A day or two before brewing, I use the EZ Water Calculator to make a game plan. I like this free spreadsheet because rather than take into account the SRM (color) of the beer, it uses your recipe, which more accurately predicts the mash pH. The spreadsheet allows me to determine how I'll treat my water. I usually aim for the low end of the pH range for pale beers, 5.3-5.4 when measured at room temperature, a bit higher for anything roasty.
In the case of this hoppy pale ale (and those like it), I prefer to use a combination of methods to lower the mash pH. To halve the ~80 PPM of pH raising carbonate in my filtered DC tap water, I dilute with an equal volume of distilled water. That way I'm not forced to add an excessive amount of salts or acid (either of which can harm the flavor of the beer) to lower the pH into the ideal range. Depending on your water profile, you might need no dilution at all, or an even higher percentage.
I know that some people like to think of the balance between sulfate and chloride as a ratio, but that isn't entirely accurate. Having 10 PPM sulfate and 5 PPM chloride won't have the same flavor impact as 500 PPM sulfate and 250 PPM chloride. Sulfate enhances the perception of bitterness, while chloride boosts body and the perception of sweetness. Normally I'd add gypsum for sulfate, but I was out, so I added Epsom salt in addition to the calcium chloride.
While I'm heating up the mash water I'll weigh out the salts on a scale with a .1 gram resolution. Only half of the total calculated amount goes into the strike water, I save the rest for the sparge water. I usually leave out the acidulated malt from the grist initially. I'd rather take a pH reading and add the "right" amount if it turns out to be too high, rather than risk having to deal with a pH that falls too low. Municipal water profiles shifts throughout the year, so even a perfect calculator wouldn't always be accurate if it relied on a yearly average profile.
After mashing in, I allow it to sit for between five and ten minutes to allow the various chemical reactions that impact pH to occur (mostly calcium and magnesium reacting with phosphates from the malt lowering the pH). At that point I pull a sample, cool it in a clean/dry ramekin to around room temperature, and measure its pH with my just-calibrated meter (Hanna Instruments HI 98107). When this one dies I'll probably get one with a .01 resolution to get a bit more precision. pH strips aren't very accurate and tend to go bad quickly if not stored with a desiccant, but they are an option.
If the reading does not fall within my targeted range, I jump into action. If the pH is too high, this usually means adding acid malt (~1% of the grist for every intended .1 drop). I'd add additional salts only if I want more minerals and would have added them to the boil anyway. If the pH is too low I add chalk (which should ideally be dissolved in carbonated water first) or baking soda (which can be added directly to the mash).
Having a mash pH in the correct range helps the enzymes responsible for the conversion of starches into sugars, and also gets helps the pH to fall into place further down the line.
With the mash resting, I start heating the sparge water. Adding the reserved minerals, and enough phosphoric acid to lower the pH to under 6.0. Having a lower pH sparge is good insurance to prevent tannin extraction. This is especially important with a fly sparge, and even more so if you aren't monitoring the gravity of the runnings. Even if you batch sparge (like I usually do), acidifying the sparge will help you hit the ideal boil pH.
Having a boil pH around 5.1 enhances hot break formation (which helps produce a clearer beer) and creates a smoother hop bitterness. I know some brewers are more fanatical about this, but I tend to pull a single sample early in the boil, measure it and add acid if warranted. I'm too lazy to track it any more once I start adding hops.
If the pH is kept in line on brew day, and a healthy fermentation ensues, the finished beer’s pH should be in the ideal range (low 4s - flat, room temperature) by the time you are ready to keg or bottle. For a pale beer, having a suitably low pH gives it a crisp and refreshing balance. A low pH also improves the resistance of the beer to unwanted spoilage microbes. For darker beers I find that a slightly higher pH gives a more rounded mellow flavor, canceling out some of the sharper acrid charcoal flavors, shifting the roast perception to smoother coca and coffee flavors.
All of this gets easier as you go, learning what treatment works for your water and the types of beer you tend to brew. You can always experiment adding small amounts of acid to a glass of the finished beer to judge for yourself how it changes the perception.
This batch is pretty representative of where my head is at these days on hoppy beers. Not too strong or bitter, but with loads of saturated hop flavor and a big fresh nose. It was my first time fermenting with East Coast Yeast's North East Ale (apparently their isolate of Conan). Luckily early tastes are much better than my attempt to isolate the strain!
Also a reminder, if you use a plate chiller, recirculate hot water and PBW after flushing with water. I generated two gallons of this greenish water while cleaning up after this batch.
Simcoe & Sons Pale Ale
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 11.11
Anticipated OG: 1.058
Anticipated SRM: 5.1
Anticipated IBU: 56.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72 %
Wort Boil Time: 95 Minutes
85.5% - 9.50 lbs. American Pale Malt
9.0% - 1.00 lbs. Wheat Malt
4.5% - 0.50 lbs. Belgian CaraVienna
1.0% - 0.11 lbs. Sauer(acid) Malt
0.63 oz. Columbus (Pellet, 11.9%AA) @ 60 min.
2.5 ml HopShot (Extract) @ 60 min.
2.01 oz. Mosaic (Pellet 0.00% AA) @ 0 min.
1.75 oz. Simcoe (Whole 0.00% AA) @ 0 min.
2.00 oz. Citra (Whole 10.00% AA) @ Hop Back
1.25 oz. Simcoe (Whole 14.00% AA) @ Hop Back
.625 oz. Citra (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ Dry Hop (Primary)
.625 oz. Mosaic (Pellet, 10.00% AA) @ Dry Hop (Primary)
.75 oz. Simcoe (Whole, 14.00% AA) @ Dry Hop (Primary)
.625 oz. Citra (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ Keg Hop
.625 oz. Mosaic (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ Keg Hop
.75 oz. Simcoe (Whole, 14.00% AA) @ Keg Hop
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.
East Coast Yeast - ECY29 North East Ale
Profile: Washington, Hoppy
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 153 F
10/15/13 Made a 1.25 L stir-plate starter for the month old yeast vial.
10/16/13 Brewed by myself
Mash water filtered DC tap cut with 50% distilled. Added 3 g of Epsom Salt and 3 g of CaCl. Same deal for the sparge water.
Mash pH = 5.5 at room temperature. Added 1% acid malt to lower the pH to 5.4
Acidified batch sparge water with 2 tsp of phosphoric acid.
Collected 7.5 gallons of 1.044 runnings.
Bitter with 1/2 a HopShot, plus the Columbus.
0 min hops were allowed to hop-stand for 30 minutes.Couldn't get good flow through the HopRocket, so after the first gallon or so, so I dumped the hops back into the kettle along with the trapped wort, and went directly to the plate chilled. Got it down to 70 F.
45 seconds of pure O2, and pitched the whole starter. Left at 64 F to ferment.
Increased to 68 F after three days.
10/20/13 Dry hopped in primary with .75 oz Simcoe, and 5/8 oz each of Citra and Mosaic (2012 harvest). Fermentation appears mostly complete.
11/3/13 Racked to a flushed keg with the same amount of dry hops again (2013 harvest). Only got down to
11/21/13 Tasting Notes. Amazing peach character thanks to the combination of yeast and hop aromatics. Despite the lackluster attenuation, doesn't come off sweet.