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SoCo Homebrew – LHBS Done Right

If you live in Austin, you are aware of the great divide. The bridges over Lady Bird Lake, just south of downtown, is the demarcation point between the true “Keep Austin Weird” South Congress (SoCo) community and the rest. SoCo Homebrew fills a big gap that has existed for years… while the home brewing community is Austin is huge, those of us south of town have had to fight growing traffic problems to get to our only other LHBS north of town, which Chris did for several years working there in various roles, managing their retail floor and marketing.

Even if you don’t live near Austin, below you will find an excellent example a great Local Home Brew Shop (LHBS), and particularly, the kind of expertise you should expect. It’s divergent from my usual material, but worth posting about. I have no affiliation with SoCo Homebrew – just thrilled to have another choice and their great service at hand!

In January of 2014, that all changed. SoCo Homebrew opened, just south of Ben White on Congress and is bringing home brewing to a growing new community. They also embrace the independent and quirky culture that defines South Austin, while bringing a creative enthusiasm to all things fermented. They do not have an internet store, content to focus on engaging South Austin with a great location, friendliness and attitude.

There is a self-serve grain room, mills, a yeast and hops cooler. Everything you need to brew beer, cider or wine, make pickles, sauerkraut, cheese and yogurt is all organized and handy. If something isn’t in stock, ask… they most likely can order it for you. And most times, something is brewing or fermenting… and you might score a sample!

“Just a reminder to live an epic life…. that is all.” – Chris Ellison

You cannot talk about SoCo Homebrew without talking about Chris. He has been a character in the Austin home brewing scene for several years. Chris is uniquely himself, artistic, passionate and engaging. Don’t expect him to show in a suit, rather flip-flops, cargo shorts and a t-shirt is the uniform. We sat down to talk about SoCo and his love of brewing over a pint of “Hell Yes” helles lager at The ABGB. A good interview deserves good beer!

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I started brewing a couple of years before I started at AHS. I was brewing twice a week, mostly doing partial mash. I quickly learned the ins and outs and the quality of my beers improved. I have been a serious cook and foodie for a while and was able to draw from those experiences as I started making my own recipes. Brewing was an extension of my love of food.

Very few of my recipes are brewed to a specific style. I take a foodie approach that is natural for me. I have the ability to visualize and taste a recipe as I develop it. That ability is a critical component to creating solid beers; understanding the malts, extracts, hops and yeasts and their influences on the finished product. I brew at least twice a week at the shop, usually one personal batch and one for the shop.

I partial mash most of the time. It is important to understand that brewing with extracts is a valid process. Partial mashing (as opposed to steeping) allows me to control flavor, color and body, and is convenient as I am brewing and working at the same time. Fresh extract is also important, and I typically only use pale extract, letting the specialty malts shine as they should. We brew 5 gallon batches in an electric kettle which is controlled with a temperature controller. It’s a great opportunity to show new brewers easy ways to make beer. We also ferment and keg in the shop so there is a good chance a customer can see the process first hand.

We have customers that want to brew in apartments and those that brew outside on big expensive sculptures. In both cases, SoCo wants to see these brewers succeed and continue to shop with us. The ability to provide all customers with great recipes keeps them coming back. And we have lots of fun.

We really engage the local community. Tried and true recipes are great ways for brewers to experience successful results and we ask them to carefully follow the instructions. That way, we are sure their first brewing experiences make great beers! All of our recipes are in either Partial Mash and All Grain format. Having a wide variety of recipes also allows our customers to experiment with unknown styles and we are happy to consult on recipe changes or build a new recipe on the spot. Success will encourage brewers to keep on with the hobby.

You helped my neighbor Mike out with a new system and his first all grain recipe, your Town Lake IPA. It turned out fantastic by the way!

That is a great IPA. Folks like Mike help us grow the community and educate others. The more folks understand brewing, the deeper their understanding of beer and food. We want to share our passions for all things fermented, from beer to cheese, wine and ciders, even sauerkraut and hot sauces. And these are healthy ways to connect people to where their foods come from. They seek better ingredients and more locally sourced products. That is a role we value as we become an intrinsic part of the South Austin culture and beyond.

We post all of our recipes to BrewToad so anyone can access them. There are about 90 recipes there in both all grain and partial mash.  Customers can browse and choose a recipe and call ahead. We will prepare the recipe for pickup, or they can stop in and discuss some changes to make the recipe their own.

What is your best advice for the beginner brewer?

Follow the instructions and don’t over extend. Get the fundamentals down and enjoy the process. Brewing is fun, but can be over complicated and changing out ingredients or process without experience can lead to frustration. It sucks to dump an undrinkable batch of beer! Figure out what you enjoy and let us help you plan your way to more advanced brewing. We are here to help, but practical – no point in selling hundreds of dollars of stainless steel gear that will sit unused when a brewer gets frustrated.

For the record, we hold Partial Mash and All Grain as equal techniques to brew great beer. There should be no bias against using extract in brewing when proper fermentation techniques are exercised, and the time saved makes it very convenient. We love our all grain brewers, but for people with space constraints or indoor brewers, a single kettle makes things easier. I would put any of my partial mash batches against an all grain batch any day. You just cannot tell a difference.

Your thoughts on recipe creation?

Use anything at your disposal to create a recipe to match your vision. I always start with base malt extract, like pale pilsner extract. It’s the equivalent of your base malt in an all grain recipe. Then carefully add your specialty malts – focusing on desired malt flavors but using restraint. Experience is important, as are style guides if you want to stick to them. My favorite malts are rich in flavor and color, like Special B, Victory and smoked malts. I have been using the new mesquite smoked malt from Black Lands Malting recently. Lends a very nice subtle sweet smokiness to the right beers. Of course, hops come into play and I love East Kent Goldings. But for a pale ale or IPA, Citra, Mosaic, Summer and Summit have been my go-to hops. The right yeast selection brings in the right fermentation character and I use a lot of California Ale (WLP001), Cream Ale (WLP080), Kolsch (WLP029) and Mexican Lager (WLP940). That lager strain is so incredibly clean.

Of course, we have a wall full of spices and herbs traditional to brewing. I love to use culinary spices as well. I love to use ghost peppers or jalapeños and fruit. Anise or licorice root and other more unusual spices can add wonderful character. Brewers should dig deeper into their culinary experiences and use all of their senses to create beers that pair in amazing ways with their favorite foods.

Our time ran out, as did the excellent pint. Chris had to run off to help build an outdoor shower. Powered by a pressurized corny keg. I suspect beer will be sprayed at some point, perhaps for a Flashdance re-enactment after a party, or a silly beer baptism. Having someone like Chris as a home-brew resource is incredibly valuable and a boon to SoCo Homebrew.

~

Local Homebrew Supply Shops are local businesses, usually run by folks that are experienced and passionate about beer, and important to our local economies. A great LHBS will listen to you, provide good advice and welcome your questions and skepticism. Look for fresh ingredients, coolers to protect hops and yeast and a good turn over on malts. Expect good service,  good advice, and be reasonable when a problem pops up. A good LHBS will work with you to resolve any problems. Many will provide classes that focus on a variety of entry and advanced techniques and even new experiences (like making wine or cheese).

If you are in South Austin swing by and say hello. They are located at 4930 South Congress Avenue, Suite 307. Open Wednesday through Sunday. You can reach them at (512) 785-7868.

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Filling the Hopback

Damn the Torpedo… or Hopback – Part Two

Well, the jury is in on this first stage experiment. Fail. Crash and burn… In the spirit of honesty the beer sucked.

This is all hop flavor soup and way too much sweetness. A lesson in the need for balance, especially bitterness. Tastes like overly back sweetened Bud soaked in hops. If that’s your thing – nailed it.

The fermentation was one of the strangest I have ever seen. With the very crystalline wort after circulation through the hopback, a very small amount of trub made it into the fermenter. It was cloudy after passing through my oxygen stone and a slick of oils rode in the fermenter. I had high hopes when pitching the rehydrated yeast. Fermentation took off quickly, but faded around 1.020 – way to high for US-05. This was about a week in at 66 F, so I raised the temp to 68 F and waited out another week. FG was hit around 1.011/1.012 so I called it good and cold crashed, and got lazy.

The beer sat at 32 F for the better part of two weeks, but the yeast refused to floc out completely. After a very big krausen, tiny particles of yeast bobbed up and down in the fermenter, riding the release of CO2. At a week, I pulled trub, but only got creamy and active yeast. When I went to keg the beer, I looked inside after pulling a small sample to check clarity. Bits of clumps of brown krausen and yeast were floating. It looked like decanted Heady Topper (if you haven’t tried it you should – but its clear why they want you to drink from the can). Some hop material, but very small were also present. I decided not to fine the beer with gelatin – and leave one keg up to Neil to determine what he wished to do.

I kegged, and watched disgusting little brown chunks flow with otherwise reasonably bright beer into the kegs. Even pulling the final trub and yeast didn’t settle those snoticle-bullets (not the technical term, but how I felt seeing them run through the racking hose). Sealed, sanitized the posts and seated the lid. Mine got 30 PSI and a really good shaking before being put into the kegerator to finish carbonation. The sample I pulled from the fermenter was barely bitter, which I now attribute to some yeast/trub murkiness in the glass. The second keg I delivered to Neil for his analysis.

When cleaning the fermenter, I noticed a very thick three-inch high krausen ring. When I scrubbed it – came away with lots of resins all smelling of cascades. While a lovely aroma, it was a pain to clean up. Clearly the lower temp hop circulation yielded a lot of hop resins. Shame they didn’t all stay in the beer – it seems that hop oil slick was lifted out by the strong initial fermentation and krausen.

So, major disappointment. There is plenty of hop flavor, a low hop aroma and TONS of malt sweetness. I usually like to post photos, but this is too embarrassing! Neil’s samples are yielding the same response. Just not enough bitterness to yield a drinkable beer.

Tasting Notes:

Appearance: Hazy golden color. Big initial head that fades. Nice lacing. Big bubbles floating on a tight off-white foam

Aroma: Candy sweetness, some orange citrus and minty notes. Not much but malt in the aroma. No esters, no detectable off flavors. Hops in retro-nasal, but malt quickly reduces it to a mild citrus candy aroma.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Sweetness lingers past any carbonation tingle. Slightly drying, perhaps a little astringency at first taste – overwhelmed by the residual sweetness.

Flavor: All malt. Syrupy without caramel or biscuit flavors. Tastes a bit like hop candy. Strong presence of hop flavors, but little to no bitterness beyond the carbonic bite. A bit like a wee heavy with a crap ton of hops late, but none of the caramel or toast. No alcohol burn, very clean fermentation character. Certainly not an IPA or an APA. More like poorly made triple without any bittering or yeast character.

Overall: Disappointing. Sweetness is not letting the hops shine. Muddled. Needs a firm bitterness to offset the sweet. Hard to finish the sample.

So what happened? In the earlier post I noted that the temperature dropped very quickly and stabilized at 160 F well below isomerization temperatures. So clearly this screwed up any bitterness contribution during the 25 minute circulation period… so essentially this was a huge low temperature hop stand. Otherwise, the beer, if filtered, would be very clear and the head retention is amazing. The flavor is intensely hoppy – but not bitter – a sweet hop soup with tons of citrus and spice. The spice was interesting is that I did not expect it – perhaps some chlorophyll or other vegetable flavors were extracted.

Saving this beer? I tried boiling a portion of the finished beer with 4 ounces of Columbus (14% aa) yielding a pretty nasty looking but wonderfully aromatic hop soup. I tossed in 2 ounces each of cascade and columbus to dry hop into the boil at the end to sterilize and dumped it all (ok I did it very carefully…). After a day, I pulled some pretty rank sludge from the bottom until I got a hazy but acceptable beer. The bitterness helps a lot, and now this drinks a lot like a DIPA with a sweet finish. Still murky as heck, so have fined it with gelatin to more quickly drop the garbage and gnarly bits out. Happy with the result – but time will tell if we get oxidized beer. It’s an experiment anyway.

Planning for Round 2 – we are going to rebrew, but fire the kettle after flame out and circulation is started to ensure the wort stays above 180 F for the duration of the ‘stand’. This should provide substantial (but unknown) bitterness adequate to offset the sweet malt. A low flame should adequately keep the temperatures up. Also, I have a three-way valve now that will prevent the wort passing through the chiller which took away much of the heat initially. AND I have reset the seal and pressure tested so that the losses will only be to hop absorption and not spill infused wort all over the floor.

Conclusions: Can’t really read too much into this failure. More experimentation is needed, and certainly the temperature comes into play with the alpha acid isomerization…. have to keep the hops hot long enough for some bitterness. And finally – unhopped (meaning no bitter to balance the malt) beer sucks. Far more practical to make a FWH or 60 minute addition to get it right.

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Bru’n Water 3.2 Subscriber Edition Walkthrough

In March 2015, Martin Brungard released the Bru’n Water Spreadsheet 3.2 to subscribers with major improvements to UI and functionality. This walk through supercedes the 2.0 version which will remain up if you choose not to upgrade.  If you have not yet received your 3.0 version, I suggest another small donation which will trigger the release to you within a few hours.

Martin Brungard’s Bru’n Water spreadsheet is an excellent modelling tool for managing your brewing water. Below, we will walk through the Subscriber version 3.2 of the spreadsheet with specific examples, and point out the areas that give you new and improved options. Fortunately, while the update is significant, familiarity with either the Free versions or the Version 2.0 Subscriber spreadsheet will give you a head start!

Please donate and get the subscriber version!
This will not only give you access to some key advanced features, but also ensure this tool continues to be supported and updated as required. The subscriber version will be emailed to you.

What you will need:

  1. Your water report with the variables important for brewing. You can build a list from the spreadsheet. Ward Labs is an independent testing facility, and provides a brewing specific report. My Ward Labs report will be used in this tutorial.
  2. A computer with supported spreadsheet software and basic familiarity with spreadsheets. M. Brungard lists the requirements on his website.
  3. A recipe and some understanding of what your target water profile might be.

Note: Clicking on the images below will open a full sized and more legible version in your browser.

BWS 3.0 Instructions Page

If you are familiar with the previous versions of BWS, then you will notice the order of the tabs has changed. This allows for a more natural input approach and step order.

At the bottom of the spreadsheet you will see a variety of colored tabs. The first, and an important tab, is “0. Instructions” which provides details on water chemistry, as well as information on using the following worksheets. PLEASE READ! Bru’n Water looks complicated, but it’s not that difficult to use once you enter the basic data and learn how the program works. You probably won’t be able to use the program instantly without reading the instructions. At the end of the spreadsheet, you can also find a Water Knowledge tab, which contains much of the contents you will find online at the Bru’n Water website.

Tips:

  1. Save a master version of this spreadsheet with your water report input. This allows you to return to a known good state for a new recipe.
  2. Save often. Hiccups happen – don’t lose your work.
  3. Save a copy of the spreadsheet with your beer name, revision number and date to allow you to return to the spreadsheet and make any necessary comments or adjustments for a future brew. If you make changes in a later brew – re-save with a new version number in the title.

Step 1: Water Report Input

Click on the worksheet tab at the bottom of the screen named Water Report Input and get your water report handy. As mentioned, I have my Ward Labs Report and will put in the pertinent information from my report in this example. I highly recommend getting a brewer’s specific report. Typically the analysis is specific to the sample that you draw, and usually will adequately ‘balance’. If your Cations/Anions delta is larger than 0.50, you should contact the lab for a retest. Wards Labs has made a few changes in their procedures recently increasing the accuracy of their carbonate and bicarbonate measurements, however, you should also look at the Total Alkalinity calculator and see if the results help to better balance your report (more later). I also recommend testing at least once a year, but more often if your water is seasonably variable. This can help you make adjustments accordingly throughout the year.

Be careful to follow the instructions in the spreadsheet, especially when inputting Sulfate and Nitrate concentrations. These may need to be modified, depending on the metric presented in the water report.

Figure 2- a Ward Labs Water Quality report for Brewers.

Figure 2- a Ward Labs Water Quality report for Brewers.

Comment from AJ DeLange: “Whenever alkalinity is available in a water report use the alkalinity value rather than the bicarbonate/carbonate numbers which are calculated from the alkalinity. In the case of Ward Labs reports, such as the one given as an example here, the bicarbonate and carbonate are calculated incorrectly. For pH 8.3 and alkalinity of 503 the bicarbonate is approximately 607 and the carbonate 5. Specifying 582 and 15 to the spreadsheet have to confuse it as that ratio is not possible at pH 8.3 (the spreadsheet should ask for alkalinity or be modified to check for incorrect data like that in this example).” This means that I should allow the Total Alkalinity calculator (lines 12-14) determine the bicarbonate level – doing so, I increase the Ion Balance Result significantly.

The bottom area of the worksheet contains a variety of useful “Ion Concentration Conversion Calculators” to help convert common report measurements into useful data. As you can see – input a value into the cyan cell – and the result will read in the yellow as PPM or Parts Per Million. The spreadsheet also has information and tips embedded.

Note: Hovering the cursor over cells with the red marks in the corner should pop up comments that can help guide what you should input or understand in that cell.

BWS 3.0 Water Report Input

My Water – Salty and Alkaline disaster!

In the case of my water report data from Ward Labs, you will notice that I needed to modify the sulfate and nitrate values from the report results to use in the spreadsheet using simple math.

Report value conversions maybe necessary for Sulfate and Nitrate

A report’s figure conversions maybe necessary for Sulfate and Nitrate

First thing to notice in my water report is that I have ridiculously high levels of sodium in my water. Roughly equivalent to 2 grams per gallon. This alone renders my filtered tap water worthless for brewing, even as a diluent. But using the section below the Ion Concentrations tables, I can get a sense of how accurate the laboratory report is. That green box for Cation/Anion difference stays green under 0.5, and shows that my lab report balances. A balanced water report result suggests that it is more likely that the reported results are reasonably accurate. This is very important when using statistical reports from municipal water companies where water ion concentrations (including chlorine/chloramine) may fluctuation seasonally. Most municipalities will run tests sporadically, and not always synchronized to a single snapshot so I strongly recommend a Ward Labs report for brewing!

Matt's Horrible Tap Water

See the previous picture for an example using the values adjusted for Total Alkalinity, replacing bicarbonate and carbonate values.

An important result from the water report is that the spreadsheet calculates the Total Alkalinity as CaCO3 at 502, the RA Effective Hardness at 33, and the Residual Alkalinity (RA) as 492. This is a tremendous amount of alkalinity for a mash to overcome. I struggled for several years brewing with this water. When I finally invested in a pH meter and attempted to hit a mash pH of 5.4, I realized that I had some serious problems. The amounts of acid I was using was flavoring the beers, and it took a very long time for my mashes to convert… as a result, the beers were flabby, poor malty characteristics, and often very tannic and astringent.

For these two primary reasons (high sodium and alkalinity) – I use 100% Reverse Osmosis (RO) treated water and build my brewing water from scratch using mineral additions. If your water report shows ions that are very high, you may need to employ dilution or replacement of your water with RO or distilled water to make it more suited for brewing.  Please be aware that if my water had low sodium and a more modest bicarbonate content, I might have been able to neutralize the bicarbonate with a reasonable acid addition or process it in a way to remove much of the bicarbonate through slaked lime reactions. Moving forward with my particular water – I will be diluting 100% with RO water in the spreadsheet. This also brings an advantage in that my water is far more consistent as it is not subject to the whims of the seasons or the water provider, but also the flexibility to use some amount of my tap water to raise alkalinity if I choose.

If you solely use RO or DI water, you might skip this section. However, it is useful to use dilution of tap water as a tool to manage alkalinity or for a specific hardness mineral. If this is the case, I still recommend filling out the primary water profile and using the dilution tools later, even at 100% dilution.

Step 2: Sparge Water Acidification

Remember I said you need a beer recipe handy? We need to consider the recipe and determine if the sparge water needs to be acidified to account for potential tannin extraction. When the mash pH rises over 6.0 and the temperature approaches 170º F (76º C) the potential for polyphenol, silica and tannin extraction rises – resulting in husk/grain astringency in the end beer. Because a Robust Porter has a significant dark roast contribution, we want the sparge pH to be below 6.0. This requires a very small 88% Lactic Acid addition. I will often target my desired mash pH just to be safe.

Note: If you sparge with 100% RO or DI water, this is probably not necessary. The extreme low levels of alkalinity should not cause the mash pH to rise much during a sparge. Also – if you Batch Sparge, the contact time with the grist is very small – assuming you dump in the sparge water, stir vigorously, vorlauf, and run off at a fairly fast rate. You need to determine if this component is required for your process. If you begin to detect astringency in your end beer (not from wild yeast) consider utilizing Sparge Acidification to eliminate that variable. Another area to look at might be your mill settings.

BWS 3.0 Sparge Acidification

You can see in the above image that I have set the dilution rate to 100% RO water and targeted a sparge pH of 6.0. I have left line 11 set to 1 gallon as this will automatically pick up the sparge volume in the Water Adjustment tab when we fill it out later.

Note: With the 3.0 version, we now have up to 2 acid addition choices per Sparge and per Water Adjustment. In the drop downs, are more acids are supported including acetic, hydrochloric, lactic, phosphoric, sulfuric, citric, tartaric, malic and CRS. Of course, most homebrewers will choose phosphoric, lactic or CRS. If using other acids – make sure they are food grade.

Step 3: Grain Bill Input

We are now ready to input our Grain Bill. I have gotten into the habit of putting the maltster name into the spreadsheet as many variations between maltsters occur within general malt types. Example, Best Maltz Munich is roughly 8.3 L and maybe slightly less acidic than other Munich products at 10 L. You will need to make some assumptions about the grain type, as well as the color (Lovibond), or use the values provided by malt lot sheets where you can. If you use EBC rather than Lovibond, a drop down is provided to change the value, but you need to convert values yourself. The more accurate you can be here, the better. Many of the errors I have seen have been caused by mis-categorized malts or incorrect color. There are some additional hints (colored boxes) that will show when a color is outside of the expected value for a given category the cell turns red. Also – double check your work against your recipe application or spreadsheet looking at Percentage of Grain Bill and Total Weight. For now – ignore the remaining values, unless you are using Acid Malt.

BWS 3.0 Grain Bill Input

Note: Because of variability of certain aciduated malts & sauermaltz by source, you can adjust the apparent strength in line 26. This is best accomplished by brewing with the acid malt addition, and adjusting the value up or down until you reach the measured stable mash pH and matching it to the mash pH estimate in Bru’n Water. Whenever using acid or acid malt to adjust a mash – I highly recommend using a stable, freshly calibrated pH meter. Martin Brungard uses Weyerman Aciduated Malt as the baseline average of 1.

Let’s pick a Robust Porter grist, because the roasted grains will dramatically impact my mash pH. I want to add the minimal minerals necessary to achieve my flavor profile and to reach a desirable mash pH estimate. This may require a small amount of alkalinity since my RO base water has very low alkalinity (<30 ppm alkalinity as CaCO3).

For 11.75 gallons or 44.5 liters (please forgive the non-standard batch size),

20 lb or 9 kg Great Western Brewers Malt 2-Row (2.0 L)

2 lb or 0.9 kg Simpsons Medium Crystal (55.0 L)

1.6 lb or 0.73 kg Best Maltz Munich (8.3 L)

12.0 oz or 0.34 kg Dingeman Debittered Black Malt (500 L)

10.0 oz or 0.28 kg Fawcett Pale Chocolate (250.0 L)

4.0 oz or 0.11 kg Crisp Roast Barley (300.0 L)

This matches with my BeerSmith recipe values. I am leaving the crystal and roast malts in the mash, but there are options to add them late in the mash or during lautering (a good choice if you cold steep). However, be aware that any additional acidity from the crystal/roast malt will still follow into the kettle – if you manage your boil pH. Also, we are going to target a 5.5 mash pH estimate as suggested for darker color beers.

Note: A few specialty malts and base malts fall outside the ‘averages’ that are used to calculate their buffering and acid contributions. If you are using a new specialty malt, or have questions relative to specific malts, it is a good idea to visit the Bru’n Water site or Facebook page and see if something has been mentioned. In most cases, follow the specific category, but for some lightly kilned roasts, the base malt or crystal categories may be more accurate. If you brew and the resulting stabilized mash pH is significantly different, revisit this worksheet and change either categories or Lovibond color values to isolate the malt. I would also encourage the use of a test mash on any new recipe that maybe outside of your brewing experience. This data will allow you to tweak the worksheet before the big batch, resulting in more accurate information.

Step 4: Water Adjustment

This page is where we can quickly select a water profile (or create our own), manage dilution (if required), and get a good understanding of the correlation to calcium bearing minerals to mash pH. This page has changed since Version 2.0, but the overall interface looks and functions very much the same. Make sure to pay attention to the Row Names as you now have more profile indicators than before.

It is very important to get your volumes correct. I tend to round the BeerSmith volume recommendations, but have modified my mash profiles to provide a 1.5 quart/pound grist ratio to facilitate my RIMS system. So when inputting these volumes, I try to match to the neared 1/4 gallon value. This recipe calls for 10 gallons of Mash liquor and 7.25 gallons of Sparge liquor. I treat these volumes separately out of convenience for my 3-vessel brew house, but you can treat all of the water together if you prefer. You will notice that, unless specified otherwise, the actual weights of minerals are based on the concentration of the addition in grams/gallon.

BWS 3.0 Water Adjustment

For this beer, I am going to use the Black Balanced selection under Desired Water Profile, but any of the three options would work fine. Another key difference from Version 2.0 you may note is that the beer color profile names have shifted slightly to FULL, BALANCED and DRY to better indicate the effects of the sulfate:chloride ratios. FULL equates to the former MALTY indicator and DRY equates to BITTER. For more information on this – please revisit the Water Knowledge page. This distinction is important and a better way to express the effects of sulfate and chloride on the mouth feel of the finished beer and contribution to flavor expression.

You may also note that the upper profile tables no longer include RA, Sulfate:Chloride ratios, or even the Cation/Anion indicators. This simplifies the interface tremendously, and removes the temptation to target values that may cause you to add excess minerals, acids or alkali – that may impact the flavor of your beer negatively. Those values are now reported on the Adjustment Summary and appropriately represent the finished product.

While working to match the profile, I am watching the Mashing Water Profile closely andmonitoring the Overall Finished Water Profile, with an eye to the Estimated Mash pH. Because I split my additions between Mash and Sparge, the values are different. Mashing Water Profile drives the estimated Mash pH value, while the Overall Finished Water Profile drives what goes into the boil kettle. This distinction should give you much better information to determine the impact of your mineral additions, and give clues to what will happen in the boil.

I prioritize Gypsum, Calcium Chloride and Epsom salts as my primary flavor additions but you can work in any order you prefer. The Mineral list has been re-ordered to show the primary flavor minerals first and alkali choices last (see WARNING below). This reordering maybe confusing at first, but makes much more sense in my workflow. Here, we will add 0.25 gram/gallon Gypsum and 0.20 grams/gallon Calcium Chloride. This gets me in the ball park of my primary flavor ions and brings my estimated Mash pH down to about 5.36. I need to make a choice here as my mash pH is slightly lower than my desired target around 5.5. Also – you will note that the calcium load is lower than the 50 ppm indicated in the profile. As this is a dark beer, I am less concerned about clarity. A recent article in Zymurgy by M. Brungard (Ca and Mg in Brewing Water) indicates that 30 ppm Ca is adequate for oxalate precipitation, break formation in the kettle and good yeast flocculation. You may choose to increase calcium to 50 ppm.

WARNING: The re-ordering of the minerals in the spreadsheet will cause confusion if you are used to the V 2.0 spreadsheet. Slow down and make sure you are using the right rows, and reading the ingredients on the Adjustment Summary. Muscle memory may have you grab Epsom salts instead of calcium chloride by accident!

I can add either 0.25 grams/gallon of baking soda, which will add some sodium or use Pickling Lime at 0.15 grams/gallon to achieve a 5.5 estimated mash pH. I chose pickling lime simply for it’s faster reaction in the mash, which should allow for the mash pH to stabilize more quickly. I also suspect that I have moderate sodium in my RO output – and tend to avoid additional sodium. From a style perspective, it maybe more appropriate to have a bit more sodium as indicated in the water profile. My finished profile, as indicated in the screenshot above, adequately covers my desired expectations. We need to get close and manage any compromises, but it is not necessary and impractical to match ion concentrations to the PPM.

Note: You can make some choices at this point, including where to add the sparging minerals (in the mash?) or if you would like to put the hardness minerals into the boil kettle. There is also a calculator to use a hydrous solution of CaCl2 as opposed to dry weight if you are concerned about the hygroscopic nature of the dry form. CaCl2 takes on humidity reducing its concentration by weight.

WaterAdjustmentProfiles

If you scroll down in the spreadsheet, you will see a large set of water profiles shown above. All  are editable, and you are free to tweak the profiles to your preferences. Do make sure to keep the profiles balanced in anion/cation. As previously mentioned, when using a profile that is regional, it is highly recommended to use the profile with “(boiled)” in the name. This shows you the original profile de-carbonated much as the brewery would do to treat the water. This will allow you to brew without adding unnecessary acids or alkali into your mineral schedule. Of particular interest are the Color and Style profiles, which may provide an excellent starting off point for creating your preferred water profile for a given beer. Look for Pale Ale Profile or the Yellow/Brown/Black + Dry/Balanced/Full profiles. An open User Custom line is provided.

Below this, you can modify (if you choose) the water profiles for dilution water. One can do some calculations based on your RO filter’s efficiency and figure out the general ion concentrations which may resolve a more accurate profile configuration. Again, this should be worked out such that the cation/anion ratio balances.

Some additional hints:

NEVER add an alkali addition when you are using acid. 

Using alkali additions to build toward a water profile tends to be a bad idea. Those choices are Baking Soda, Pickling Lime and Chalk and should only be used to increase your estimated mash pH when the estimate is low. Chalk is no longer recommended, but seems to have a strong hold in many brewers minds. Chalk dissolves very slowly and the increased amount required to move mash pH up rapidly (during the period of the mash) means that the buffering effect will extend well into your boil and into the fermenter.

Re-Adjust your mineral additions after adding the alkaline minerals.

In all cases, ion concentrations will naturally be affected by the mineral addition. When we use the alkali additions, we are usually adding more calcium, sodium or bicarbonate. While this can be beneficial, we will likely need to modify our primary constituents to account for the shift. Always prioritize proper mash pH over your flavor ions!

Do NOT target a water profile’s Bicarbonate level.

Practically, exactly matching a profile bicarbonate level will result in using more mineral salts and acid than you need. Less is more in these instances. Adding bicarbonate that then needs to be neutralized by liquid acid additions is self defeating, and can create slow the stabiliziation of the mash to the required measured mash pH. In the example above, if I matched the bicarbonate level exactly, I would need additional acid to reduce my mash pH level to an expected level. See the first hint above! The only instance I would recommend this procedure is to replicate a historical and regional water profile, but also remember that breweries treat their water to remove bicarbonates – choose de-carbonated/boiled regional profiles.

By playing with the amounts of various minerals, Gypsum at 0.13 g/gal (grams per gallon), Epsom at 0.6 g/gal and Calcium Chloride at 0.26 g/gal I can achieve most of the desired flavor profile. While Calcium is critical to a healthy fermentation and has desirable effects in the boil, it is not an absolute requirement to have a minimum of 50 ppm, much less the indicated 60 ppm in the “Black Dry” profile. I am completely ignoring the Bicarbonate levels “Black Dry” profile and not worrying so much about the calcium!

I am at this point manipulating the mash pH and flavor ions, aware that a dark beer will require less additional acidification and likely will need an alkaline addition to achieve the right mash pH. This thinking will come more naturally as you brew with the spreadsheet as you observe how minerals and acid influence the mash. At this point, a quick look shows that my Estimated Mash pH is lower than desired, and I need to use 0.15 g/gal of Pickling Lime to achieve an estimate near to 5.5. The side benefit is that calcium is slightly supplemented. Baking Soda would be a safer choice, but also elevate the sodium ion. You will need to decide which works better for you and your personal tastes. 

Mineral additions should be weighed out carefully on a reliable gram-weight scale. A small error has a large potential impact! I add my Mash additions to my strike water before grain-in to ensure they fully dissolve. The same would apply to the Sparge water additions, with a possible liquid acid addition. Also note that the spreadsheet recommends adding the Pickling Lime directly to the mash, and not into the prepared strike water. Stir vigorously to ensure complete dissolution of all of the minerals!

Note: Even though we didn’t use any liquid acid in this example, at the bottom of the sheet is the appropriate place to plan out any required acids. And you should note that a sparge addition is also provided here, based on the Sparge volume that you entered on this worksheet.

Step 4: Review

I left this step off previous tutorials, however I am prone to entering incorrect data or rushing.

  1. Review your Sparge Acidification tab. Now that all of the information is correct, you can see the estimated amounts of acid required (should you acidify). Check your Target Water pH as well as the acid and strength. Look for a Final Water Alkalinity < 25 ppm when possible.
  2. Review your Grain Bill Input Worksheet. Recheck the malts and categories, as well as the amounts and the expected color. Check these against your beer recipe program or worksheet and make sure they are as expected. If using acid malt and you know you need to adjust the apparent strength of that acid contribution – do it now (again, only after a test batch to confirm and follow the instructions on the tool tip). Verify your Estimated Room-Temperature Mash pH.
  3. Review your Water Adjustment worksheet. Look for glaring errors and review your work. Ensure the volumes of Mash and Sparge water are correct and that you have adequately covered the ion concentrations for the chosen water profile. Review tool tips on any cells that are showing RED or otherwise indicating a possible problem. Address those as necessary. Review your mineral additions. Look out past the tables on line 33 to determine the PPM concentration of acid -ions that are added into the water.

BWS 3.0 Water Adjustment Results

I like to print this last summary out, and scale to fit the printout. The larger text is easier to read than the old version with the RA chart and useful as I am weighing things out and preparing my liquor. This goes into a folder with my recipe printout and notes from the brew day.

Step 6: Cut & Paste into your Beer Recipe Application

To keep things up to date in BeerSmith (or other application), you can easily cut and paste the text version of the results found on the Raw Text Summary. This allows me to quickly reference the water profile used without opening up Excel or digging through my written notes. Simply highlight the desired information, copy and then paste into the NOTES section of your application.

BWS 3.0 Raw Text

BeerSmith Notes

Now, just go brew!

Special thanks to /u/vinpaysdoc from Homebrewdad.com and Reddit for providing editing and comments. You can check out his Primer to Bru’n Water at Homebrewdad.com.

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