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Importance of water & pH

I have made a number of lighter-colored beers over the past couple of months where I paid particularly close attention to water and mash and sparge pH. I was having the trickiest time getting very pale-colored beers to clarify.

This one happens to be at basement temps at the moment but even the ones that have already gone through a lagering process at 35° for 4-6 weeks have remained ultra-clear. Some of this came from an Uber-long WATER PRIMER[/url] by AJ DeLange and Martin Brungard (with many contributions by others) and also some [url=http://braukaiser.com/wiki/index.php?title=How_pH_affects_brewing]pH information

I got from Kai’s site. Also, according to AJ, the amount of calcium in your water can actually be irrelevant as it pertains to clarity. Some of these beers I’ve made have had very small additions of CaCl made to them where the overall ppm came to 30-40 and clarity is still very good. The very last carboy in the pic (hard to see) is a Czech Lager that just went to secondary yesterday and it’s also sparkling clear. I’ve simply been checking the pH of the mash, sparge and preboil wort (if the first two are okay I would assume the latter would be in line) and if it’s high I’ve been making very small additions of 88% lactic acid to adjust and the results have been awesome. Many of you may have learned all of this stuff when you learned your ABCs but I must’ve missed that class. Cheers.

Looking really good. How have you been checking pH? I guess I should dig out my meter and calibrate it.

Probably isn’t a big deal for most brewers but since I am dealing with very hard water understanding my pH made a giant difference, most so in my light beers but it was a turn around in all my beers. If you are in an area known for hard water it is well worth learning about. Also can see it making a pretty big difference it refining your beers even if you aren’t dealing with hard water.

There were people who did not like the use of strips (ColorpHast or otherwise) and said that a meter was better. Others said that a meter is fine but unless you REALLY wanted to get precise with it, the strips worked great for brewing. So I’m using the ColorpHast strips and they seem fine. I check the mash pH right after I take the temp and if it’s high I use some lactic acid (usually ½ml is enough to get it down) and then I check the pH of the sparge as well and adjust that if necessary. I should also mention that as I put a recipe together, I’m looking at the water, the mineral content and any additions (CaCl and/or gypsum) with overall mash pH in mind. I made a Czech Lager yesterday that was maybe 6-7 SRM and used 50% RO water and small additions of CaCl and gypsum in the mash and I was thinking… I bet I won’t even have to adjust the pH for this batch… and I was right. It came in right at 5.3 so no adjustment necessary. Cheers Beerheads!

Those beers look fantastic, Ken!

I have hard hard hard water too, filled with limestone around here. pH is really high. I use this and dont worry about it:

http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/buffer-5-2-1-lb.html

Ken -

Do you make an adjustment to your Colorphast readings? Kai suggests they read .3 on the low side (e.g. reading of 5.0 would really be 5.3). Interested in your take on this. Thanks

Barney, have you checked your mash PH after using the 5.2 buffer? I have used it with poor results it works on some beers but the PH probably was fine before adding the buffer. I cut my water with RO and use lactic acid just like Ken, it works for me. :smiley:

Well, yes. But not lately and not on all brews. When I first moved, I was getting poor clarity in my beer and poor efficiency in recipe’s that faithfully had worked out fine in the past. I retrieved a water report, tested the pH of the water from a borrowed meter from work, then tested the mash after addition. It was pretty close. (less than 5.3) Since then I have just used it and my recipe’s seem to have returned to previous performance, so I saw no need to test further.

Oh and edit: To be more precise I was reading @ 5.25, which I accepted as within the accuracy of the borrowed meter.

See below…

[quote=“dr.bob”]Ken -
Do you make an adjustment to your Colorphast readings? Kai suggests they read .3 on the low side (e.g. reading of 5.0 would really be 5.3). Interested in your take on this. Thanks[/quote]
Yes, I shoot for a ColorpHast reading of 5.0 which apparently translates to 5.3. There is some sort of correction factor for temp adjustment or some such thing. I don’t really care about the HOW and WHY as long as I know the score. In the gold beers I have made over the past three months (and darker beers too), the clarity has been nothing short of brilliant.

[quote=“barneygumble”]Those beers look fantastic, Ken!
I have hard hard hard water too, filled with limestone around here. pH is really high. I use this and dont worry about it:

http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/buffer-5-2-1-lb.html[/quote]

I think my water is categorized as “moderately hard”. I read someplace that “hardness” is a measure of calcium and magnesium… both of which I’m a little short on… 34 and 12 respectively. But I do have higher bicarbonate (138) which can get in the way of smoothness and delicate flavors so I will cut my filtered tap water 50% with RO on beers that I would like to have a little softer. Also, I tried the 5.2 stabilizer and I don’t really have a lot of feedback on it other than my wife said that every beer I made with it had a “soapy” taste. Personally, I did not taste it but I can’t have my wife tasting soap in the beer and possibly make me stop brewing! Can I? :lol:

Thanks Ken.

I really never paid attention to water chemistry previously. I used bottled distilled water to brew before I moved. The water there was heavily chlorinated and tasted like something fishy died in it. muddy too.

After the move, one really nice feature is the spring water that is my water source now. Deep well fed. No chlorine. Tastes fanTASTic! So I wanted to incorporate the terroir of my new home into my brews. I am sure many of you can give me more insight here. I really dont want to lose the uniqueness of my source by using RO’s…

[quote=“barneygumble”]Thanks Ken.

I really never paid attention to water chemistry previously. I used bottled distilled water to brew before I moved. The water there was heavily chlorinated and tasted like something fishy died in it. muddy too.

After the move, one really nice feature is the spring water that is my water source now. Deep well fed. No chlorine. Tastes fanTASTic! So I wanted to incorporate the terroir of my new home into my brews. I am sure many of you can give me more insight here. I really dont want to lose the uniqueness of my source by using RO’s…[/quote]
The best thing for you to do is send a sample of that water to Ward Labs in Nebraska and ask them for a W6 Household water test. They will give you information on everything that’s in your water. Once you have that, you can determine what to do with the water for various styles, if anything. On my water, I will use 100% filtered tap water (I filter it to get the chlorine out… carbon block cartridge filter that I got from MoreBeer) for things like pale ales, amber ales, red ales, possibly English Ales, etc. I might add some gypsum and/or calcium chloride on those beers as well. On something “softer” like a pilsner, Czech Lager, Helles, Blonde Ale, American Wheat or American Lager, I’ll go with 50% RO water and then possibly just add small amounts of anything that looks low. Your best hope would be that your yummy well water was SOFT… it’s the best water for brewing because you can use it straight where it applies and simply add some things for pale ales, IPAs, etc. It’s a lot easier to ADD something than it is to dilute & lower things. Cheers.

Well, its by no means soft. I seem to have corrected the efficiency problems with the 5.2, but I am thinking I will need to invest in an RO. I should probably get one sized for the whole damn house. CLR has become my new best friend for coffee pots, showerheads, shower stalls and toilets. (I’ll plug a coffee maker solid in a month if I dont clean it first with CLR) Its probably why the water tastes good. All that limestone the water passes through is prolly sweetening it up a bit. lol.

edit: yeah, right. whole house aint happenin. No softeners either. I will go descaler for the house. It looks like an undercounter filter may be in my future for the kitchen sink. There goes the whole terroir thought. But my beer is coming out good again. I dunno. I was looking to perfect process and improve my beer when I started brewing again. Living with bad chemistry is not improving process.

Yes, I shoot for a ColorpHast reading of 5.0 which apparently translates to 5.3. There is some sort of correction factor for temp adjustment or some such thing. I don’t really care about the HOW and WHY as long as I know the score. In the gold beers I have made over the past three months (and darker beers too), the clarity has been nothing short of brilliant.

That’s 5.0 at room temp, yes?

What I have heard is that the correction factor is based on temp so… I always take the reading at mash temp and I shoot for 5.0. If the mash temp drops to room temp the correction factor part of the strip would not come into play because it’s for temp adjustment. I’m not going to be able to explain this properly because honestly, I don’t care about the specifics as long as I know I’m doing it right. I’ve had this conversation numerous times and I have learned that shooting for a pH of 5.0 is all you need to worry about regardless of mash temp. On these pale-colored beers that are coming out very clear, my goal is 5.0 on the ColorpHast strip at mash temp. Cheers!

PS: I should say that these beers have also had all of the other clarifying processes done to them too… Whirfloc, quick chill, short ice bath, rack from brewpot to primary, a gel solution, etc. Eventually these will get cold for a good amount of time as well so it’s not just the pH thing but I tried all of those other steps in the past and ended up with persistently cloudy pale-colored beers because I wasn’t paying attention to the mash and sparge pH. That seems to be a pivotal point in the process, at least for me. Happy Saturday Beerheads.

Thanks, Ken. I’ll have to give that a try. I have been shooting for 5.0 at room temp instead of at mash temp. I always kind of thought that the .3 correction factor on the Colorphast strips was curiously similar to the drop in pH from mash to room temp.

Appreciate the insight.

-Prost

Sure others have done more scientific work but it doesn’t appear the colorphast strips are effected by mash temp when compared to room temp. At least not that I could discern. Not exhaustive by any means I took 1 strip and put it straight in the mash and the other in a cooled sample and the color appeared the same.

Also just got a pH meter and was able to confirm for myself that the colorphast strips do seem to read ~.3 low. I did the comparison on my last 2 beers, a lighter beer and a darker beer (American Pale and a Dark Mild).

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