As many of you know, I have been reading the book Water a Comprehensive Guide for Brewers and it is a book that has completely changed the way I look at water as a brewing ingredient. You know that we have been told that from the start to not worry so much about our water, you will make good beer as long as the water tastes fine and is free of contaminants (like chlorine). But after reading this book my feelings on this have completely changed. While all of us have brewed some great beers while ignoring water, or arbitrarily adding water salts and hoping for the best, I have to say that I feel a bit mislead by the importance of water in the brewing process. It’s more than just a medium to dissolve sugar or to heat up to a specific temperature to start enzymatic activity in our mash. The underplaying of water in the homebrew community is actually sad. Now, again I’m not saying that a person cannot make great beer without adjusting your water, but understanding your water profile and the effect of malt and water on the mash, and acidity helps greatly in figuring out why maybe your stouts and porters turn out so great but you don’t have the best success with getting that hoppy zip on a Bohemian Pilsner, or why your pale ales seem to lack the hop character you were shooting for, even though Beersmith shows you should basically have a hop bomb. I would like to share 3 excerpts from the book with you. Also, if you can’t tell, I think this is a book that anyone who is serious about brewing should at least read or borrow. Granted, some of it is just equations and so forth, but you can skim over the equations and still pick up the explanations of why it’s important to understand how these ratios of ions affect your beer.
This excerpt came from Chapter 6 on Controlling Alkalinity (this part is especially important for fly spargers). “Many brewers acidify their sparge water and/or mash water. At the beginning of the sparge, the mash pH should be at the target and the buggering conditions within the mash should be at full strength. As the sparging water rinses the bed, the sugars and buffers are rinsed away and the pH sifts towards the pH of the sparging water. IF the sparging water is alkaline, the mash pH will rise, and the extraction of tannins, silicates, and ash from the malt husks is more likely as it approaches a pH of 5.8. These compounds can ruin the taste of an otherwise well-brewed beer. The easy solution is to stop sparging when the pH hits 5.8, or when the specific gravity falls below 1.008, and top up the kettle with hot liquor alone. This will only cause a small drop in efficiency while preventing significant off-flavors in the beer.
However, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say. The better solution is to acidify the sparge water to a pH in the mash target range, which should effectively prevent the pH of the mash from rising above 5.8; although as discussed in chapter 5 the DI of pH of the base malts may pull it higher. The rise in mash pH at the end of the sparge is more common to lower-gravity paler styles where the buffering systems in the mash are weaker and/or more dilute. It can also occur in low-gravity darker styles where the melanoidin concentration (a buffer) is actually low despite the high color wort.”
This excerpt is from Chapter 7 on Adjusting water for Style. While it suggests buying a pH meter even though a good one can cost hundreds of dollars, I have decided to buy a cheaper model with good user reviews and consider it replaceable after 2 years of use. This segment lays it out in a very frank way and provides a good perspective on alkalinity and pH in regards to brewing. “How to Brew Seriously Good Beer, Step 1- Buy a pH Meter. We have not spent the first two thirds of the book defining pH, describing factors that affect pH, and discussing methods for adjusting mash pH, just to it all aside and say “Don’t worry about the mash pH, it will be close enough.” That’s the kind of thing you tell beginners. “Don’t worry, everyone falls down at first; just have fun!” You are not a beginner. If you are serious about brewing good beer, then you need to be serious about measuring your results and reaching your goals. To be able to visualize a goal, plan a course of action, and consistently achieve the goal is the mark of an expert.”
The last excerpt I thought was just pretty cool. It’s a brewer’s play on the Declaration of Independence declaring the brewer’s independence from the Reinheitsgebot in order to use brewing salts and acids to adjust water, which as we know any additions that are not malt, water, hops, or yeast are forbidden on the Reinheitsgebot. It was an entertaining read.
The Declaration of Non-Adherence (from Water: A comprehensive guide for Brewers by John Palmer and Collin Kaminski)
When in the course of brewing events, it becomes necessary for the brewers to dissolve the chemical bonds which have connected them with alkaline water, and to assume among the powers of the Earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of saccharification and fermentation entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of the Reinheitsgebot requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all mashes are not created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable properties, that among these are grist, pH, and the eventual pursuit of hoppiness.
That to secure these rights, the brewing practices are instituted among men, deriving their parameters from the consent of the learned.
That whenever any form of ingredient or practice becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the brewer to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new practices, laying their foundation on such principles and organizing their powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to optimize their pH and yield. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that brewing long established should not be changed for light and transient causes, and accordingly all experience hath shown, that brewers are more disposed to suffer, while yields are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of high pH and low yield, pursuing invariably the same beer evinces a recipe of utter mediocrity, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such practices, and to provide new guidelines for their future prosperity.
Such has been the patient sufferance of these brewers; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former adherence to Reinheitsgebot. The history of wholly malt, hops, water, and yeast is a history of repeated misses and transgressions, all while having in direct object the sustainment of absolute providence within this system. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
- That the preferred mash pH is in the range of 5.2 to 5.6.
- That the de-ionized water pH of base malts typically ranges from 5.6 to 6.0, depending on many factors such as variety, malting environment, and season.
- That alkalinity due to carbonate, bicarbonate, and carbonic acid will act to raise the mash pH away from its (normal) de-ionized water value.
- That in the absence of high levels of calcium, magnesium, weakly acidic buffers in colored specialty malts, or the waste products of lactobacillus bacteria, the mash pH will not lower itself to the target value. W
We, variously, the members of the brewing community, appealing to the common sense of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, so solemnly publish and declare, that these brewers are, and of right ought to be, free and independent thinkers; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the Reinheitsbegot, and that all contributions between them and their water supply, are and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent brewers, they have full power to add acid, reduce alkalinity, change the grain bill, establish the desired pH, and to do all other acts and things which seem like the right thing to do. And for the support of this declaration, which a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence notwithstanding, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor, be they as they may.
If after all of this you are interested in buying the book (I highly recommend it, and it’s only $13 on Amazon), You can click here to be taken to Amazon to buy it.