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Help me diagnose a pale beer issue

We have been discussing this on another board and I want to bounce it around with you guys. I have an issue that I occasionally get on pale beers where the beer is harsh-tasting, grainy, husky, cloudy, etc. This does not happen on my amber or darker beers and it doesn’t happen on all pale beers. My process for almost all batches is to mash with 4 gallons of water which may be 50-75% distilled water and the rest tap water (Ca 34, Mg 12, Na 9, Cl 21, SO4 27, Bicarb 138), add calcium chloride and/or gypsum depending on the beer, check the pH of the mash, knock it down with lactic acid if necessary, etc. I am using a Milwaukee PH55 meter that has shown signs of not being overly reliable at times. But here’s the issue: When I batch sparge, I usually have another 4 gallons of water that have not been adjusted… no salts, no acid, etc. I add that to the MT after the first runnings have been drained and I check the pH of the sparge which may take 10-15 minutes. I heat my sparge water to 150-160°… never hotter. The time frame from adding the sparge water to the grains until I’m done recircing and draining might be 20 minutes total. Does anyone think that 4 gallons of 150-160° water with a pH between 6.6 (my tap water) and 7.0 (the pH of distilled water) being added to the pale grain bill of a helles, pils, American wheat, blonde ale, kolsch, etc. could bring out tannins that would create this character? Some brewing buds have suggested acidifying the sparge water before heating it and getting it to 5.5. I did this on a pilsner I made last Friday and it’s in primary at the moment. There might be some information I left out here but if anyone has a definitive answer for the cause of this issue, please post. I have read that excessive tannin extraction is a product of all three of these: high mash/sparge temp PLUS a ph over 6.0 PLUS some amount of time. Also… this character makes the beer anywhere from mildly unpleasant to downright undrinkable. A harsh, sharp finish to the beer, a haze that won’t ever disappear and that husky & grainy flavor. Thanks gang.

EDIT: If I measure the pH of the sparge and it’s approaching 6.0 or over it, I hit it with lactic acid but it still might take 10-15 minutes before I have that reading. Also, I have been in the habit of making sure my preboil kettle pH is in the mid 5s. So I do not boil at high pH but that sparge could be sitting at the higher-than-desired pH for the 15-20 mins.

Besides the obvious pH/tannin extraction issues you considered, you mention that you may add calcium chloride and gypsum. Is it possible both your chloride and sulfates are up around the 100+ mark? My understanding is that this could lead to harsh flavors as well.

No brainer. Acidify sparge. Do this regardless of what anyone says about batch sparging. Do pass start, and do collect $200. I bet the recent beer is the best you’ve made to date. I find it hard to believe that your tap water is not around a pH 8 or so.

No. I’m very conservative with my additions. I add CaCl and/or gypsum to get my Ca to 50-60ppm and to push the character of the beer towards malty, balanced or bitter based on style. My chloride and sulfate numbers rarely go over 60-70ppm and are often in the 40-50ppm range. Good catch though… I appreciate you mentioning it because it wasn’t on my radar.

Yeah, I’m thinking no brainer but a number of other brewers have said, “No way. That wouldn’t happen in a batch sparge because the grains would buffer it and you’re not heating your water hot enough to cause this or leaving the grains and water in contact long enough…”, etc. I don’t know if these guys know from experience or just regurgitating things they have heard or read. But I agree with you… everything points to this. Also, I am using Lake Michigan water and it has consistently been at pH 6.6 for as long as I can remember. I have a number of brewing buds in my area and also in eastern Wisconsin that all use Lake Michigan water and it’s always 6.6. I have also talked with a number of pro brewers in the area who have confirmed this and once I was sitting at the bar of a brewpub with the brewer and we were talking about it. He went and got a glass of tap water and his meter (a 2-prong jobbie) and measured it… 6.6.

Thanks guys.

Interesting, your water supply is nearly identical to mine (Lake Erie) but pH is 8.1. But I am no pro and this pH discussion might be an oversimplication of things. That said, the bicarb has to be causing the extraction of tannins/silicates. Acidification will knock it down and should resolve. I have measured my process and know for a fact that batch sparging with my water can lead to pH rising above 7 in pale beers.

Right. Remember too that distilled water has a pH of 7 although it doesn’t have the bicarb issue so knocking distilled water down to a desired pH should be better. On this pilsner I made, I got the mash pH where I wanted and then got my sparge water ready and took the pH of that… 6.2 according to my meter. I added 1ml of lactic acid and stirred… 5.8. Hmm. So I added another 1ml of lactic acid and it went to 4.7!!! I spoke with some other brewers who mentioned that this could easily happen in plain water because there is nothing there to buffer it. After the sparge and before I boiled I measured the pH again and it was at 5.5 which is good. I will say this… the pilsner was possibly the cleanest, clearest and most pale-colored wort I have ever seen going into the primary. I don’t know if there’s a connection to the pH but it was noticeable. I will report back on that batch and some other pale beer “experiments” I have coming up. Thanks again for the replies… much appreciated.

Eventually you will get a feel for how much acid to add. These days I stick to bru’n water instead of a meter/trial and error. I tend to OCD and bru’n water helps me keep sane…

There is direct correlation between pH and wort color/clarity and it makes sense you noticed a difference. I think that is a very good sign of things to come.

[quote=“zwiller”]Eventually you will get a feel for how much acid to add. These days I stick to bru’n water instead of a meter/trial and error. I tend to OCD and bru’n water helps me keep sane…

There is direct correlation between pH and wort color/clarity and it makes sense you noticed a difference. I think that is a very good sign of things to come.[/quote]
I hope so.

I will mention that I just got done carbing a blonde ale that was made with Rahr Pale Ale malt. I just sampled it and that beer came out okay. My notes show a mash pH of 5.2 and a sparge pH of 5.7. Some people have mentioned that Rahr Pale Ale malt has the ability to keep pH levels lower than something like a domestic 2-row or Pils. So this beer, although pale, came out okay and my guess is that the sparge pH of 5.7 kept things lined up. That said, I will continue to acidify the sparge water because I see no downside to it at all and the benefit (outside of great beer, hopefully) would be that the kettle pH would be lined up nicely at that point as well. Cheers.

Also, this might be some of the best advice I have been given:

On one hand, I try to get information from other brewers because I assume that someone has been in that spot. Also, it’s not like you can take someone’s advice and then know if they were right 5 minutes later. Making beer is a time-consuming process and you won’t know if your experiment worked for a long time so at least some information is good. OTOH, there is a lot of suspect information floating around and even though homebrewers are generally a giving bunch, sometimes they pass on bad info or info that they think is correct… but you never really know for sure until you do it yourself under your own circumstances. Thanks again for the help.

Are you using BrunWater?

[quote=“Ken Lenard”]Yeah, I’m thinking no brainer but a number of other brewers have said, “No way. That wouldn’t happen in a batch sparge because the grains would buffer it and you’re not heating your water hot enough to cause this or leaving the grains and water in contact long enough…”, etc. I don’t know if these guys know from experience or just regurgitating things they have heard or read. But I agree with you… everything points to this. Also, I am using Lake Michigan water and it has consistently been at pH 6.6 for as long as I can remember. I have a number of brewing buds in my area and also in eastern Wisconsin that all use Lake Michigan water and it’s always 6.6. I have also talked with a number of pro brewers in the area who have confirmed this and once I was sitting at the bar of a brewpub with the brewer and we were talking about it. He went and got a glass of tap water and his meter (a 2-prong jobbie) and measured it… 6.6.

Thanks guys.[/quote]

Batch sparging is less prone to sparge pH issues, but if your water is wacky enough it’s not immune to the issues.

[quote=“Ken Lenard”][quote=“zwiller”]Eventually you will get a feel for how much acid to add. These days I stick to bru’n water instead of a meter/trial and error. I tend to OCD and bru’n water helps me keep sane…

There is direct correlation between pH and wort color/clarity and it makes sense you noticed a difference. I think that is a very good sign of things to come.[/quote]
I hope so.

I will mention that I just got done carbing a blonde ale that was made with Rahr Pale Ale malt. I just sampled it and that beer came out okay. My notes show a mash pH of 5.2 and a sparge pH of 5.7. Some people have mentioned that Rahr Pale Ale malt has the ability to keep pH levels lower than something like a domestic 2-row or Pils. So this beer, although pale, came out okay and my guess is that the sparge pH of 5.7 kept things lined up. That said, I will continue to acidify the sparge water because I see no downside to it at all and the benefit (outside of great beer, hopefully) would be that the kettle pH would be lined up nicely at that point as well. Cheers.[/quote]

Keep in mind that Martin has documented that Rahr pale malt has a lower pH than other brands.

This was a bit unclear to me from one of your posts above, but have you tried sparging with 100% distilled water?

That should keep your sparge pH pretty much in line with your mash pH (at least it does for me).

All- as a chemist I just want to add that distilled water is not pH 7.0 unless it deaerated first. It will be about pH 5.5 from the dissolved CO2 in solution.

[quote=“narcout”]This was a bit unclear to me from one of your posts above, but have you tried sparging with 100% distilled water?

That should keep your sparge pH pretty much in line with your mash pH (at least it does for me).[/quote]
I have a pilsner on tap right now that was made with 8 gallons of water… 7 of which were distilled. That beer has this character. It’s not bad enough to dump the batch, although it’s not a pleasant beer to drink. So that beer’s sparge water composition was 3.5 gallons of distilled and .5 gallon of filtered tap water.

I have heard this and I suppose it makes sense. This beer I made last Friday was 50% distilled and 50% filtered tap. When I had 2 gallons of each in my pot to heat for the sparge, I measured the pH and it was 6.2. My tap water is always at pH 6.6. I have bounced that around with many local brewers using Lake Michigan water as well as pro brewers. So that suggests that the 2 gallons of distilled were lower than that (mid 5s as you said) and it may have been a little higher than midway because of the bicarb in my tap water.

Ken- I think narcout has a point here. If you are already getting 7 gallons of distilled, why not just get 8? Use all distilled for sparging if you aren’t going to acidify that water first.

Well, to be honest, the reason I used 50% distilled on this latest one (and also in a blonde ale recently) is because I’m working on a way to eliminate the distilled water if possible. Martin has mentioned that using distilled is fine but that I could also ‘neutralize’ the bicarb with acid and as long as the pH measurements were okay with mash, sparge and kettle, the bicarb is history. Feel free to Google that topic. Not many people have looked at it but a number of people have said that you can make bicarb ‘disappear’ by using enough acid. Also, I don’t think the small amount of tap water caused this issue. It’s that I used 4 gallons of untreated water (no salts, no acid) for the sparge and then it took 15-20 minutes to adjust it. I am fine with acidifying the sparge water in the future on ALL beers, but pale beers for sure.

The only thing I can think of is that maybe you’re not taking enough time to recirculate the wort until it’s good and clear. Or maybe you’re over-crushing your grain. That last point will undoubtedly provoke some contrary points of view, but I will stand by my assertion that there is most definitely such a thing as over-crushing grain. We all like to get high mash efficiency, but crushing grain too finely can absolutely bring about some undesirable astringency in your beer, or at least it can create a predisposition for such a flavor to occur. Out of curiosity, do you order your grains pre-crushed, and if you do, have you recently changed your supplier? That might also be another avenue to pursue if you’re getting off-flavors that you didn’t get before.

I recirc A LOT. Not sure how many times but I really recirculate. Also, remember that this is only on pale beers so if it was a recirc issue, it would be on all beers. Also, I do have a barley crusher and I crush my own grain. At some point I connected a drill to it but when I read that grains could be crushed too quickly or too fine, I backed off of that and… ready?.. wait for it… I mill everything by hand now and I use the default roller setting that came with the mill. Good stuff though… keep 'em coming in case it’s something that wasn’t on my radar! Cheers guys.

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