Using Brewing Salts – How Brewing Salt Work

When using brewing salts, there are several that are commonly used by pro-brewers and homebrewers alike.

In this third article in our water treatment/brewing salts series we look at these common brewing salts and why we use them.

Using Brewing Salts - How To

For part one please click here (opens in a new tab) – explains how to test your water.

For part two please click here (opens in a new tab) – explains how to read your water report.

Gypsum (calcium sulfate)

We use Gypsum to increase calcium and sulfates in brewing water. Calcium sulfate will also slightly lower you mash pH too. Its chemical composition is CaSO4.

Calcium sulfate is one the most used salts in brewing to increase the calcium levels in your brewing water.

Having the correct calcium levels when brewing can have the following positive influences on your beer:

  • Dropping of pH
  • Preserve mash enzymes
  • Boost extract yield
  • Improve yeast growth and flocculation
  • Hasten oxalate removal and reduce color

The sulfate in the compound as mentioned in our previous articles promotes drier bitterer beers. Calcium sulfate is used in the production of ales because it helps replicate the water profile of Burton-on-Trent in England.

The water in Burton is high in calcium resulting from the large gypsum deposits in the area. So, to produce English style pales ales and IPA’s we need to “Burtonize” the water. The use of Gypsum allows us to do so.

Potassium Metabisulphite or Campden Tablets

Brewery Building Requirements - Water

We use Potassium Metabisulphite in brewing to take away chlorine and/or chloramine from you water. You don’t need to add too much to you water before brewing. A guide is one tablet per 40 liters of water.

If you have chlorine in water it will react with compounds in malted barley to create unpleasant off-flavors.

The potassium metabisulfite reacts with the chlorine to break it down into chloride, sulfates and ammonia. These constituent parts will not lead to undesirable flavor compounds in your final beer and in some cases maybe beneficial.

Using Brewing Salts – Calcium Chloride

Calcium chloride (CaCl) will increase the ratios of both calcium and chloride in your brewing water.

Calcium chloride is one of the main components in the measurement of permanent water hardness. Which we refer to as non-carbonate hardness.

We define permanent water hardness through the total amount of magnesium and calcium ions associated with anions such as sulfate or chloride.

So, why do we term it permanent hardness? Well it will not precipitate under the influence of heat. Hence; why we brewers use calcium chloride as a go to salt to increase calcium levels.

Most municipal water sources contain calcium chloride a long with other components present. Such as carbonate and sulfate in considerable amounts. For example, Dortmund in Germany has high levels of calcium chloride present.

Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom Salt)

Well it does what you think it would. Epsom salt increases magnesium and sulfate levels in your beer. When buying this compound make sure it is food grade. Epsom salt is also responsible for providing hardness to water.

You have to be careful when you use it; as it can provide a sour/bitter flavor in beer if it is at 30ppm or higher. Oh! It can also have a laxative affect in larger amounts.

If you have high levels of calcium in your brewing water already. Magnesium sulfate is often used as an alternative to add sulfates to your water. Malt will provide all the magnesium you need for yeast health so the addition of magnesium isn’t crucial.

Using Brewing Salts – Baking Soda

If for some reason the pH of your mash is too low (below pH 5.2), baking soda can raise the mash pH.

Please note: Baking soda (NaHCO) will also add sodium to your brewing water as well if used to increase mash pH.

Non-Iodized Table Salt

Table salt; a compound made up of sodium and chloride (NaCl). Although, not often used in brewing; the chloride part adds a malt roundness as stated before.

Salt in beer is mostly associated with the “rediscovered” German beer Gose.

Gose it a tart often spicy ale with a low final pH in the finished beer. So, the salt adds a briny note to contrast the tart flavor. Just make sure you use a non-ionized salt.

Using Brewing Salts – Calcium Carbonate (Chalk)

Calcium carbonate (CaCO3), the salt traditionally used by brewers to raise mash pH. However, it doesn’t dissolve readily so, not used much when brewing these days with baking soda the preferred salt.

If the carbonate level in your water is too high it can lead to harsh bitterness in your final beer. In heavily hopped beers this harshness is even more evident.

Calcium Carbonate Brewing Salts

Therefore, if you have a high level of carbonates in your brewing water heating it or adding acid can help.

Lactic and Phosphoric Acid

OK; so not strictly a brewing salt but these acids are some of the most important water treatments in brewing. You add your preferred acid to the brew when you’re mashing in, as well as to treat sparge water.

Lactic and phosphoric acid are the two main acids used to reduce the pH of your mash. They are discussions about which one to use and when

Phosphoric is arguably more reactive and will drop pH quicker than lactic acid. I generally opt for lactic but that’s just my preference.

Case studies show that they are no discernable differences between them. Click here to see one brewing experiment to compare the use of lactic and phosphoric acid.

Using Brewing Salts – A Conclusion

So there you go; those are the main salts used in brewing. I mostly use lactic acid, calcium chloride, calcium sulfate, magnesium sulfate and occasionally sodium chloride.

Think of brewing a little bit like cooking. When you’re making chicken soup adding a little salt, pepper and maybe a little curry powder can lift the overall dish. If you add too much salt it’ll ruin the soup.

It is the same with beer; be careful when adding salts to the brewing water. There are water treatment calculators available online you can use. You still need to know the make-up of your water to use them properly.

So, the first step is to get that water report. Then depending on the style of beer you want to brew you can play with the water calculators until you find the right amounts needed for beer.

So now you know:

  • How to get a breakdown of your brewing water
  • What to look for in a water report for a brewer
  • How the water composition can affect your beer
  • How to treat your brewing water if it has any undesirable characteristics
  • What salts to use and how they work

Thanks for taking the time to read my article. You can use this information a long with the resources below to calculate your beer.

How to use the Water Calculator

With your known water composition (from your report); you can add the values into the calculator below. You then pick the water profile you want to use to fit the beer style chosen.

Play with the salt additions in the water calculator until the values are within the parameters of your beer.

Here are the two resources you need:

Brewers Friend – for water profiles from around the world click here.

EZWaterCalculator – A downloadable spread sheet to calculate you water treatment. Please click here to go to the website.

Good luck and happy brewing!

Cheers

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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