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All Grain Water Chemistry Brewing Information

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

Understanding water chemistry in brewing is an important step to refining home brewing skills. It turns out less than a teaspoon of a couple key brewing salts can make a big impact in a batch of beer. This is mainly applicable to all grain brewing where full control over the mash chemistry is available.  However, the flavor profile is impacted by water chemistry in all brewing styles.

Tuning water to a particular style of beer adds a lot of fun and satisfaction. Balancing flavor ions gives absolute control over the final product. Water chemistry is also important for hitting the correct pH in the mash and can impact efficiency.

The first thing to do is obtain your local water report. Most cities provide this online with far more information than you will use in brewing. The values to look for are:

  • Calcium (Ca+2)

  • Magnesium (Mg+2)

  • Sulfates (SO4-2)

  • Sodium (Na+)

  • Chloride (Cl-)

  • Bicarbonate / Alkalinity

Brewers living in cities with soft water are the most fortunate because they have complete control over the mineral levels in their brewing water. For brewers in places with hard water (high alkalinity and mineral content), dilution with distilled water and then re-adding depleted minerals is the easiest solution. Well water is a tough one as it will require lab analysis to be sure what the levels are, but it can be expected to be packed with minerals.

To help navigate all this information, we created the Brewer’s Friend water chemistry calculator. It helps you hit target concentrations and advises about minimum and maximum levels for each ion. Too much of a given salt can ruin the beer and cause side effects to those who drink it. The calculator also reports how the ion concentrations impact the flavor and bitterness of the beer.

The Brewing Salts:

Adjusting your source water the target water is done through adding a combination of brewing salts.

  • Chalk – Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3)
    Boosts alkalinity and source of calcium. Good for adding alkalinity to soft water for brewing dark beers.

  • Baking soda – Sodium Bicarbonate (NaHCO3),

    Boosts alkalinity and source of sodium.

  • Gypsum – Calcium Sulfate (CaSO4 * 2 H20)

    Source of calcium, sulfate enhances hop bittering, but must be balanced with chlorides.

  • Calcium Chloride (CaCl2 * 2 H20)

    Source of calcium for low chloride water.

  • Epsom salt – Magnesium Sulfate (MgSO4 * 7 H20)

    Sulfate enhances hop bittering, but must be balanced with chlorides. Magnesium has a low ppm threshold for being safe (brewing range 0-30ppm), so use this one sparingly if at all.

Target ranges for mineral levels in beer brewing:

Flavor Ions:

  • Calcium (Ca+2) – target range of 50-150 ppm
  • Magnesium (Mg+2) – target range of 0-30 ppm
  • Sulfate (SO4-2)- target range 50-150 ppm for normal beers, 150-350ppm for highly bitter beers.
  • Sodium (Na+) – target range 0-150 ppm
  • Chloride (Cl-) – target range 0-250 ppm.

Harmful levels:
Concentrations above these levels are harmful to the beer, and much beyond they become harmful to our health!

  • Calcium (Ca+2) – 250 ppm
  • Magnesium (Mg+2) – 50 ppm
  • Sulfate (SO4-2) – above 750 ppm
  • Sodium (Na+) – above 200 ppm
  • Chloride (Cl-) – above 300 ppm

Sulphate and Chloride should be balanced in beer:

  • 2:1 SO4 to Cl is good for bitter beer
  • 1:2 SO4 to Cl for mild ales
  • 1:3 SO4 to Cl for stouts and porters
  • Chloride and Sodium add the maltiness of a beer.
  • Sulfate highlights bitterness and reduces malt flavor.

Alkalinity Range:

Alkalinity impacts the pH of the mash, a key factor in efficiency. Bicarbonate (HCO3-) – ppm depends on style of beer, lower for lighter beers, higher for darker beers.

  • 0-50 for pale beers
  • 50-150 for amber beers
  • 150-400 for dark beers

Sources:
Palmer, John, How To Brew, 2006
Daniels, Ray, Designing Great Beers, 1996

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  1. 9 Responses to “All Grain Water Chemistry Brewing Information”

  2. When you ask for “water volume” I assume you’re asking how much water is to be used for mashing?

    By JP on Dec 15, 2010

  3. Yes, water volume is how much water you are going to use total. The ppm for the minerals need to be accurate at that point going forward.

    Water chemistry calculator: http://www.brewersfriend.com/water-chemistry/

    By Larry on Dec 21, 2010

  1. 7 Trackback(s)

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  5. Dec 20, 2009: New Water Chemistry Calculator - Page 3
  6. Dec 22, 2010: Is water that big of a deal in all grain? - Home Brew Forums
  7. Jul 26, 2011: Good water for brewing beer | Ex-Urban
  8. Feb 16, 2012: What the Hell is in Beer? | Real Beer Discovery

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