Effect of water chemistry way overblown?

Wed Jul 21, 2010 9:46 pm

I've been really getting into brewing water chemistry lately but it's becoming one of those things that everyone has an opinion on yet everyone seems to be right. Info like in Palmer's book and podcasts like Brew Strong, there is so much emphasis on things like sulfate/chloride ratios. Everyone has so many opinions on whats best yet everyone, using different rules, are making GREAT beer. I just listened to CYBI Union Jack episode and the brewer starts with RO water then builds to 100ppm sulfate and chloride. That goes against the prevailing wisdom that a very hoppy beer should weigh heavily on the suflate side. Also, Tasty's only water profile has sulfate at 350ppm and chloride at 50ppm yet, he uses that profile for ALL his beer, no matter how hoppy or malty the beer (dark or light)- and everyone knows his reputation for amazing beer. Any thoughts? I've only made one beer starting with RO water (fermenting now) and I've been spending a lot of time designing water profiles for different styles and srm but I'm starting to really question the importance of it now.
70Shilling
 
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Re: Effect of water chemistry way overblown?

Wed Jul 21, 2010 10:14 pm

70Shilling wrote:I've been really getting into brewing water chemistry lately but it's becoming one of those things that everyone has an opinion on yet everyone seems to be right. Info like in Palmer's book and podcasts like Brew Strong, there is so much emphasis on things like sulfate/chloride ratios. Everyone has so many opinions on whats best yet everyone, using different rules, are making GREAT beer. I just listened to CYBI Union Jack episode and the brewer starts with RO water then builds to 100ppm sulfate and chloride. That goes against the prevailing wisdom that a very hoppy beer should weigh heavily on the suflate side. Also, Tasty's only water profile has sulfate at 350ppm and chloride at 50ppm yet, he uses that profile for ALL his beer, no matter how hoppy or malty the beer (dark or light)- and everyone knows his reputation for amazing beer. Any thoughts? I've only made one beer starting with RO water (fermenting now) and I've been spending a lot of time designing water profiles for different styles and srm but I'm starting to really question the importance of it now.


It's real. If you remember, Tasty had to alter his water for fish alt to make it more chloride heavy.

That said, everyone has different water. You build your recipes for your water. If you have more chloride, you can add more hops (or like me, just put gypsum in basically everything). If you have a sulfate heavy water, you can add more specialty malt to enhance the maltiness.

Try it for yourself. Pour a beer into 3 glasses. Add nothing to one glass, add a (very) small amount of gypsum to one glass, add a very small amount of calcium chloride to another glass. You'll be able to taste the difference immediately.

I have really neutral water except for a lot of chloride. I was never able to make a hoppy beer until I learned to adjust it. Now I win a lot of awards for my hoppy beers.

So at the end of the day what does it mean? Find a water that works for you. For most people that means just understand your water. If you're like me where you've got incredibly neutral water except for heavy chlorides, you adjust your waters somewhat consistently. IMO, it's a lot easier to consistently adjust your recipe than it is your water. If you've got a recipe that's almost perfect, then you can go back to the water.
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thatguy314
 
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Re: Effect of water chemistry way overblown?

Thu Jul 22, 2010 12:24 am

But I'm talking about starting from RO water and not just tweeking your own water. I just hear and read about very basic and necessary standards to follow (especially the suflate/chloride ratio and the importance of residual alkalinity) yet people are people are brewing in direct contradiction to that and brewing award winning beer.
70Shilling
 
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Re: Effect of water chemistry way overblown?

Thu Jul 22, 2010 6:28 am

I don't think the effects of water chemistry are overblown. They can make a profound difference in the beer. If, for example, I use the most popular spreadsheet and enter 40 SRM at the top it will tell me that I need water with 366 - 426 RA and if I keep going in the spreadsheet it tells me I can get that by adding 40 grams of chalk to 5 gallons of water RO (or the mash). Were I to do that I would ruin any beer that I can think of that I might brew in that color range.

Similarly, if I decide I want to brew a nice, crisp pils thinking my last one wasn't hoppy enough and increase the sulfate/chloride ratio while using noble hops, I'll ruin the Pils as sulfate above perhaps 10 ppm renders noble hops distressingly harsh (IMO). If I try to brew a delicate beer like a Helles using some of the very hard waters of the middle west I'll wind up with something more like an Export (which, while it might be a very good export isn't what I had in mind).

What I do think is that many new and intermediate brewers spend way too much time and effort worrying about water composition when they should be worried about other aspects of their brewing. They come up with formulations that are bizarre based on color, they calculate mineral additions based on widely disseminated profiles which nature could not match (and so neither can they), they do not understand how nature dissolves chalk and so just suspend it or if they do dissolve it correctly watch in disbelief as it falls right back out when the water is heated, etc. They look at water chemistry as the way to controlling mash pH when they should be looking at mash pH directly. As an example of this suppose I want to brew a Bohemian Pils with mash pH of 4.3 - 4.5 using base malt that has a distilled water pH of 5.75. Adding as much as 10 grams of calcium chloride per 5 gallons mash water isn't going to get me close (perhaps to 5.6) even though the RA is -100 and I can't immagine that a Bohemian Pils with that much mineral content would much resemble what I'm after in a Boh. Pils. The brewers at Pilsen don't add minerals to their very soft water and neither should you when you try to brew this style of beer.

With what comes out of the tap in most municipalities in modernized countries it should be possible to brew very good beers with no water treatment. If one lives in a place where the water is atypically unsuited to brewing, then the possibility of RO systems (relatively inexpensive these days) or purchased RO water with a teaspoonful of calcium chloride per 5 gal should be suitable for most beers. RO systems are also a possibility even for water that is quite suitable for brewing. I do all my beers with RO water.

I've noted above how people get themselves into trouble by misapplication of "rules of thumb" (SRM/RA, Cl/SO4) in cases where they don't work. If there is one rule of thumb that may have some validity in nearly all cases it would be "alkalinity is bad" and this can be somewhat extended to add "hardness is good" though that clearly doesn't apply to styles like Boh. Pils and Helles and where it does apply alkalinity is 3.5 times more bad than calcium is good. RO with addition of calcium chloride is consistent with this rule of thumb. Most of the alkalinity will be removed as will most of the hardness but that is replaced when the CaCl2 is added.

If you brew a beer that is just not hoppy enough using this approach then you can start adding some gypsum, noting and recording what the effects of various amounts are and making the addition that gives you the result you like best you practice in the future.

I could go on all day in this vein but let me try to wrap up. Water chemistry is important but it is a complex (or at least intricate) subject that requires a lot of study before it can be applied properly. Therefore, it is best to try to find a simple approach that will work in most cases and tweak where improvement is desired. To quote BHS&Y "Treatment is best decided on the basis of brewing trials and carefully conducted taste testing." [Vol I p 209]

An approach I recommend is to get a copy of the RA, alkalinity chart at www.wetnewf.org (or from http://www.antiochsudsuckers.com/tom/RA ... elange.jpg if my website isn't working - which is fairly often the case), look for the city that was the original home for the beer you are going to brew and see what the general range of alkalinity and hardnesses are for that city. Then see where your water falls on this chart and note the difference. If your water is lower and to the left in the diagram than the target city you can probably brew the beer. If it's the other way around you probably can't. This is another reason why RO may be a good way to go (it's in the lower left hand corner). Check mash pH and add acid to get it in the right region (in rare cases you may need to add chalk so have that handy too). This is really the most important aspect of all of this. Add sulfate as necessary to get the hops character you want.
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Re: Effect of water chemistry way overblown?

Thu Jul 22, 2010 7:05 am

I like how AJ put it. I don't think the effect of water chemistry is overblown nessecarily, but I do think we homebrewers tend to worry about it too much. We also tend to try and over simplify it with rules of thumb and whatnot. Lately I've preferred to brew with my water straight from the tap (treated only with campden to remove chloramines) and adjusting the pH with acidulated malt (I love this stuff!). I can then make mineral adjustments next time I brew that recipe if need be. If I don't have to add a bunch of chalk or gypsum if the beer tastes great without it. Funny thing is that since I've been doing this, I've noticed that all my beers have required acid to bring the pH in line; none have required chalk. This leads me to believe that the popular spreadsheets really are just "arm waving at it's finest" like Palmer says. The relationship between color and pH just hasn't been there IME. For example, I brewed a 32 SRM smoked porter recently and I had to use 2% acid malt to get the pH down to 5.3. If I had relied on a spreadsheet it would have had me add at least some chalk which would have taken me in the wrong direction entirely.
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Travisty
 
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Re: Effect of water chemistry way overblown?

Thu Jul 22, 2010 9:28 am

ajdelange-

i have absolutely no doubt you make great beers, but you kinda just made my point. You described the delicate art of water adjustment and the importance of mineral content- yet Tasty uses the exact same water profile for all his beers. That means his 350ppm sulfate is used whether its a porter or a pils. You say- "if I decide I want to brew a nice, crisp pils thinking my last one wasn't hoppy enough and increase the sulfate/chloride ratio while using noble hops, I'll ruin the Pils as sulfate above perhaps 10 ppm renders noble hops distressingly harsh". Tasty certainly isn't lying so how do you explain his success?

And, again, I mention that the Firestone Walker brewers simply build their RO water to 100ppm of sulfate and chloride. That's a 1:1 ratio for even their hoppiest of beers. Show me a single source that says 'If you want to make a hoppy beer and accentuate those hops, be sure to use a 1:1 ratio of sulfate/chloride'- yet it completely works.

I also want to add that the point of this post is not to argue, I genuinely want to understand this discrepancy as I see it.
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Re: Effect of water chemistry way overblown?

Fri Jul 23, 2010 4:35 am

I haven't seen any source (other than Palmer) that says the ratio of sulfate to Chloride is the only important thing and the absolute amounts do not matter. He doesn't really mention how he came to this conclusion, unless I've missed it? I haven't done a double blind experiment, but I feel you can detect a difference when a beer has 200 ppm of sulfate and chloride vs. a beer that has 50 ppm of each. For instance, I brewed a helles and a dortmunder this year with the exact scenario above (and a bo pils and a german pils), same yeast and similar recipes, but they all tasted completely different.

And, again, I mention that the Firestone Walker brewers simply build their RO water to 100ppm of sulfate and chloride. That's a 1:1 ratio for even their hoppiest of beers. Show me a single source that says 'If you want to make a hoppy beer and accentuate those hops, be sure to use a 1:1 ratio of sulfate/chloride'- yet it completely works.


There's no one correct way to do water adjustments. Who is to say that because Firestone uses 100 ppm of sulfate and chloride that is the best way to do it? Same with Tasty, just because he makes a dortmunder with 350 ppm sulfate, does this mean that is the best that beer can taste? The only way to know for sure is to brew the same beer with different water profiles until you arrive at the one you like the best, and it may be different for every style or it could be the same for lots of styles. These guys aren't claiming that their way is best either, it's just how they are used to doing it and for them it's easier to keep that part of the brewing consistent.
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Nyakavt
 
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Re: Effect of water chemistry way overblown?

Fri Jul 23, 2010 6:17 am

70Shilling wrote:.... but you kinda just made my point.


I basically agree with you. Certainly early in your brewing career you should stick to one basic water (most probably what comes out of your tap unless it is weird) and brew everything with that. Water tweaking is for advanced brewers, IMO. Adding extra sulfate for extra hops punch would be an exception.

70Shilling wrote:You described the delicate art of water adjustment and the importance of mineral content- yet Tasty uses the exact same water profile for all his beers. That means his 350ppm sulfate is used whether its a porter or a pils. You say- "if I decide I want to brew a nice, crisp pils thinking my last one wasn't hoppy enough and increase the sulfate/chloride ratio while using noble hops, I'll ruin the Pils as sulfate above perhaps 10 ppm renders noble hops distressingly harsh". Tasty certainly isn't lying so how do you explain his success?


There are several possible explanations. One is that I might not like his beers at all. We are talking subjective evaluation of an amazingly complex (in terms of the number of flavor producing compounds in it) beverage here. I do not like coarse hoppiness. I seldom order Pils in a brew pub (and even less often a second one) because they often bitter with high alpha cultivars and then finish with Saaz or something else noble and that just ruins the beer to my way of thinking - especially if brewed with water with high sulfate content. Actually, I'm quite sure I would like his beers (except for the very hoppy ones).

If you are "stuck" (in this case it's by choice) with high sulfate water then you can try to offset its negative effects by using less hops, not using noble varieties, using more crystal malts etc. But it seems to me a much better approach is to work with a base water such as RO + CaCl2 and add sulfate where it adds to the beer. You wouldn't put the same amount of fenugreek in every type of sausage you make so why use the same amount of sulfate in every beer?

70Shilling wrote:And, again, I mention that the Firestone Walker brewers simply build their RO water to 100ppm of sulfate and chloride. That's a 1:1 ratio for even their hoppiest of beers. Show me a single source that says 'If you want to make a hoppy beer and accentuate those hops, be sure to use a 1:1 ratio of sulfate/chloride'- yet it completely works.


I the days of yore brewers tuned their beers to the water they had at hand. They didn't brew beers that didn't work with their water. Even today (well, I guess he's emeritus now) Prof. Lewis at UCD used to tell his students not to fiddle with the water but use the available water and make it theirs, i.e. have their portfolio reflect their water.

And, as has been noted, the acceptable beer you brew with a particular water is not necessarily the best beer of that type that can be brewed using the available ingredients. I often, in this context, tell of how twice, in preparation for water chemistry seminars, have brewed identical Burton style ales one with my relatively soft well water and the other with authentic Burton water. Tasters pretty much uniformly agreed that the Burton water beer was more authentic but that the soft water one was a better beer. But remember, we are talking subjective taste here. If Bass could have bought an RO system, would they? Probably not. Consumers are very resistant to change in their brand, even if it is for the better. There is an anecdote about how the sales of Rolling Rock plunged after the head brewers from the company that took it over showed them how to get the DMS out of the beer. They quicly restored it.

70Shilling wrote:I also want to add that the point of this post is not to argue, I genuinely want to understand this discrepancy as I see it.


Understood.

Nyakavt wrote:I haven't seen any source (other than Palmer) that says the ratio of sulfate to Chloride is the only important thing and the absolute amounts do not matter.


In the chapter on water in Handbook of Brewing [Ed. Fergus Priest and Graham Stewart] you will find the following statement "It appears that, in many cases, it is the relative ratio of the two ions that has the major flavor influence, often irrespective of the accompanying cations." [p111]. References to several papers in support of this are given. My theory (and it is no more than that) is that sulfate is a disaster with noble hops but not so much so with the English varieties i.e. that the "many cases" do not include continental lagers.
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