Monday, February 22, 2010

Classic Brewing Water Profiles (rant)

Water and Water Salts
For certain beer styles many homebrewers (and the BJCP for that matter) put a lot of emphasis on adjusting the brewing water to match the local water where each style is brewed historically.  Some of the "classic" water profiles include Burton-on-Trent (high sulfate), Pilsen (low ion), Dortmund (moderately high levels of everything), and Dublin (high carbonate).  The theory is that you can get the beer you brew closer to the commercial examples by using water that has a similar mineral content. In my experience this is a poor idea, certainly not the best way to adjust your water. 

The suggestion that these are somehow perfect or optimal waters just because they are what some breweries use is just silly. First off, the brewers in these locations often treat their water to add and remove minerals, or go through long complex mashes to overcome the issues their water causes (like Pilsners).  On top of that mimicking the absurd amount (or lack) of minerals in some cases will lead to poor tasting beer unless these additional steps are followed.  In particular the high levels of minerals called for to match some of these profiles is going to lead to a harsh minerally flavor in your finished beer.

With all that said, I think water adjustments are an important part of brewing many styles.  I think they should just be done based on personal taste and recipe, not history and tradition.  Burton-on-Trent is famous for its heavy sulfate content (most water reports put it around 800 ppm, nearly a gram per liter), I brewed an English Pale with enough salts in the mash/sparge water (2.9g gypsum, .5g chalk, and 1.8g epsom salt per gallon) to get to that level a couple years back and the results tasted a bit like licking drywall.  Through experimentation I've found that I like my hoppy English Ales closer to 250-300 ppm sulfate, which is enough to accentuate the hops and just give a soft mineral edge.

Please post a comment if you've had successes or failures adjusting your water to hit a "classic" regional supply, I'd be interested to hear if any of them produce great beer.  If you want to read more on how to calculate water adjustments read How to Brew or New Brewing Lager Beers (or my post on water adjustment from back in 2008).

19 comments:

phattysbox said...

+1

However different mineral profiles have contributed significantly to commercial brews as you mentioned. As for me, I have yet to make a beer by adjusting my profile. I brew in NYC and the water here is pretty low in everything so I have some options on adjusting. I was considering increasing the sulfate levels to accentuate hops in a bitter for example.

Cheers,
J

BA: phattysbox

JB said...

Another +1. I'm a big fan of using the water that is delivered to you. Now, I have been brewing for many years but am very green in the recipe development area... so I haven't experimented enough to know if a little salt here and there might make a big difference. Then again I brew in San Diego where the water profile is supposed to be really great for most styles. On a slightly related note: Do you have chloramines in your water, can you taste them, and have you ever tried to remove them?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

DC switches their sanitation from time to time, usually it is chloramine based, but for a month once every year or so we get blasted by chlorine. chloramines are less volitle than chlorine so they use less and they have less of a flavor impact, but they can still hurt your beer. I run all my brewing water through a carbon block filter which seems to do enough to remove the chloramines/chlorines, at the very least using it I have not had any problems chlorophenol issues.

Brian said...

Mike -

You mention targeting a specific level of sulfate for your English ales. Everything I have read has talked about finding a balance between the chlorides and sulfates in a beer in order to accentuate either the bitter or malty qualities of a beer.

That being said, Do you think it is the total amount (ppm) of sulfates in the beer that results in the character you are looking for or the resulting chloride to sulfate ratio?

I ask because I have never really found the right level or ratio of sulfates to perfect my Chicago water for hoppy ales.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I think the ratio is pretty much irrelevent, for example having 30 ppm sulfate and 10 ppm chloride would be very different than 300 ppm sulfate and 100 ppm chloride despite the fact that both are a 3:1 ratio.

Sulfate isn't the only thing to worry about, you should also avoid high levels of carbonate and sodium in pale hoppy beers. If you are high on either of those you might consider cutting your tap water with distilled to see if that improves things.

JC Tetreault said...

Initial perceptions would say that the quantitative amount is quite important, but I assume the ratio of chloride/sulfate must not be completely irrelevant, as the impact is cited several times by various brewing texts.

I know in the brewstrong podcasts, there's a lot of discussion about bitterness/maltiness perceptions at the various ratios within relatively moderate ion concentrations.

ie. sulfate:chloride 300/100ppm vs. 300/300ppm...the first would taste more bitter, and the 2nd would be more balanced, even given a constant sulfate conc.

AB_eer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AB_eer said...

Oops, didn't mean to delete that comment.

I build my water profile from scratch (pure RO water) every time because Tucson water sucks hard.
I've made a spreadsheet I use to optimize my water and it has all the important water stats like RA, SO4:CL ratio, etc.

Once I started "fixing" my water my all grain beers really went up a notch in terms of initial, long term and overall quality.

I don't shoot for a classic water profile, but if I'm really shooting for a particular character of the style, I do keep in mind what kind of water that brewery uses if I have that information available. For the most part I adjust my RA to be appropriate per the SRM of the beer (using Palmers math) and then adjust my SO4:CL to the level and ratio I feel will be appropriate.

The tool I've made can be found here
http://www.thesaq.net/beer/waterprofile/

smokingbottle said...

I agree that water adjustment is important and that many people over do it with the "classic" water profiles. I have a very unscientific approach. I look at the classic water profile and then just slightly get my soft water going in the right direction of the classic profile. I guess you could say I just try to tip the balance of minerals in the right direction until it the numbers look good to me.

Ryan_PA said...

I do not modify my water too much. I am on well water in a heavily rural part of PA, so I did have a Ward Labs test done. Surprisingly, I have water low in most everything. Since my house is on a water conditioner, and I use post conditioner water, you could say I soften my brewing water.

Aaron said...

Purely anecdotal, but I feel like I get 4-5% better efficiency when I use my water straight out of the tap instead of running it through a filter.

I really can't come up with a possible explanation for why that could be true, so it probably isn't. But it's seemed that way.

Jeff said...

I'm in DC too, and 99% of my water work is spent on removing chlorine/chloramines (letting it sit overnight, quick run through a carbon filter, adding campden to the HLT).

Every so often I'll add a little something to the water if I'm brewing something on the outsides of the spectrum (stout/pilsner), but for the most part, I just leave it alone since our water here isn't half bad out of the tap.

Scott Schluter said...

I adjust my water because mine is pretty darn close to RO water having very little mineral content. The difficulty I have is finding reasonable profiles to shoot for. I don't want a particular city's water profile but a generic profile for some of the different beers out there. Anyone have any good ones?

AB_eer said...

Scott,
I don't think any one water profile is going to be optimal for every beer. With an accurate scale and some of the right salts you can create an optimal water profile for each beer.

Most advanced breweries (American, Belgian and German) adjust their brewing water with different strategies and levels of sophistication optimized to each beer they brew.

If you know the water chemistry of your beer (in mg/L or ppm, same thing) you can adjust it with salt additions to help optimize two different things which are as follows

1: Residual Alkalinity - This is to buffer your mash water for how much acidity is in the grain which is estimated based on the SRM of your mash.

2: SO4:CL profile - this is commonly cited as a ratio that influences your perceived maltiness and perceived bitterness. A 1:1 ratio is considered "balanced" between the two, with more SO4 attributed to higher perceived bitterness and CL attributed to higher perceived maltiness. The volume of each is also important as opposed to just the ratio, ie a 20ppm SO4 : 5ppm CL ratio is not going to taste as bitter as a 300ppm SO4 : 100ppm CL ratio.

Here is a good primer on adjusting your water:
http://brewery.org/library/wchmprimer.html

Scott Schluter said...

Not what I am looking for.

I already adjust my water. What I am looking for is different generic water profiles for different beers.

IPA
Stout
Brown
Lager
etc.

And others. Right now, I adjust to suggested general ranges to get to my SRM. Then I adjust chloride to sulfate ratio. Then scale those salts to get close to levels for a given profile. The problem is those levels are usually pretty high and hard to get to with my water without blowing everything out of whack. I'm looking for more reasonable numbers like Mosher's Pale Ale profile.

AB_eer said...

Scott,
I'm not sure what kind of answer you are looking for, this is brewing beer and it is as much of an art as it is a science. Your water profile for your beer is just as unique as your malt/grain recipe is. Aside from Residual Alkalinity, which is easy to optimize for your mash, there is no limited to the number of different recipes you could use to get your SO4:CL ratio and levels to what is "optimal" for your beer and only you are going to be able to make that decision.

Its like asking for a generic Pale Ale recipe or Stout recipe, there are a million ways to do it depending upon your personal preferences towards what kind of beer you are trying to achieve.

You want a really bitter beer? Go for a 4:1 SO4:CL ratio with your sulfate level at minimum 250ppm and get your IBU/SGU ratio up there.

You want a really malty beer? Go with a 2:1 CL:S04 ratio with 100+ppm of CL and have a low IBU/SGU ratio.

Only your RA matters at mash time, the rest can be adjusted anytime after including in the glass.

If you know the approximate water chemistry of say your bitter IPA you've made is you can experiment with adjusting the SO4:CL ratios in the glass at serving time. This will help you tweak it to your desired levels of bitterness or maltiness.

My signature IIPA which has won several gold medals has a 2.5:1 SO4:CL ratio with about 150ppm SO4. I found this to be optimal as it lends to being quite bitter but still very smooth and pleasant.

I've tried it higher and lower and the same at different volumes and this is where I like it. A different grain composition, attenuation level, yeast selection, hop selection is all going to have a very different water profile and it is all going to depend on what you want it to be like.

I also find my best results come from using the minimum number of salts needed to get my RA set, and then try to get my SO4 and CL levels up to general areas in with the ratio I am aiming for.

Scott Schluter said...

"You want a really malty beer? Go with a 2:1 CL:S04 ratio with 100+ppm of CL and have a low IBU/SGU ratio."

"You want a really bitter beer? Go for a 4:1 SO4:CL ratio with your sulfate level at minimum 250ppm and get your IBU/SGU ratio up there."

"My signature IIPA which has won several gold medals has a 2.5:1 SO4:CL ratio with about 150ppm SO4. I found this to be optimal as it lends to being quite bitter but still very smooth and pleasant."

"Only your RA matters at mash time, the rest can be adjusted anytime after including in the glass."

All that stuff is EXACTLY what I have been looking for. Now if I first adjust my water for suggested levels of Ca, Mg, etc. Then adjust for SRM (I am AG) for mash water. I can then do another adjustment after the mash for the boil. I no longer worry about SRM here. (That's a question I've assumed the same answer for but haven't found confirmation of.)

So, that being the case, that also means I can adjust my water for extract brews by ignoring SRM and only adjust for chloride sulfate ratios. I assume when they made the extract that they've adjusted their water for minimum mineral levels and SRM to get to the final product. That means my water with little Mg will be fine with extract because "it's in there." Am I on base?

It shouldn't be this difficult for most people's water and the old saying that "if you can drink your water you can brew with it" should usually hold true. I just know from experience that my water is too void of minerals to make that statement 100% true. I almost have to build my water from scratch instead of adjust it like most.

Thank you for clarifying some of my hunches (chloride:sulfate ratio AND levels are important, worry about SRM only during the mash).

Even more thanks for not jumping on the chemistry pedestal. It doesn't have to be complicated and you've kept it at the appropriate level.

AB_eer said...

1: "I can then do another adjustment after the mash for the boil. I no longer worry about SRM here."

This is true. However, it is not necessary to do two adjustments. I do all my adjustments the night before in my strike water that is in two jugs.

2: So, that being the case, that also means I can adjust my water for extract brews by ignoring SRM and only adjust for chloride sulfate ratios.

If you have good clean water you are pretty much on base. The RA bits really do only matter for the mash, however, some bicarbonate buffering for dark grain astringency helps with the flavor profile.

3: It shouldn't be this difficult for most people's water and the old saying that "if you can drink your water you can brew with it" should usually hold true.

I hate the person that said this as it is absolutely not true in most cases. Its like telling someone 'just dump some random grain and hops in your beer and it will taste amazing!'. Different beer styles need different water styles, period. There are no two ways around proper water chemistry.

I build my water from scratch for every brew because Tucson water sucks really bad for brewing. Tons of chlorine and chloramines as well as a just general abysmal ionic profile. I buy water from an RO water provider that provides a chemistry sheet with their water so I know what I'm building from.

One additional step I've taken since I pre-treat all my water before brewday is to crush up CaCL2 and Epsom salt since they come in large granules with a mortar and pestle.

I used to weigh before I crushed but then I learned I'm losing a lot of weight this way so I now weight after I crush.

Scott Schluter said...

Thanks for confirming things.

"This is true. However, it is not necessary to do two adjustments. I do all my adjustments the night before in my strike water that is in two jugs."

That's where I run into problems usually. In order to get chloride and sulfate and chloride sulfate ratios up, it usually throws my RA numbers way off. So instead, I will adjust for my SRM and balance that with chloride and sulfate bumps as best I can for the mash water. Then I will bump up chloride and sulfate in my boil kettle.

Related Posts with Thumbnails