And now for something completely different…

A new homebrew community has sprung up called BrewUnited (formerly known as Homebrewdad.com). AND to celebrate, they have announced their first annual BrewUnited Challenge! I have been fortunate enough to help organize this event and I think this brings a very unique challenge to beginner and advanced brewers. I am also the judging coordinator for “Balanced”  to be judged in Austin, Texas. The site switch over to BrewUnited.com is underway…

The formal announcement is here: http://www.homebrewdad.com/2015_challenge.php

We designed this competition as sort of Iron Chef meets Chopped. You will be asked to brew up to 3 different beers, using a very limited set of ingredients, many not traditional for the styles. There are three divisions: Hoppy, Malty, and Balanced. In each of the 3 Divisions, there are 5 BJCP styles. Each division is limited to 100 entries – and, each Division is judged in a different location. This means you may need to ship to different areas. The details are in the link above.

As for prizes, well Olan (Homebrewdad) has bust hiney and has a pretty amazing prize pool setup. You can see those here: http://www.homebrewdad.com/index.php?blogid=121

My favorite part of this is the Homebrew Hero contest. If you enter more than 2 beers, you are eligible for lifetime recognition as BrewUnited’s Homebrew Hero. You can only win once. I am trying to talk the team into capes for the award!

Finally, because the entries are limited, you should enter soon. Registration is open, but the shipping window is later toward October – plenty of time to brew and perhaps experiment a bit. We do want your recipes and notes – so make sure to take great notes as you work through this – experiment, break out your secret processes and win!

Join us over at BrewUnited.com for a great community of homebrewers of all levels.

Neil reviewing tasting notes

Brewing Water Series – Tasting Minerals, Sensory Evaluation

In February 2015, I brewed Brülosopher’s Best Brown Ale which naturally turned into a series of experiments. The intention was to ship beer off to Marshall from Brülosphy.com for evaluation, and that twisted into preparing some bottles, doctored, for sensory evaluation. I kept a set of the evaluation beers as part of my sensory education to review with a BJCP Certified judge. I am merely Pending… counting the days till September for the tasting exam.

The beers were bottled from a keg that had been conditioning in my kegerator, and I had recently changed gas lines and installed ball lock connectors with a check valve. The result was that all of the beers were flat… meaning we both had to recap after priming. In the time this took – Marshall’s evaluations drifted from my intended format (which is my fault). Their general impressions are noted at the end.

All of the findings below should be considered anecdotal and opinions! Much more testing needs to occur, systematically to determine the impact of differing mineral profiles.

The Procedure

Brülosopher’s Best Brown Ale was brewed on February 12 to 11 gallons. The water profile used was intentionally different than Marshall’s normal profile, and used epsom salt to provide the required sulfate. The details were discussed in the previous Brewing Water Series article.


Based on the finished water profile above, three new profiles were developed with the focus on pushing sulfate, chloride and magnesium each to their respective “flavor threshold” in Bru’n Water Spreadsheet (the exception being sulfate which only reached 214 ppm). Each beer was assigned a symbol, the appropriately salts were added to 100 ml of finished beer and stirred to dilute. Salts were carefully measured out on a jeweler’s scale (calibrated) and accurate to +/- 2 mg. 50 ml of these solutions were added to the appropriate bottles and then each bottle was topped up using a beer gun from the keg. The result was 4 beers in the flight: base beer, gypsum beer, epsom beer and calcium chloride beer.

Note: Because the salts were added to finished beer they did not have the opportunity to go through the mash and boil process. The bottles were eventually bottle conditioned and it is likely that some of the salts may have precipitated. I did not adjust for pH in the finished beers, which may have impacted flavor and mouthfeel. However, since we pushed the ion’s flavor thresholds, the results were three distinct beers versus the baseline beer.

Calcium Magnesium Sodium Sulfate Chloride SO4/Cl
Base 41 20 8 111 51 37:17
Epsom 41 33 8 163 51 163:51
 Delta +13 +52
Gypsum 84 20 8 214 51 214:51
Delta +43 +103
CaCl 65 20 8 111 93  37:31
Delta +24 +42

In the table above, you can see the delta for each mineral in the estimated water profiles.

My friend Neil Spake (BJCP Certified) and keeper of scottishbrewing.com sat down with me for the evaluation. We judged these blindly by symbol (I did not know which beer was which without my notes after two months). I explained the purpose to Neil after the first beer to beer evaluation. After the sensory analysis, we went back and ordered by preference.

Generally, the bottled beers did not hold up very well. In the process of dissolving minerals and dosing, I oxidized the beer that went into the bottle. While it was detectable, it was not overwhelming – yielding a wet paper aroma and slightly stale taste that was not in the freshly tapped beer. This is an issue that needs to be eliminated in future testing.

Our tasting notes are below:

Matt Neil
Base Aroma Biscuit, Toast, low hop aroma, no off aromas. Sweet Malt, light caramel Grainy, Bready, Biscuity Malt with slight caramel/toffee. No hops
Flavor Toasty Munich character, medium toffee, Firmly bitter, but Malt forward. Dry clean finish. Lovely bready lightly toasty grain, definite brown ale character, low carb, medium body, medium bitter finish, dry, dark grain, some hop bitterness
Appearance Brown, Bright, low Head, white, falls quickly. Low carbonation. Medium brown, Slight garnet hues, very clear, thin head, light tan, doesn’t persist
Overall Great beer aging well. Carbonation low, likely from growler fill and rest. Classic American Brown Ale. Great recipe.
Epsom Aroma Low malt, wet paper, sweet smelling, cracked pepper spice, musty Some paper (oxidation?), subdued malt, biscuit/cracker-like, no hops
Flavor One note malty sweetness, toast on the finish, soft mouth feel. No mineral character. Malt Sweetness, well balanced, more toasty/roasty flavors like the base. Caramel a little more subdued, slight salty aftertaste
Appearance Low carbonation, dark brown with red highlights, Bright. White head falls quickly. Medium body. Medium brown, low garnet hue. Clear, thin off-white head, doesn’t persist
Overall Of the three – closest to the base sample. Acceptable. softer mouthfeel
Gypsum Aroma Dry cracker, very low aroma, some wet paper (oxidized?) No Roast or toast Dry/stale bread, cracker-like aroma, no hops, no esters. Slight paper/cardboard (oxidized?)
Flavor Malt forward with a weird sharpness, toast and dark biscuit lingers Thinner body, mouthfeel medium to medium low. Salt in finish. Malt sweetness, better balance than circle but lacks the toastiness of base
Appearance Bright brown and red, deeper color than Base, white creamy head falls quickly. Low carbonation Medium brown, slightly deeper hue than base. Thin off white head, loose and doesn’t persist
Overall Creamier mouthfeel than Base, much softer. Muddled malt character  –
CaCl2 Aroma Biscuity, malt sweetness, very low hop aroma. No roast or toast Biscuity/Bready malt but more subdued compared to base beer. Definite mineral (sulfate?) character.
Flavor Sweet, malty, stone fruit/plum, soft and round, less sharp than Base Softer, sweeter malt character, more caramel/toffee than base. Picking up salt (sodium) in finish, bitterness, dark grain bitterness nearly gone.
Appearance Brown, bright, creamy white head falls to lace. Low carbonation Medium brown, slight garnet, very clear, think week light tan head doesn’t persist.
Overall Mellow compared to Base. Much softer mouthfeel and much less robust complexity in malt. Muddled Softer on palate but salty finish, less roast, more caramel sweetness and lower bitterness


We found the beers to be very different. While it is difficult to account for the problems I created in bottling and later conditioning, the magnesium beer really stood out – where the sulfate beer was completely muted and tasted the most salty. The chloride beer was certainly the sweetest and most malty. I think the tasting notes really speak to the qualities brought to the table. Being a brown ale, the base beer really featured layers of malt and toast, with a little sweetness that complimented the bit of hops. So while there are perhaps few empirical conclusions we found that, at least in this case, the epsom did the least harm to an already very good beer. Remember that the base beer already had a moderate magnesium content, but also was better carbonated, resulting in a dry crisp finish that was missing in the evaluation beers.

The Aroma and Flavor were the most changed; the color difference likely due to darkening from oxidation. In particular, the mouthfeel from each beer was unique.

Epsom Beer: Sharpened up the toast character, reducing complex layers of malt, toast and caramel. At 40 ppm, there was a clear mineral/salt character that Neil detected, so staying well below that level is necessary. I did not pick up the salty character, but trust Neil’s palate.

Gypsum Beer: Expecting a sharper roast and hop character, we were surprised at the muddled and muted malt and hop character. This was the most oxidized of the bunch, probably from the difficulty in dissolving gypsum.

Calcium Chloride Beer: Rounded malt character and much “sweeter” on the palate. Where the Epsom beer seemed to amp up roast/toast tones, this was a muddled mess of soft malt. Nothing stood out and the toast character was gone.

Coming back to the base beer, of which we enjoyed several after the evaluation, I am very happy with the result of using epsom rather than gypsum to achieve the desired sulfate levels. Trying to pick out the role that magnesium plays is very difficult, but it adds a slight nuance to help presenting layers of malt flavors, and leaving some room for the hop bitterness and slight hop flavor and aroma. Of course, the higher level of carbonation plays a role in enhancing the dry finish, despite a fairly high FG.

Notes from Marshall of Brülosophy.com: He and a few friends approached this like a triangle test and singled out the Calcium Chloride beer as the odd beer out. They noted a much fuller and richer malt character in the Calcium Chloride Beer, where they felt the Epsom and Gypsum beers were noticeably sharper with a lingering bitterness.

I plan to return to this experiment with a pale beer, perhaps something with a very soft starting point. This will let me isolate from the base profile and more completely evaluate specific flavor contributions. A very frustrating element here is that it is impossible to eliminate the secondary -ions, with increased magnesium comes elevated chloride or sulfate. A mildly hoppy ale should allow simpler flavor notes to be easier to sense.

Westmalle Tripel

Some Changes Coming…

It has been a few weeks since my last article. In that time, I have chewed hard (over a beer or two) on what to do with this blog. When I started it, my intention was really to just cover my brewing – basically yet another brewing blog. Since then, my coverage of the Bru’n Water Spreadsheet, some of the tips & tricks for the Brew-Magic system, and the occasional  general articles have taken over – and built a strong subscriber base and traffic. No intention to become affiliated, at least until the site costs become difficult.

I have some thoughts on other topics, which will take a year or two to develop properly – yeast management, fermentation and recipe development. While I am not abandoning the focus on water management, I really want a more rounded perspective on brewing. The reality there are far better sites that cover most of the topics… so will give credit where it is due, and urge you to review those articles.

My brewing shifted last year toward competition, which means most of my brews orient around specific styles and particularly my pursuit of BJCP Certification. In this vein, I will attempt to document some brew days, recipes and, as expected, the water profiles used. Expect some Q&A around some of these topics and perhaps an interview or three. Also expect a revisit to my recipe writing, making grist bills simple with high quality malts and better hops choice.

Finally, I need to bring up my writing game and stop repeating myself. There will a more rigid structure to articles; better documentation, photos, shorter lists, and some charts and illustrations. In particular, my tasting notes will be presented more in a BJCP oriented format and start using the 2015 definitions.

As always, remember that a good deal of the information here is gleaned from home brewing and commercial brewing books, blogs, forums and websites. Be skeptical of definitive statements, especially from me; test and confirm. Surround yourself with trusted and skilled brewers and continue to learn. Most of all brew as often as possible!