Walkthrough – Bru’n Water Subscriber Edition, V 5.3

The Bru’n Water Spreadsheet is a tool to help manage your mash and water chemistry in your brewery. Over the years, Martin Brungard has made many refinements to the spreadsheet and incorporated highly detailed features. While the spreadsheet and water chemistry can be daunting, once you understand the basics and use the sheet a few times, it becomes straightforward. Do not be intimidated, take the walkthrough!

As a subscriber to Bru’n Water Spreadsheet, I received this edition of the spreadsheet at the end of July 2018. It does take time for Martin Brungard to notify everyone, so be patient. Version 5.3 represents a major update and justifies a new top-down walkthrough as there are many changes. Warning, this post will be lengthy! If you are a free version user, you will see how much more flexibility and detail you can obtain by becoming a subscriber/donor.

I am an enthusiastic user of Bru’n Water, not an employee. I believe that you will make better beer with a key understanding of mash chemistry, and Bru’n Water is, in my opinion, simply the very best tool for mash chemistry stoichiometry and mash pH estimation. I highly encourage you to visit https://sites.google.com/site/brunwater/ and make a donation to get the Subscriber Edition.

Why Mash Chemistry?

pH meter calibration
pH meter calibration

Beer is mostly water and water’s constituent -ions (anions and cations) have a large influence on flavor and mouthfeel perceptions in the finished beer. In addition, proper mash pH ensures efficient conversion of starches to sugars and minimizes tannin (polyphenol) extraction that may influence astringency and allows fuller flavor from the malt. Beer mashing is a system of organic chemical reactions that are influenced by grain bill, mash pH management, and water (or -ion content). We are seeking an optimum that maximizes good flavors and reduces or eliminates off flavors, off aromas, and undesirable mouthfeel which may vary depending on the beer style you are brewing.

Goodmanham Arms Pub, real cask ales!

Historically, regional beer styles likely evolved from the local water sources, for example, pale hoppy pilsners worked well with the very soft water from Pilz, and darker beers worked naturally with moderately hard or alkaline water sources. There are always exceptions. Be aware that many regional water profiles are unbalanced and do not come from a rational brewer’s perspective. Use a reliable source.

I know many home brewers that balk at my recommendation to use a blank slate of Reverse Osmosis (Ro) or Distilled, De-ionized (DI) water for liquor, as brewing with local water supplies will force the brewer to learn to explore styles that best suite their water. My water sucks, with tremendously high sodium and bicarbonate levels, and I struggled for several years to figure this out. I recommend skipping that frustrating right of passage, but it is a hallmark of a good brewer to find what styles best fit their local water.

I brew exclusively with Reverse Osmosis water at home. I have a high-efficiency, high-flow rate system set to 1:1 exchange; a gallon of good water for a gallon of brine. I capture the very salty alkaline rejection water in a bin and use it to water plants (those that love alkalinity anyway) and for cleaning. Even with 96% filter efficiency, I get a tiny bit of residual -ions that must be augmented with calcium, chloride, and sulfate for brewing. Because the alkalinity of my water is so low, I use far less acid than someone with moderate alkalinity in their waters. I recommend a large carbon block pre-filter to avoid chlorine poisoning your RO stages.

Many brewers have great water for a broad spectrum of beers. Some will blend their existing water to dilute alkalinity or other -ion levels to their preference. How you approach this is a personal choice and you should consider your tolerance for wastewater, investment in a filter system, and the kit needed to measure tiny salt amounts against the expected results.

Sanitation chemistry from your water source must be removed! Most public water providers use chlorine or chloramines to deliver safe and contamination free drinking water to your home. Chlorine and chloramines are safe for human consumption at the regulated dosing rates, however, all chlorine chemistry could ruin your beer in the mash, boil, or fermenter.

This is easily accomplished by using 1 Campden tablet (Sodium Metabisulfite) per 20 gallons, which will dechlorinate the water rapidly. Activated Charcoal filters will work for chlorine at a slow flow rate, but the contact times for chloramines require a painfully slow flow rate, and it may still break through the filter. A common off flavor in homebrew competitions is the presence of chlorophenols, which most often is diagnosed as exposure to chlorine compounds, or a possible contamination of spoilage bacterium, and can bring medicinal, plastic, band-aid like off flavors.

Bru’n Water allows you to input your source water report, grain bill, and generate mash pH estimates, as well as make educated additions of mineral salts, acids, and bases, to optimize your desired flavor and mash pH contributions. It is not automated, but it is a simple matter to make small changes to match a target profile.

You can use this spreadsheet without using a pH meter. To do so is to put a lot of confidence in the Mash pH Estimate, without a confirmation measurement. While I highly recommend using a high-quality pH meter, BWS will get you very close to that optimum mash pH and mineral content. It certainly is better than just ignoring water chemistry all together!

All pH values are given at room temperature.

The Spreadsheet

BWS Water Input
Bru’n Water Spreadsheet, Water Report Input Page

Bru’n Water is a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and now uses macros, which may cause a warning box on opening. Make sure to click “Enable Macros”. If you do not have Excel, consider LibreOffice as a free alternative. If in Excel, you will want to click on the Formulas tab and check-mark the “Enable iterative calculation” box.

For LibreOffice, go to Tools, Options, LibreOffice Calc, Calculations, and check the “Iterative References” box. These actions avoid a warning box when opening the spreadsheet, and ensure proper functionality.

This demonstration uses the Mac version of Office and the screenshots will look a little different than in Windows. The spreadsheet opens in Compatibility mode. Upon opening, I suggest you “Save As” immediately as an “Excel Macro-Enabled Workbook (.xmls)” to work fully native and avoid potential macro issues with compatibility mode. You will still need to enable macros each time the spreadsheet is opened.

Otherwise, we will assume a basic understanding of spreadsheets in general.

Bru’n Water’s workflow is Tab driven. At the bottom of the page you will see the following Tabs which are iteratively used to create a mash water solution:

0. Instructions

1. Water Report Input

2. Sparge Acidification

3. Grain Bill Input

4. Water Adjustment

5. Adjustment Summary

6. Data Manager

Raw Text Summary

Water Knowledge

At the end of this walkthrough, I will highlight some Tips and Tricks.

Tab 0: Instructions

Please read this. It covers the practical functionality of the spreadsheet as well as links to the Bru’n Water Knowledge website. We will essentially follow these steps in order.

Tab 1: Water Report Input

Garbage in = Garbage out. That applies to brewing-water and you need a report that can resolve a balance in cations/anions in milliequivalent per liter (meq/L). I highly recommend that you get a Brewer (W-5A) or Household (W-6) report from Ward Labs, but you may be able to get an averaged report from your local water supply that is adequate. A local report may require some tweaking and estimation and seasonal management as many municipalities blend water sources that vary quite a bit. There are also test kits that will get you within 2% accuracy of a lab report. The benefit is the ability to measure on the fly and address season changes in your water immediately.

If Bru’n Water was a stand-alone application, this tab (and Sparge Acidification) would be the “Preferences” or “Settings” option. Once you have this information input, you will not normally need to return to it. Set it and forget it.

The top half of this page (hint: zoom in on the cells) starts with your -ion (anion and cation) constituents, those important to brewing. Bru’n Water supports both Metric and US volume standards, and common commercial brewery volumes. Use the drop down to choose your preference. For this walkthrough, we will use Gallons.

It is a good idea to have your water lab tested as close as possible to your brewing scenario – meaning post filtration (activated charcoal, RO, DI) and seasonally if just using your tap water source without a reducing filter of some kind. Using that report, enter the information into the Light Blue cells, paying attention to the notes next to the Sulfate and Nitrate entry.

Here’s my gawd-awful water from outside of Bastrop, Texas. Please go ahead and laugh. I’ll wait.

New Feature: Convert Water Inputs to Boiled Results?

On line-14, you will see this feature, which attempts to estimate the effect of pre-boiling to reduce alkalinity. Clearly, my tap water, which is extremely high in alkalinity might benefit, as boiling causes chalk (calcium carbonate or CaCO3) to precipitate, dramatically reducing alkalinity. However, my water is starved of calcium so I would need to add a calcium salt before boiling to be effective. The user would select a  “Boiling Effectiveness” setting. For this reason, I get no result when I “Click to Convert.” A tooltip (look for the red triangles on cells) is available to help make the choice.

If you pre-boil for low oxygen purposes, this may be a useful tool to help determine the resulting alkalinity and the loss of calcium from precipitation of chalk. However, in most cases, you will not be adequately cooling the water to force full precipitation risking DO uptake.

On line-17, you will find the Ion Balance Results section. Here we see the math needed to determine if the provided water profile balances. Generally, you want the Cation/Anion Difference to be below 0.5, and that field is color-coded to provide a warning. As mine is at 0.43, we can proceed, however, using the tools in the lower section, we may be able to tighten up the water profile. The cell will turn red if out of balance, and your resulting water chemistry will not balance properly.

Under the heading found at lines 26 and 27, I input reported Total Alkalinity as CaCO3, and find that Ward Labs may have incorrectly estimated bicarbonate and carbonate. This is also indicated in the previous area by the TDS, which mismatches my report. I am working from an older Ward Labs report. AJ DeLange has since worked with them to correct their estimation resolution, but it is good to double check.

As you can see, the spreadsheet estimates that my bicarbonate and carbonate levels are 602.4 and 5.5 ppm respectively. So if I go back to the top area and make those corrections, you will see the delta increased slightly, however, these numbers mirror conversations with both Martin Brungard and AJ DeLange over the years in terms of better correction algorithms. So I will go with it. A more detailed lab report would include potassium and iron and other -ions that may bring my report closer to a perfect ratio.

Here accuracy is a distinction without much import. Having an acceptable Cation/Anion ratio is more important than accuracy +/- 1 ppm on each -ion for our purposes. Accuracy relative to mash pH within 0.1 units is acceptable to me, assuming I am doing a normal beer. Since I use RO water, this page is less important personally, but I keep it here to allow the occasional blending step. The ratio suggests that I have some addition cations that are not in the report or underestimated.

At this point, I highly suggest SAVING!

Tab 2: Sparge Acidification

Click on the “2. Sparge Acidification” tab and you will find that many variables carry over from the Water Report Input tab. Here, we begin to see the important variables for traditional lauter methods, such as continuous sparging. We are now jumping ahead procedurally (for a reason) to the last stage of the mash, as this drives results for the Water Adjustment tab. The lauter or the sparge is the rinsing of residual sugars from the mash by adding  water to the top of the mash while draining the sweet wort into a boil kettle from the bottom.

It is important to understand that as fresh hot water is added at the top of the mash (fly sparge), it moves through the mash bed in a gradient, diluting any remaining buffering capacity of the malts and potentially moving the mash pH of that gradient up into a range that risks tannin extraction. If you have any substantial alkalinity in the sparge water, this pH move can be dramatic, and risk astringency in the finished beer.

Many professional texts recommend the acidification (or reduction of alkalinity) of sparge liquor to ensure the mash pH never exceeds 6.0. By adding acid, we are neutralizing the alkalinity of the liquor and therefore reducing its ability to raise the mash pH as it concentrates at the top and moves through mash bed.

No-sparge brewers can ignore this section as there is no lautering step. Your mash pH has already reached more or less equilibrium by the time you mash out, even with the high water to grain ratios, and your final mash pH will become your pre-boil kettle pH.

Batch sparge brewers may wish to ignore this section because the runoff occurs very quickly and there is much less time for pH swings to occur in the mash. However, consider that an elevated pre-boil pH in the kettle (assuming moderate to high alkalinity in your sparge water) may affect hot break formation and may cause more intense and harsh hop character (hop utilization is affected by wort pH), but opinions vary here. Again, a personal choice.

Another benefit of sparge acidification is a shorter time to hot break in the boil. As wort boils, pH naturally lowers, proteins denature and coagulate to form hot break around 4.9-5.2 pH. Longer times in this range create potentially more hot break material, left behind in the kettle. High boil pH is alleged to produce a more pronounced and harsh hop character and may extract more polyphenols (tannins and grassiness) from the hop organic material. All of this is a matter of personal preference and experience.

You will find that some breweries use a higher boil pH to increase hop utilization, where others prefer a lower pH. This tab can provide you a vector for experimentation but do take good notes. Note that boil intensity can also encourage hot break formation. Some brewers prefer a strong boil throughout, some simmer (even partially covered) and then ramp to a strong boil at the end of the boil period. A period of medium to strong boil will encourage break formation as well.

As you can see, we are working with Starting Water Alkalinity, and my tap water is just stupidly alkaline. If your Total Alkalinity is above 160 ppm as CaCO3, you may consider dilution with RO or Distilled Water for most beer styles. I typically just use RO, so I set the “Type of Dilution Water Used” to RO with 100% Percent Dilution Water.

This dramatically impacts my Diluted Water pH. I tend to set my Target Water pH to just a few units above or at my desired mash pH. From my experiments, I prefer the resulting lower kettle pre-boil pH. Leave the Water Volume to Treat field at 1.0 gallons as this allows the tool to automatically calculate the additions in the future tabs. Next, choose your acid choices (can have up to two) and I use 88% Lactic acid right now in my brewery.

In the lower area of the tab, you will see the Outputs section, as well as some specific recommendations. Mainly, it makes little sense to add alkaline salts into the sparge water, because it will require additional acid to neutralize that alkalinity to remain within your chosen mash pH.

Acids add residual compounds such as lactate that may have flavor impacts you may wish to minimize or even maximize, depending on your goals. You will see later that those are calculated and warnings presented should they stray into threshold perceptible levels.

Our final liquor alkalinity is nominal at 2 ppm as CaCO3 in this demonstration, and it shows that 0.07 ml of 88% Lactic Acid are needed in the sparge, as the alkalinity is minimal. In practice, RO or DI water (without alkaline salt additions) needs no acid here and will minimally impact mash pH over a long lauter. Alternatively, you can add acid to maintain a consistent mash pH throughout the sparge.

Tab 3: Grain Bill

Remember garbage in = garbage out? This particularly applies to this section. You need to have your grain bill established and make sure this matches your recipe notes or software. I tend to build a recipe in Beer Smith and copy it into Bru’n Water. If you make changes on the fly on brew day, you need to return to this tab and make identical adjustments.

Things that you need to consider include base grains, crystal/caramel malts, roast malts, and acid-malts, the quantity (by weight), as well as the estimated Lovibond on the malt. Note that BeerSmith uses SRM interchangeably with Lovibond. I have had better results looking up malt specification sheets and using an average Lovibond value than just copying over the BeerSmith SRM number. I find it useful to modify BeerSmith’s malts to match the vendor’s malt analysis sheets.

To ensure you have some continuity, your Total Grist Weight should match your software’s total weight. For now, ignore the water/grist ratio and the Estimated Room-Temperature Mash pH.

Let’s add a basic recipe and take a look at the results.

This pale ale is a fairly straightforward base to play with a variety of hop variety. If you want a little more malt backbone, up the crystal. I like something on the drier and crisper spectrum, with moderate hop character and a lot of hop aroma.

Make sure to identify your grain type in the spreadsheet as the models for acidity vary between types. This recipe has a large portion of base malt that will drive most of the mash pH. One new addition to the spreadsheet is “Wheat/Oat” as a selection, removing questions about treating those as base malts. I do not see non-malted wheat or oats, and they may have different levels of acidity compared to malted grains, so consider that in adjunct beers. I also added a touch of acid malt for pH control as an example… but make sure to ignore anything down in the Mash pH Result area because we have not added any water volumes to the recipe. We will return to this tab after we have filled out the Water Adjustment tab.

Troubleshooting mash pH measurements and Bru’n Water start with this tab. I have often not paid attention to which maltster’s base malt I am using, or need to substitute or blend base malts to achieve the amount. I have seen scenarios where a given batch of pale malt is much more acidic than normal. Bru’n Water also allows you to adjust the acidity of acid malt, useful if you have been making pH measurements. It is also very easy to transpose a number when copying over from BeerSmith or other programs. Double checking these numbers with malt analysis sheets before moving on is important!

Tab 4: Water Adjustment

Before we move on, a few very general rules about selecting a target water profile for a beer:

  1. Historic Water profiles tend to be mythical. Only use one after you have done the research and understand why you need to use it. Bru’n Water provides municipal water profiles for many historic regional areas, as well as de-carbonated (boiled) estimates, simulating brewery treatments. Consider color based profiles to start, unless you have a very specific need.
  2. A great starting point is matching color based target profiles to your beer’s general color. They work very well, and you can always adjust in subsequent brews.
  3. There are differing opinions here, but Residual Alkalinity (RA) is not a target, it is a description of the buffering capacity of a specific mash and water profile. Targeting RA should happen between very similar beers and has little practical use in a discussion of just a simple water profile. I find actual alkalinity or bicarbonate levels to be more descriptive.
  4. Sulfate:Chloride ratios work within a specific, albeit, relatively wide band of concentrations. In edge cases, it is irrelevant and confusing, and without a reference point, we don’t really know what you are saying. A 1:1 ratio at 10 ppm will be a different beer at 200 ppm of sulfate to chloride. I tend to keep hoppy beers in mind as between 2:1 and 1.5:1 at 80-100 ppm chloride reference, and malty between 1:2 and 1:1.5 at 80-100 ppm chloride reference. Of course, customize salts to your taste and dial in your optimum ratios.
  5. Prioritize Sulfate and Chloride as the major influences on mouthfeel and flavor. Secondarily explore Sodium and Magnesium as seasoning or tweaks to your profile depending on your goals. Sulfate and Chloride bring 95% of the flavor and mouthfeel impact, assuming proper mash pH.
  6. Please do not use chalk or pickling lime as calcium additions, unless your Estimated Mash pH is too low. They raise mash pH, which is necessary only in dark, crystal or roast heavy recipes. You will need to offset the alkalinity with additional acid to achieve an acceptable mash pH in a pale beer and risk off flavors from the acid residuals (lactate, etc.). Some brewers prefer to have a higher mash pH (5.6-5.8) for their stouts and porters to enhance the roast and nutty character.
  7. Despite my garbage in = garbage out statements, this is not a precision exercise. Mash pH varies and stabilizes throughout the mash, and correlation with a tool like Bru’n Water is dependent on when you take your measurements and the calibration and accuracy of your pH meter. Bru’n Water gets me within 0.1 pH units of my 30 minute readings nearly every time, assuming I am inputting the right information. If I mess up my grain bill in the spreadsheet, the Estimated Mash pH will not be correct.

On this tab, you will see several rows representing Desired Water Profile, Existing Water Profile, Dilution Water Profile, and Diluted Water Profile. These are all water-related prior to introducing the grains. The Mashing Water Profile and Overall Finished Water Profile follow as grain, mashing processes, and boiling results. For the most part, I focus on the Desired Water Profile and Diluted Water Profiles. The Overall Finished Water Profile may show a reduction of -ion content due to dilution from your sparge water additions, particularly of calcium and magnesium.

My spreadsheet defaulted to the Yellow Full profile and is pulling in my tap water report. I need to change the target profile to the one I desire and set my dilution water to 100% RO. Then I will work with Gypsum and Calcium Chloride additions to match my Actual Finished Water Adjustment more or less to the chosen Desired Water Profile.

Because my recipe’s color is more amber than yellow, I will choose Amber Balanced. Immediately I notice that my Estimated Mash pH is 5.34 without any mineral additions. However, we have not yet entered the Mash or Sparge volumes, so the prediction is not accurate.

If you have a special personal water profile, you can edit the User Custom lines in the table at the bottom of the tab on lines 68-75. Below that, you can customize dilution water profiles, for example, if you use store-bought spring water to dilute. Simply fill out that water profile and you can select it both for mash and sparge dilution choices.

BeerSmith estimates 7.75 gallons of strike water and 7.4 gallons of sparge water, which I rounded up for simplicity. I will have a little excess water, but close enough. This is entered into the spreadsheet under the Total Water Additions, Mash, and Sparge fields, with a Total Batch Volume of 11 gallons. Now the Estimated Mash pH field shows orange (high side warning) with a pH of 5.56. Now we add minerals, following a gram per gallon indicated under the Water Additions section. Total salt additions by weight are calculated in the yellow columns under the Total Water Additions section.

By adding in 0.25 gram/gal of Gypsum and 0.18 gram/gal of Calcium Chloride, my Actual Finished Water Adjustment is pretty close, save the magnesium and sodium levels. Because of the hop-levels of this pale ale, I am not concerned about subtlety so I will not address magnesium or sodium here. My Estimated Mash pH shows green (good) at 5.41. I can stop here and move on. For the sake of illustration, I decided to replace the Acid Malt with liquid 88% Lactic Acid.

To do this, simply go back to the Grain Bill Input tab and remove the 4 ounces of Acid Malt from the calculation by setting it to 0. Now when I return to the Water Adjustment tab, my mash pH has risen to 5.55. It still shows green for acceptable, but I want to adjust to 5.4. Make sure to remove the acid malt from BeerSmith recipe as well!

By adding 0.29 mL/gal of 88% Lactic Acid, I have adjusted my Estimated Mash pH to a perfect 5.4. In the mash tun, this will measure somewhere between 5.37 and 5.43 pH at 20-30 minutes, good enough for me. You can also see that I will add a mere 2.25 ml of lactic acid into the strike water, and I may choose at add 0.5 ml of lactic acid to the RO-based sparge water.

Also, note that the spreadsheet defaults to “Yes” for Add Sparging Water mineral additions to the Mash (located below the Total Batch Volume area). This reduces complexity and maximizes available calcium for the mash. You can choose to split the minerals between both mash and sparge, but your acid requirement will likely rise. I only split mineral additions between Mash and Sparge when I have excessive calcium (over 200 ppm) to moderate a drop in mash pH.

There are additional options, such as a calculator for hydrated Calcium Chloride in a saturated solution, as anhydrous calcium chloride will hydrate over time when exposed to atmospheric humidity and throw off measurement by weight. You can also choose to add Hardness minerals to the Kettle or even override allowing alkalinity minerals into the sparge.

Note that the acid addition calculation shows the residual lactate from my lactic acid additions.

Tab 5: Adjustment Summary

The Adjustment Summary is a convenient page to print out for your brew day. It shows concise information unladen with choices. I use this sheet to take notes as well. A couple of items of note: Physically, there cannot be a negative value for Alkalinity (negative CaCO3 = excess acidity), however, there can be a negative RA. The spreadsheet utilizes this to drive the acid model, and largely, you can ignore these negative numbers. I mention this for clarity and accuracy.

You will see the volumes you set up for mash and sparge water, and below these, the specific gram measurements of the salts, and the ml additions for acids. An indicator also reminds us to “Add all sparging minerals additions to the mash” if that is checked on the Water Adjustment tab.

Tab 6. Data Manager

My favorite and relatively new addition to Bru’n Water, you now have the ability to store batch data and multiple recipes in a single spreadsheet. This functionality saves the entire set of pertinent data, including information from the Water Report Input, Sparge Acidification, Grain Bill Input, and Water Adjustment tabs. Be aware that if you later change the Water Report Input and restore a previous Batch, you may need to go back and change your source water report.

As with the other pages, all of the blue fields are editable.

To save a batch, simply name it in the blue field under Batch Name. The first field defaults to “Enter Batch Name Here”. Do not confuse this with the pink colored field. I generally name them after the Beer name I input on the Grain Bill Input tab.

Note: If you have the previous subscriber edition with several recipes, you can easily cut or copy the entire pale blue area from the previous spreadsheet, and paste into the same area on the new spreadsheet.

For demonstration purposes, I have added a second identical recipe and simply changed its name. To load a different recipe, click on the pink cell on row 2. A drop-down box will appear and you can simply choose the desired recipe. This will load all of the data into the spreadsheet. You can then make additional changes or tweaks, and then click the yellow Save button and the data will be written over. If for any reason you do not wish to save changes and simply restore to the previous data points, you can do the same using the yellow Reload button.

Tab 7: Raw Text Summary

I like to keep information together in BeerSmith and this tab allows me to copy and paste the comprehensive Water Adjustments in clear text into the notes of the BeerSmith recipe. Simply highlight the desired information, open the recipe in BeerSmith, navigate to the notes area, and paste.

Tab 8: Water Knowledge

I find this tab a fast resource when working, although the online version is kept more up to date. If you prefer to read in Excel, it there and handy should a question pop up.

Bru’n Water’s Water Knowledge web page is perhaps the most concise and approachable brewing water chemistry information available. While it doesn’t go into great academic detail, it highlights the major topics and provides an introductory overview. Start here, and if you want or need more details and academic discussion, go buy the book, “Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers”, by John Palmer and Colin Kaminski.

Bru’n Water and Mash Chemistry Tips and Tricks

As you can see, Bru’n Water is a serious tool for managing your brewing water chemistry, but it is just a tool. In my brewery, Bru’n Water has gotten me very close to my Estimated Mash pH, confirmed by over 100 batches of beer and a good pH meter. That said, everyone will experience an edge case, or simply input something incorrectly into the spreadsheet and have a batch that drifts outside of their estimated target mash pH.

Tip 1: Adjusting Mash pH on the fly

Do NOT panic. I generally do not recommend making large adjustments during your mash as it takes some time for mash pH to reach equilibrium and you can cause wild swings up or down. Generally speaking 15-20 minutes from grain in you should see the mash pH begin to settle. If you make a moderate addition of acid or base salts at that point, then the mash pH will swing as the salts hydrate and are diffused into the entire mash. Do not just toss the salts on the top of the mash, they should be thoroughly but gently incorporated and let rest. Wait at least 10 minutes, perhaps less if you are circulating the mash, before taking another reading.

I prefer to estimate the acid and base required to move from my desired mash pH before brewing. After I print out the Adjustment Summary, I go back to the Water Adjustment Tab. There, I will add enough pickling lime (I prefer this over chalk) to raise the mash pH 0.1 units. I write this amount down on the sheet. I then zero that lime addition out and add a second acid addition to lower the mash pH by 0.1 units. I write this down on the summary sheet and zero out that acid addition. I now have a good idea of the amount of acid or base required to moderate my mash, should it prove to be outside my ideal range.

For the demonstration recipe, I note that I need 0.12 g/gal of Pickling lime to raise the mash pH from 5.4 to 5.5, and from the Adjustment Summary, that is a total of 0.9 grams. I reset this to 0.

For the acid, in the Water Adjustment Tab, I then adjust the second pink Acid cell to Lactic and set the strength to match 88% and add acid until the Estimated Mash pH reaches 5.30. Here, 0.18 ml/g was necessary and on the Adjustment Summary Tab, I note 1.4 ml of acid is needed and write this on the printout. I then reset that acid addition to 0. I only apply an adjustment if I measure more than 0.2 – 0.3 units outside of my target pH at 20-30 minutes into the mash.

A better solution, in my opinion, is to complete the mash with several mash pH measurements, and not make an adjustment. Using this information, revisit the Grain Bill and Water Adjustments tabs and determine what is causing the delta, and note the changes when rebrewing the beer.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I confident in my room temperature pH meter readings? Did I properly calibrate my meter with fresh calibration solutions? Is my meter’s battery good?
  • Did I properly enter the right information for the grains? There is generally a fair difference between the pH of base malts depending on the maltster. Did I get the right Lovibond average for my crystal/caramel/roast malts? Did I change my mill gap?
  • Did I properly weight out my malts for the mash? Did I properly weigh my salts? How accurate is my salt scale?

Tip 2: Dissolve Salts and Acid in Strike Water

As I use a RIMS system, it is convenient to add the salts and acid additions directly to the hot liquor tank while heating to strike temperatures. Martin Brungard also recommends this method. When you add salts, you will observe that some of them are hydrophilic (hard to dissolve), while others, hydroscopic (easy to dissolve). It takes a little time for the salts to completely diffuse into solution, and you may need to stir. Once dissolved, the -ions are immediately available and more quickly drives to your desired mash pH.

If you simply sprinkled dry salts into the grist or on top of the mash, both the time to hydration and the lack of homogeny may require significant stirring, and delay the accessibility of the -ions in mash and liquor solution. Of course, award-winning home-brews are made in many ways and your mileage may vary. I get very consistent results by pre-dissolving the salts.

I also rest my mash before circulating for 10 minutes after I underlet the grain bed. I fill my mash tun to about ¼” above my false bottom with liquor, and position my circulation hose under that bit of water. I then add the milled malt on top and gently pump over my desired mash water volume to the bottom of the mash. This allows the malt to hydrate from the bottom up and forces any trapped air to come out of the mash as the water rises. Any flour and fine particles float up away from the false bottom and begin conversion as they hydrate more quickly.

This also means I have far fewer dough balls or stuck circulations due to fluffier, well-hydrated kernels. This static rest period is calculated into my mash rest or mash step, and I begin a slow circulation after placing my return hose to the top of the mash, just under the liquid level. Circulation speed is slowly increased to about ¾ of the maximum speed of my pump. This gentle flow and careful mash bed creation allow wort to circulate at about a gallon per minute, and -ions that have been dissolved into solution are available to the entire mash, and I get far fewer malt particles through my false-bottom, pump and RIMS tube.

Static mashes (uncirculated) can hydrate unevenly, hence suggestions to stir very completely for several minutes to completely incorporate the strike water and reduce dough balls. If the salts have been dissolved in the strike water, you will have more even incorporation, but if you sprinkle the salts into the mash, they may clump and concentrate, even if stirred in. This may result in uneven mash pH levels throughout the physical mash, where, in a concentrated area of salts, the pH may be much lower than desired, but the bottom corners or edges unlikely to get stirred, the mash pH may be high. Of course, over time and repeated stirrings, the entire system will start to reach equilibrium as the -ions diffuse through the wort (meaning a stable pH). Diffusion takes time.

A  brewer friend of mine gravity feeds his hot liquor through the false bottom after he has loaded the cooler tun with grain. This mimics my procedure and minimizes his need to stir the mash vigorously, although he does a gentle stir 2-3 times throughout the mash. We have seen minimal differences between adding the salts to the grains or to the strike water over a 60-90 minute single infusion mash.

Thin mashes, such as No-Sparge, will reach mash pH equilibrium more quickly, but there is a point at which very thin mashes maybe less efficient in conversion. Some speculate that this is due to dilution of calcium and malt phosphate in the mash. Thicker mashes have the opportunity to concentrate calcium availability, enhancing enzymatic activity, where a No-Sparge mash water may halve that concentration.

Any subsequent addition of salts or acids to adjust mash pH need to be thoroughly stirred in to incorporate and diffuse. Wait an appropriate amount of time for the salts to fully hydrate, and then check your pH. You may wish to extend your mash period slightly to accommodate.

Tip 3: Low Oxygen Features

This version of Bru’n Water has the added salt of Sodium (or Potassium) Metabisulfite, which is utilized by brewers that are concerned with Hot Side Oxidation (HSO) to scavenge free oxygen in the mash and boil. It is fast acting, and it is suggested to use only the amount necessary to address any splashing or O2 ingress throughout your hot side processing (liquor, mash, boil, whirlpool, and chilling) and into the fermenter.

Remember the Boiled Results option on the Water Report Input tab? Low oxygen brewing recommends pre-boiling your mash and sparge-liquor to remove dissolved O2, then cooling to strike temperatures and dosing with metabisulfite to scavenge O2 pickup. If you are not working from RO or DI water sources, this may help to estimate the calcium and carbonate -ion reduction from the pre-boiling period. However, most LO2 brewers do not chill the boiled water sufficiently to allow for full precipitation to prevent DO uptake, so take that into consideration.

On the Water Adjustment Tab, you will see a blue field. Note that it is given in PPM and not grams per gallon. My Brew-Magic system requires about 15 ppm metabisulfite to minimize O2 uptake during the mash and mash out, with an additional 5 ppm added to knock out wort to the fermenter (tested with a DO meter and boiled water). Please note that the spreadsheet does adjust the mash pH for the addition, but does not appear to adjust the -ions in the Overall Finished Water Profile. The line does indicate that for 20 ppm, I may need to adjust my water profile to accommodate 5.4 ppm Sodium and 22.7 ppm Sulfate. The mash pH is lowered as a function of oxidation of metabisulfite to produce sulfur dioxide gas and a small amount of sulfuric acid.

The Adjustment Summary tab is then updated to reflect both the Mash Water and Sparge Water additions of Sodium Metabisulfite. If you use Potassium Metabisulfite, ignore the sodium impact. You will receive the same amount of potassium -ions as you would sodium -ions.

Note that after pitching your yeast, you should immediately oxygenate the cold wort. This will immediately decompose any residual metabisulfite in the wort that could cause issues with your yeast. Try to hit around 8 ppm residual DO in the wort. The yeast will very quickly scavenge the free O2 and the cold pitching temperature will dramatically slow any oxidation of malt compounds during the yeast growth phase.

Tip 4: Managing your Dry Minerals

lab gear

I suspect that many of us keep our mineral salts out on the shelf in a garage where temperature and humidity can swing wildly over the seasons. If so, consider making saturated solutions of some salts or storing everything inside in a temperature controlled climate and sealed containers.

Many salts will take up a small amount of humidity, and as such, subject to chemical changes in the presence of water and oxygen, even in tiny amounts. The utilization of solutions with fresh salts allows you to take full advantage of the hydrated salts without their degradation and oxidation.

For example, pickling lime degrades to chalk when exposed to humidity and air. Chalk doesn’t easily dissolve at mash temperatures and pH and is far less effective than pickling lime. If you choose to use chalk, you should read this from Kai Troester.

Anhydrous Calcium Chloride (the form sold by most LHBS) can easily take up enough humidity from the air to liquify, making the measurement by weight less reliable. By creating a solution, we are producing both free calcium and free chloride -ions fully dissolved. Note that hydrating Calcium Chloride is exothermic, so handle carefully. It will get hot to the touch.

To make a saturated solution, use 1 liter of distilled water to 357 grams of Anhydrous Calcium Chloride salts. Adjust your BWS spreadsheet’s Water Addition tab to indicate you are using the solution and it will give you the dosage in milliliters as appropriate. Or you can calculate by volume that 1 ml of saturated solution will yield 0.357 grams of calcium chloride! Divide the dry weight indicated by Bru’n Water, and use that number in milliliters to dose. FYI – identical results for table salt (sodium chloride).

Gypsum is hydrophobic, and a saturated solution will vary by temperature and pressure. Crystal may precipitate or form in the jar/bottle. I prefer to use dry weight for this salt.

Tip 5: Relax


For a few years, as I got my head around mash chemistry, I took a ridiculously fanatical approach. I measured mash pH 4-5 times during the mash, again at pre-boil, again at post-boil, and iteratively throughout fermentation. As I got into low oxygen techniques, I turned this up to 11, my brain running toward high-stakes gambits to create the best-damned beer possible. This combined with repetitive brewing recipes and uber-critical evaluation took out all of the fun of brewing beer. I have, with some difficulty and anxiety, stepped back from my hyper-analytical brewing process, and now just brew.

Brewing beer is not all or nothing proposition, and there are elements of brewing that are simply out of our control. Yeast can mutate or a batch of malt can be slightly out of specification. We should lower our expectations to the point that stress is minimized, but maintain enough awareness to anticipate and intercept a key problem. This does mean taking some detailed notes and keeping a journal (hooray for BeerSmith notes) and then reflecting on what went wrong and course correcting the next time. I highly recommend drinking a nice beer, mead, or cider during this, but not during the brewing.

You may also want to minimize complexity to make your brew day more simple and direct. I know people abandoning expensive 3 vessel RIMS/HERMS that are fully automated and going back to a single kettle, propane burner, and a big cooler mash tun. Take the effort to make sure this is a fun and rewarding hobby.

Brew the best beer that you can, but accept that this is a hobby. Be competitive, but don’t nurture an ulcer along the way!