My Water – Application #1

In an earlier post, I began discussing my local water and now I am talking about practical examples of how I treat it, depending on the style.

To recap, here is the typical Pittsburgh area water:

Calcium 30 ppm
Magnesium 10 ppm
Sodium 25 ppm
Chloride 30 ppm
Sulfate 75 ppm
Alkalinity 70 ppm

I like this water profile – the levels of all ions are fairly low.  It is easier to add than to take away!  The only potential problem with this water is the calcium level.  The generally recommended level is 50 to 150 ppm, so I am usually adding calcium in one of the three common ways: calcium carbonate, calcium chloride or calcium sulfate.

Recently I brewed a Kolsch-Style Ale – the beer is mostly pilsener malt and just a touch of wheat malt.  Because this recipe has no dark or roasted malts, and my water has low levels of calcium it is quite likely that the mash pH would end up being too high.  Adding calcium should help a bit, and if I add calcium chloride it helps bring up the chloride to sulfate balance.  Why is that important?  Allegedly, beers with a high sulfate to chloride ratio tend to favor hop expression, whereas the reverse brings out the malt.  I have not confirmed this through experiment, but for now I will extend provisional acceptance.

The other thing I did was a about 3% acidulated malt to the mash.  This malt has been kilned in such a way as to encourage the production of lactic acid.  Chew some – it is sour stuff.  Besides helping to drop the pH, adding acid to food generally brightens the flavor.  I think it works well here.

If you are looking for help in figuring out all of the maths I recommend two sources:  John Palmer’s How to Brew website chapter 15-3 has a nice spreadsheet for entering your water data and looking at the effects of various mineral additions.  John’s spreadsheet calculates a target residual alkalinity value based on beer color.  I have read criticism of this method as being unreliable, but in fairness this is all a bit of a guess.  If you are running a production brewery then you are making the same few beers most of the time and you can nail down your water treatment.  As a homebrewer always trying something new you have to make your best estimations

A more advance calculator designed by Kai Troister can be found at the Brewer’s Friend website.  Kai has done a tremendous amount of investigation and experimentation.  His calculator takes into account you entire grain bill (including the types of malts you choose, not just mash color).  His calculator is a thing of beauty, and if you can soldier through the tedium required to enter all of the information, you will be rewarded!

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