to learn what it is that each of these ions actually does. Step 3 is to put the first two together so that you can adjust your water according to the requirements of each beer style.

One final word of advice - in general, use the least amount of mineral additives that you can get away with and still make the numbers work. It's really easy to get carried away and make a minerally-tasting beer.
 

Bill Pierce
Moderator
Username: Billpierce

Post Number: 10961
Registered: 01-2002
Posted From: 24.141.103.148
Posted on Sunday, November 29, 2009 - 01:53 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Bravo, Graham!
 

Jeff Rankert
Member
Username: Hopfenundmalz

Post Number: 135
Registered: 06-2008
Posted From: 68.60.49.98
Posted on Sunday, November 29, 2009 - 11:40 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Yes, matching the water for the city, is a fool's errand. I hae been to breweries including, Fullers, Bells, and Sierra Nevada that have pallets stacked with 50/55 lb bags of food grade gypsum. They are not using it to make plaster.

The Terry Foster ranges listed above look to be good guidlines for a bitter/pale ale..
 

Kevin Whyte
New Member
Username: Kwhyte

Post Number: 5
Registered: 11-2009
Posted From: 67.174.85.238
Posted on Monday, November 30, 2009 - 03:53 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Thanks everyone, that helps. I brew with Chicago water, here's an idea of that:

hardnesss - 134 (CaCO3)
Cl - 13.2
SO4 - 28
Calcium - 35.1
Mg - 12.5
Na - 9.0

all in mg/L

In the past I've just used this together with a ph buffer. That has seemed to work fine, but I'm looking to water treatment as a place I might be able to make my beer better.

My basic thought is that the CaCO3/Ca ratio is way out of balance and so adding calcium is a good idea - does this matter if I'm using a ph buffer anyway? Along with that, it seems like more SO4 would help with hoppier beers, so I was thinking of adding something like 1g gypsum/gallon. If I do that, the RA seems low enough that maybe I should just skip the ph buffer. Does that look reasonable? Also, will gypsum help/hurt/do nothing when brewing a darker, low hop beer (say a bock, for instance)?
 

Graham Cox
Senior Member
Username: T2driver

Post Number: 2288
Registered: 11-2004
Posted From: 72.15.96.251
Posted on Monday, November 30, 2009 - 04:05 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

What is "a pH buffer"? Are you specifically referring to Five Star 5.2? If so, I'm out of this discussion, simply because I don't understand it.
 

Kevin Whyte
New Member
Username: Kwhyte

Post Number: 6
Registered: 11-2009
Posted From: 67.174.85.238
Posted on Monday, November 30, 2009 - 04:20 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

That is the product I've used before, but basically I'm just asking if there are issues with this water profile that I should be worried about other than the ph of the mash.
 

Kevin Whyte
New Member
Username: Kwhyte

Post Number: 7
Registered: 11-2009
Posted From: 67.174.85.238
Posted on Monday, November 30, 2009 - 04:35 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

In view of the discussion in the somewhat parallel thread, let me be clear that I am not interested in historical accuracy nor am I trying to reproduce any particular profile. I used Burton on Trent as an example because the most extreme cases often make the principles clearer and because I happen to like the styles traditionally brewed there. What I'm after here is a practical understanding of what I need to do (or not do) to Chicago water while brewing.
 

Tom Meier
Advanced Member
Username: Brewdawg96

Post Number: 931
Registered: 03-2003
Posted From: 207.98.189.111
Posted on Monday, November 30, 2009 - 04:39 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Kevin, there are no flavor ion issues.. Everything is relatively low enough not to be a concern.

I would add calcium and skip the pH buffer, but thats me.
 

Bill Pierce
Moderator
Username: Billpierce

Post Number: 10964
Registered: 01-2002
Posted From: 24.141.103.148
Posted on Monday, November 30, 2009 - 04:51 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Chicago water is rather similar to that of other Great Lakes cities (the differences between Duluth, MN and Rochester, NY, for example, are not really very great). The water has medium alkalinity with some balancing calcium (and not so much magnesium) hardness. You can brew amber and even many dark beers without any pH adjustment. For lighter colored beers you are likely to need to reduce the mash pH. As for the sparge water adjustment, if you fly sparge I would say it would be a good idea to use phosphoric or lactic acid additions to bring the sparge water pH under 6.0.

As for brewing salt adjustments for flavor, I would first use the salts to correct the mash pH, and then add any other salts directly to the boil.
 

Kevin Whyte
New Member
Username: Kwhyte

Post Number: 8
Registered: 11-2009
Posted From: 67.174.85.238
Posted on Monday, November 30, 2009 - 05:09 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

This is reassuring, and matches my simple-minded understanding of water issues. I guess my biggest questions relate to gypsum (and really to SO4 levels) - in the past I've brewed lighter beers by directly adjusting mash ph without adding any minerals with significant flavor impact. What I'm thinki9ng about is adjusting this by adding gypsum, and so increasing SO4 along with Calcium. I hope I understand thing enough to still get a low enough mash ph. What I don't know is 1) will this actually help enough in hoppy pale beers to be worth the effort, and 2) are there other beers (darker or less hoppy) where this plan will hurt in ways I'm not anticipating. I'm perfectly happy to try it out for an IPA and see if I like it, but I'd hate to use it for a dunkel and waste 5 gallons. Since no one has suggested I'm overlooking something important, I'm inclined to just try some gypsum in the next batch and see what happens. I have some other issues, but I think I'll post them in a different thread since they're not really that water related. I am a science type by nature and training, so if anyone wants to continue here, I'm interested in any water chemistry issues even if they're of limited importance for homebrewers. One question I kow I still don't understand - is there any reason why a historical brewer in Burton (or Pilsen) couldn't brew Guiness? I understand why light or hoppy in Dublin is a problem, but not so much why dark and malty is a problem elsewhere.
 

Graham Cox
Senior Member
Username: T2driver

Post Number: 2289
Registered: 11-2004
Posted From: 72.15.96.251
Posted on Monday, November 30, 2009 - 12:48 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

That's easy, because in Pilsen there is no bicarbonate in the water to buffer the acidity of the roasted malts. The mash pH would be driven too low unless calcium carbonate, or some other buffer, was added to the mash.
 

Tom Meier
Advanced Member
Username: Brewdawg96

Post Number: 932
Registered: 03-2003
Posted From: 207.98.189.111
Posted on Friday, December 04, 2009 - 11:07 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Kevin,
I personally don't care for the minerally zippy taste of gypsum. Many years ago there was a pale ale experiment with burtonized, very soft water, and hard water. As I recall the burtonized water did not win the triangle tasting.. the soft water won. So based on this, and personal preference, I am not a believer that gypsum is a 'must' when brewing IPA.

CaCl2 will work for all styles of beer, including IPA. It accentuates maltiness, and gives it a rounder slightly sweet edge. If you want rougher hop flavor go with gypsum. If you don't want rougher hop flavor go with CaCl2 (calcium chloride). If you can't get enough calcium into the water without getting either the Cl or the SO4 too high, then blend the two to keep each ion under your target.

Further backup for this advice. A couple of years ago Graham won a medal at the AHA using CaCl2. John Palmer kept talking about how nice and round the maltiness was. draw your own conclusions.