Brewing with Salts – Understanding Your Water

This article brewing with salts is the second in our series looking at water treatment. If you haven’t already; please read the first in the part ”What Brewing Salts do I Need” by clicking here (will open in a new tab).

In the first article we discussed getting your water report and the items you need to look at. Now we will break down why you need to look at these particular values and what they mean for brewing:

Sulfates and Chlorides

These two measurements are critical when building your water profile to fit a particular beer style. Understanding your chloride to sulfate ratio allows you to know which brewing salts you’ll need to add to your brewing water.

Brewing with Salts

Your chloride to sulfate ratio is the amount of chloride you have in your brewing water compared to sulfates. Let’s break it down and give an oversimplified explanation:

The more chloride in your brewing water, the more malt flavors will be prominent. A higher chloride to sulfate ration will lead to enhanced malt sweetness and fullness.

Generally, chloride levels should be around 40-100ppm for many beer styles. However, with a New England IPA the chloride levels are often over 100ppm and up to 150ppm.

With more sulfates in your brewing water; it’ll enhance the hop bitterness and lead to a drier beer. So, additions of sulfates in continental lagers are usually avoided or used in small amounts (less than 30ppm).

Furthermore, in a lot of ales we’d expect sulfate levels of around 30-70ppm. Moreover, for heavily hopped beers wanted sulfate levels needed to be higher still at around 150-300ppm in IPA’s and west coast APA’s for example.

If your sulfate content is at 150ppm or higher, please adjust your chloride level accordingly to below 50ppm to avoid a “mineral like” finish in your final beer.

Brewing with Salts – Mineral Make-Up

Now with calcium and magnesium which determine how hard the water is. The more calcium and magnesium you have in your water the harder it will be.

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Calcium helps lower the mash pH during mashing. Furthermore, Calcium helps facilitate precipitation of proteins during the boil (hot break), enhances yeast flocculation and aids the prevention of beerstone.

Sodium helps round off malt flavours BUT too much and your beer will taste salty. Keep your sodium levels under 150ppm, with 60 or lower being recommended.

However, there’s nothing wrong with more salt in your beer if it fits to style…I am thinking of you gose!  Please note however, if you have high sulfate and sodium concentration in your beer it can lead to a harsh bitterness in your final beer.

Alkalinity and pH

pH is a measure of how acidic/basic water is. The range for measuring pH is from 1 to 14 with neutral being 7 on this scale. Lemon juice has a pH of around 2 and is acidic. Baking soda has a pH of 9 and is basic.

Brewing with Salts - Knowing your Water

An example of neutral pH are your own tears. So, when you cry your tears don’t burn because the pH is perfectly balanced.

In all grain brewing knowing your starting pH is vital. The pH of the mash should be between 5.2 and 5.6 which is a little acidic. Having your mash in this pH range helps the sugar conversion of the grains.

If the pH is too high it can lead tannins being extracted leading to an unpleasant bitterness. If the pH is too low it can lead to a tart beer or a perceived sourness in the finished product.

When it comes to alkalinity think of it as the “bodyguard” to pH. Alkalinity acts as a buffer.

So, if you’ve a pH of 7.6 which is typical from municipal water with a high alkalinity reading of 125ppm. It will take lot more acid to bring down the pH. As the alkalinity is “protecting” it.

Brewing with Salts – A Conclusion

Again, a quick reminder this article brewing with salts is the 2nd part in our water treatment series. Please click here to read the first article.

Understanding the minerals in your beer as well as alkalinity and pH will go a long way to understanding which brewing salts you’ll need to add to your water.

Next up in the series will be exploring those salts, what they do and how much to add. Thanks for taking the time to read this article and have a good day.

Happy brewing!

Neil

Neil Playfoot

Neil is a brewer with 25 years international brewing experience. Based out of China (first came in 2010) he works as a brewing consultant helping brewers with their projects and brewing processes. To find out what services Neil can provide your brewery please click here. If you'd like to contact Neil you can email at [email protected].
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