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Water composition and mash pH...

Posted by kenlenard on October 8, 2014 at 8:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Hello Beerheads.  Wow, it's been a really freaking long time since I entered a post in this blog.  I apologize.  Between work, family stuff and home projects over the past 6-8 months, I have not updated anything here.  But... I have a few things to share.  Get a beer... this could take a little while.

I want to cover two things that have had a significant impact here at the Mayfair Court Brewhouse.  First is water.  I have discussed this before and have spent the better part of the last 5 years trying to wrap my brain around understanding water and its impact on brewing.  I mentioned on my water page that I have some decent water except for a bicarbonate number of 138ppm which can be a problem in pale beers because the bicarb wants to keep the mash pH high.  After discussing this with numerous brewers, I kept getting the same answer... dilute with distilled water.  I did that and it absolutely helped.  I would lower the bicarb and I could add back things like calcium chloride and gypsum to get those numbers back up (calcium, chloride, sulfate).  My other water numbers are all very modest (Ca 34, Mg 12, Na 13, Cl 21, SO4 27).  But.  It was a conversation I had with Martin Brungard where he said, "Why don't you just neutralize the bicarbonate with acid?".  Okay, who's doing what now?  By adding something like lactic acid to my brewing water, I could lower the pH and keep the bicarbonate from buffering the pH of the mash, sparge and in the kettle as well.  I am a batch sparger and I would adjust the pH of my mash but not my sparge so when that pH 6.6 water would hit the pale grist of a pilsner, blonde or cream ale, helles or American wheat beer, the pH would climb over that magic 6.0 threshold and start extracting tannins to a level you could taste in the final beer.  I spoke with a number of others who also said that they had no water knowledge, no pH control and their pale beers would be grainy, husky and harsh.  Hmm.  In that same time I read something in the WATER book that said something to the effect of "pH test strips are for amateurs.  If you want to make stellar beer, go get a pH meter!".  I don't know why but that one hit me hard.  Of course I *AM* an amateur but I don't want to make amateur beer!  So I picked up a very inexpensive ($50) Milwaukee PH55 meter.  It's a pen-style meter.  I did have some issues with it at first but now we're talking the same language.  It needs to be sitting in storage solution at all times and you need bottles of 4.0 and 7.0 calibration solutions for the occasional calibration.  Also, if any kind of schputz (oh, I don't know... like... grains from the mash?) stick to the probe, soaking the meter overnight in white distilled vinegar will clean it up.  Also, in the conversation I had with Martin, he mentioned using Bru'N'Water to determine how much acid was necessary to lower the pH of my mash AHEAD OF TIME so I could add the acid to the water before heating it instead of the mash vessel.  Brilliant.  I will say that I had some issues with Bru'N'Water and it even appeared to suggest that I needed more acid that I actually did.  I have that part figured out now.  So... on brewday, I have my 100% filtered water ready.  I might mash with about 4½ gallons and sparge with 3½.  To my 4½ gallons of water I might add some CaCl and CaSO4 and then anywhere from maybe 1 milliliter of lactic acid (for a darker beer) to 2 or 2½ ml of acid for a very pale beer.  Bring the water to mash temp, mix everything together and check the mash pH (you have to take a sample of the mash and cool it to around room temp... I use a small metal bowl that I put in the freezer to lower the temp quicker).  Take the pH and try to get it into that magic 5.2 to 5.4 range.  If it's high, add a few more drops of lactic acid and take another reading.  For the sparge, I get my 3½ gallons ready to heat and add anywhere from 1 to 1½ milliliters more acid to get the pH from its original 6.6 down to about 5.5 so I don't go over that 6.0 pH that could increase tannin extraction.  I have gotten to the point where my pH lines up perfectly on each batch.  It's important to know that lactic acid has a "flavor threshold" where too much will create a nasty, tangy bite to your beer so you don't want to overdo it.  Also, if you have bicarbonate in the 300s or higher, using lactic acid alone might not be enough because to get the mash pH into the range, you may have to use so much acid that you taste it.  In the end, I have made a number of light styles of beer (helles, pilsners, American Standards, Kolsch) and used 100% filtered tap water... no more distilled.  These beers have come out stellar and I have thanked Martin Brungard profusely for introducing me to this strategy.  Keeping the mash pH and the sparge pH in line should help to produce a wort that has a good "kettle pH" so you're not boiling wort with a high pH.  If the wort in the kettle has a pH over 6.0 (I shoot for 5.5), the wort will darken considerably and could end up with a pesky haze that WILL NOT go away.  You could also have harsh, grainy or husk-like flavors in your finished beers.  Pale beers with a high kettle pH can have a dark, grayish appearance to them and the flavor will be as unappetizing as the color.  

There's a lot going on here with new processes and new ingredients.  It's a good time to be a brewer because we have our army of brewers who love to share what they know and a HUGE selection of brewing toys and ingredients and new stuff keeps coming out every day!  Cheers Beerheads and thanks for stopping by!  [KEN] 

Using all of the tools in your toolbox

Posted by kenlenard on February 20, 2012 at 3:10 PM Comments comments (0)

I have been playing with brewing water and also with the effects of pH on various parts of the brewing process.  I wanted to share with you a few new things I have been doing and maybe you can put these tools in your brewing toolbox.  First off, I read through the entire WATER PRIMER thread that was put together by water guru AJ DeLange.  In that thread, there is also commentary and suggestions by another water guru, Martin Brungard.  At last count, that thread ran about 26 pages so be prepared for that.  Also, check out THIS page on Kai's site about what roles pH play in your brewing.  What struck me is the picture on that page where there are two clear bottles of wort... one was boiled at a pH of 5.5 and the other at 6.5.  The higher pH wort was visibly darker than the lower pH wort and the difference is pretty drastic.  Because of this, I have been paying very close attention to mash pH, sparge pH and also pre-boil wort pH.  At this point I do not have a pH meter and I have been relying on ColorpHast strips.  Many smart beer geeks ... ahem ... brewing enthusiasts have said that the ColorpHast strips are very good for brewing and other people suggest a meter is the only way to go.  The strips seem to work fine and when I need to adjust my mash, sparge or pre-boil wort pH (usually downward), my product of choice is 88% lactic acid.  Just ½ milliliter is enough in most cases to move my pH into the optimum zone.  Remember that this also has to do with your water, your grainbill and any additions that you may have made and would effect pH.  If I make a pale-colored beer and use calcium-chloride in my mash, I would probably still need a small amount of lactic acid in the mash and possibly the sparge. 

Here's another thing I recently realized.  I got into the habit of "mashing thick" because I had read that this is the most efficient way to mash for the best conversion.  For a 5-gallon batch with 10 lbs of grain, I may have only mashed with 3 gallons of water and then batch-sparged with 5 gallons.  If I didn't check the pH of that sparge water (which I WAS NOT in the habit of doing), that pH could've been high and caused haze or tannin issues (or both).  So I have been mashing & sparging with closer to equal amounts of water and checking the pH at the beginning of both mash and sparge and adjusting if necessary.

Yet another possible tool:  I was recently talking to a homebrewer who has a much firmer grasp of the brewing building blocks than I do.  He told me that most batch-spargers heat their sparge water to about 175° or so and that he would like to see that number lower.  The idea is that there is no benefit to heating the grains to that temperature but that there are downsides which include greater solubility of the starches and a better chance at tannin extraction.  He suggested doing a few batches where the sparge water was heated to just 160° to see what difference it made, if any.

The more you brew, the more you know and the more tools you accumulate in your toolbox.  As a test, I may try to make a very light bodied, light-colored American Lager with just pilsner malt and flaked corn (and maybe some CaraPils or CaraFoam) and see if I can juggle the water issues, mash & sparge pH issues, sparge temp issues and everything else that would need attention for this style.  A 1.050 beer with an SRM of about 3 and IBUs around 20.  Could be a good test of the tools in the toolbox.  Happy brewing Beerheads & cheers to you!

The balancing act of a perfectly made beer

Posted by kenlenard on November 23, 2011 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (0)

As homebrewers, it's tough to make consisently "great" beer time after time.  It's relatively easy to make good beer each time you brew and it can also be easy to make substandard beer.  Each of us has their vision of the perfect beer whether it be Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Hofbrau Oktoberfest, Ommegang or even Budweiser if that's your thing.  But to make consistently great beer takes some skill and some experience.  I like the natural progression that takes place in homebrewing.  It starts with newbies working with extract in the kitchen and trying to get the method down.  Then all-grainers work with their equipment, mashing vessels, scales and thermometers and attempt to get a mashing schedule down.  Eventually, every brewer steps up and begins to look at the entire process and take that beer that he or she might rate an 85 out of 100 and try to make it an 88, then a 92, then a 95 and so on.  All of this leads me to believe that although we're homebrewers and may not have the quality controls in place like the commercial breweries do, we can still pay close attention to details, learn from our past experiences and make consistently stellar beer.  I have played with a lot of the areas that have a good amount of impact on overall beer character... using fresh, high-quality ingredients, adjusting water, getting a proper mash schedule down, paying close attention to mash pH and mash mineral content, fermenting at temps that are low in the range for the yeast I'm using and the list goes on.  You have to trust your instincts and also your tools.  You need a good thermometer.  You need to know how to use your hydrometer.  You need to know what's in your water and how to adjust it for various styles.  I know that one of the things that attracts people to brewing is the wide-open creativity and endless variations that we might see.  So many things go into making the perfect beer.  I occasionally make a beer that I'm not happy with.  I also make beers that I consider to be "good" and I'm usually happy with that.  I have a batch of MLPA and also a batch of an American Amber Ale on tap right now and on these beers, everything came together perfectly.  This is not something that happens frequently, at least to me.  With regard to the AAA, this was a recipe I put together and brewed for the first time.  I carefully put the recipe together as well as the water profile, mineral additions, mash schedule, etc.  I had a house full of people over for pizza and football this last weekend and everyone agreed that this was a delicious amber ale.  People who might ordinarily drink a mass-produced American lager were drinking this amber ale (5.5%, 36 IBUs, SRM 14) with enthusiasm.  When people are over at my house and drinking my beer, I try to get a feel for how they're liking it.  Is it taking them 30 minutes to drink one glass of it?  Are they repeatedly going to the taps?  Well this MLPA and American Amber Ale came out as well as this homebrewer can possibly make it.  A perfectly made beer is a balancing act of a deep malt base, hop bitterness, flavor and aroma, a clean & smooth texture and finish and the correct profile coming from the yeast you select.  When I see my beers being enjoyed by others, all I want to do is brew more beer and try to make it as carefully as I can.  For those of you who have seen 5 or 10 gallons of your beer dusted in a few hours by your friends, family and neighbors... you know what a great feeling that is.  I always say that if you're going to go through the effort of homebrewing, the goal should be stellar beer... beer that you want over any other beer you can get your hands on.   Cheers Beerheads!

A word about GOLD LAGERS

Posted by kenlenard on October 27, 2011 at 4:00 PM Comments comments (0)

You know, I use the term GOLD LAGERS a lot.  This could refer to German or Bohemian Pilsners, a Helles, American Lagers, some Oktoberfests, Mexican and Caribbean Lagers or any other gold lager beer made in any country around the world.  To me, a crystal clear gold beer is a work of art.  I am not necessarily calling Bud Light or Keystone a work of art so let's move beyond that.  A good Helles, German or Czech Pilsner is refreshing, bready, clean and delicious.  I recently had some Hofbrau Oktoberfestbier at a buddy's house and it was really nice.  A soft, gold color, good clarity and a malty, bready aroma.  The flavor had some Vienna toastiness and the malt and hops (which I assumed were Noble, probably Hallertau) worked well with the grains in the beer.  To me, making a good, consistent gold beer like this is a brewing goal that I have and I realize that it's a challenging style to make.  But I keep trying.  I have been looking closely at water and mash pH.  I have been getting the best German Pilsner malt, Vienna and Munich that I can get (usually Weyermann).  I always have Noble hops in the hop freezer and I experiment with various yeast strains like WLP830, Wyeast 2124, 2308, 2206 and 2001.  I know that a lot of homebrewers find beers in this style boring or too much work because of the lagering processes that are used.  I have everything I need to make these beers and I've got a few coming up.  This past week I took a stab at this Hofbrau Oktoberfestbier with some Best Malz Pilsner, Weyermann Vienna and a small amount of Aromatic.  I used all Hallertau hops and 2124 yeast.  About 1.060 OG, 28 IBUs and an SRM of about 4-5.  Hopefully it comes out clear, clean and delicious.  I'll keep you posted!  Cheers!

A word about GOLD LAGERS

Posted by kenlenard on October 27, 2011 at 4:00 PM Comments comments (0)

You know, I use the term GOLD LAGERS a lot.  This could refer to German or Bohemian Pilsners, a Helles, American Lagers, some Oktoberfests, Mexican and Caribbean Lagers or any other gold lager beer made in any country around the world.  To me, a crystal clear gold beer is a work of art.  I am not necessarily calling Bud Light or Keystone a work of art so let's move beyond that.  A good Helles, German or Czech Pilsner is refreshing, bready, clean and delicious.  I recently had some Hofbrau Oktoberfestbier at a buddy's house and it was really nice.  A soft, gold color, good clarity and a malty, bready aroma.  The flavor had some Vienna toastiness and the malt and hops (which I assumed were Noble, probably Hallertau) worked well with the grains in the beer.  To me, making a good, consistent gold beer like this is a brewing goal that I have and I realize that it's a challenging style to make.  But I keep trying.  I have been looking closely at water and mash pH.  I have been getting the best German Pilsner malt, Vienna and Munich that I can get (usually Weyermann).  I always have Noble hops in the hop freezer and I experiment with various yeast strains like WLP830, Wyeast 2124, 2308, 2206 and 2001.  I know that a lot of homebrewers find beers in this style boring or too much work because of the lagering processes that are used.  I have everything I need to make these beers and I've got a few coming up.  This past week I took a stab at this Hofbrau Oktoberfestbier with some Best Malz Pilsner, Weyermann Vienna and a small amount of Aromatic.  I used all Hallertau hops and 2124 yeast.  About 1.060 OG, 28 IBUs and an SRM of about 4-5.  Hopefully it comes out clear, clean and delicious.  I'll keep you posted!  Cheers!

Brewing Water... Again!

Posted by kenlenard on September 7, 2011 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

I'll apologize in advance for rambling about brewing water again.  Anyone who has been on forums where I usually post know that I have been a little more than preoccupied with this subject lately.  I have read a number of times (in books and also online) that water chemistry is probably the one area where homebrewers exchange the least information with each other and it's probably the one area that can have the biggest impact on your glass of beer.  When you see homebrewers exchange recipes with each other, how often does the recipe include a water breakdown?  There are probably a bunch of reasons why they don't discuss water.  Maybe some brewers just assume that other brewers know what to do with their water for that style of beer.  Maybe it's because water chemistry is a complex subject that many brewers don't want to get into.  It could also be that we are told that if your water looks, smells and tastes good, it's okay to brew with.  Maybe it's because there are a lot of people out there who make the right style of beer for their water and rarely run into water issues in the first place.  This is a big topic for me because my water has got a good amount of bicarbonate in it which can cause any number of issues in any number of beer styles out there.  Because of this, I usually have to dilute my water with some percentage of distilled water depending on the style.  I recently made a batch of a Czech Pilsner that used 75% distilled water (along with 25% of my tap water which was run through a carbon block filter to remove chlorine) and an addition of calcium chloride and a smaller addition of magnesium sulfate made to the mash.  The final water had a high chloride level and a low sulfate and carbonate level.  The resulting beer came out much better than any of my other attempts... of which there were MANY.  On this beer, there was a noticeable softness to the beer.  It was like drinking a glass of soft bread.  I also noticed that the hops were much easier to pick out in the overall character of the beer.  That doesn't mean they were more up front... in fact, they may have been muted.  But you could find their flavor much easier with this water which lead me to the conclusion that bicarbonate "muddies" the flavor of beer.  It gets in the way of delicate flavors that you may get from various grains, hops and yeast strains.  I have also heard that bicarbonate can cause clarity issues and can also play havoc with head formation and stability.  All of this suggests that a person can make all of their beer styles with one water source and suffer from the same beer character in every single beer they make.  Some people may refer to this as "house flavor" which can come from any number of places but since water makes up 90-95% of your beer, my guess is that using the wrong water profile for various beer styles can cause them all to taste the same and also taste bad.  If I used my water for Pale Ales, Red Ales and possibly something like an English Bitter or an Oktoberfest, the resulting beer would be pretty good.  But if I also used that water for Cream Ales, Blondes, Pilsners, Helles, Kolsch and a number of others, it would not come out well.  So my new goal is to build the proper water for the style whether I have to use 25% distilled water or 50%, 75% or 100%.  I would guess that each beer I made would have a very distinct (and historically correct) profile to it and why shouldn't it?  If I used all English ingredients for an English Bitter... it should taste like an English Bitter and it should have very little, if any resemblance to my American Blonde Ale (which should have it's own distinct character).  Same with an Oktoberfest Lager made with all German ingredients... it should be distinctly German and should not have any similarities with any other style except maybe a Vienna or Marzen.  So if you know of any good sites that have detailed information (like the overall ppm of the big 6 water ions for each style of beer) about water profiles for various styles of beer, please comment here, shoot me an email or PM me on one of the boards.  I have about 20 gallons of distilled water in my garage and I'm not afraid to use it!  Cheers Beerheads!

Trendy Beer Styles...

Posted by kenlenard on September 1, 2011 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (0)

You know that brewer at your local homebrewers gathering who always has something like an orange-mushroom Belgian Dubbel that he intentionally soured and then placed in a charred oak barrel and then served it out of a pumpkin for Halloween?  Me too!  The thing is, this is the norm and has been the norm for awhile now.  Everything that homebrewers and even brewpubs are making are oaked, smoked, soured, Imperial, ultra-high IBU or all of the above.  I was reading an article about session beers in BYO.  I don't know if you've noticed but every beer on my recipe page could be considered a session beer.  Anyway, one of the contributors of the article said, "This trend is getting tired.  I'm sick of 'Imperial' everything.  Why can't we have 'session' everything?".  You know what?  That's a great idea.  The bottom line is that all of the beers I make are between 4.0% and 5.5% and what is wrong with having a 5% Oktoberfest?  I suppose that I'm in the minority of homebrewers that go for the lighter and more straightforward style.  To me, I like to discover some of the great beers that you might experience if you were at Oktoberfest or a beer garden in the Czech Republic or a pub in London.  I suppose that's one great things about homebrewing... make what you like and put your research efforts into making the beers that you like drinking the most.  Cheers Beerheads!

Back to brewing...

Posted by kenlenard on January 13, 2010 at 10:16 PM Comments comments (1)

I brewed my Hacienda Lager this morning.  It was the first brewday of 2010 and my first brewing session in about 2 months.  A recent trip to Mexico has rekindled my passion for Mexican beers like Victoria, Negra Modelo and Indio.  Next week I will use the White Labs 940 Mexican lager yeast and make my interpretation of Indio, a dark lager.  It occurs to me that we're in a time where microbreweries are trying to impress people with ultra hoppy and highly alcoholic beers.  They're also trying to one-up the other guys by doing something nuttier than everyone else.  I have to admit that after my trip, I am now more interested in simple beer than ever before.  My Hacienda Lager, Memory Lapse Pale Ale, Bases Loaded Blonde, Bierhalle Vienna Lager, Aviator's English Ale, etc.  My trip also prompted me to create a Mexican Beer Page on this site.  On that page, I took a look at Mexican beers in general and discuss what makes a Mexican beer Mexican.  I got some help from one of the brewers at Del Norte Brewery in Denver, Jack Sosebee.  Jack mentions how German and Austrian brewers emigrated to Mexico over a hundred years ago and set up the brewing roots for what we know today.  Anytime you hear someone say that Mexican beers are boring or that Mexico doesn't know what they're doing, take a look at my Mexican Beer Page and remember that there is a rich brewing tradition in Mexico and it goes far beyond Corona.  Salud!

Back from Mexico...

Posted by kenlenard on January 5, 2010 at 4:03 PM Comments comments (1)

The day after Christmas, we took off from cold Chicago and landed in 85° Acapulco for some thawing out.  The kids were off of school and their basketball programs were all shut down because all of the schools were closed.  One of my goals was to warm up, swim in the ocean and chill.  Another one of my goals was to drink some Victoria Lager which is one of my favorite Mexican beers and it's not sold in the US.  I accomplished both goals.  I also found another good beer that I had heard about, Indio.  It's made by the "other" brewery in Mexico,  Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma something or other.  They make Sol, Tecate, Superior (not sold here), Dos Equis regular and Amber, Buena Noche, etc.  Grupo Modelo is the larger brewery and they make Corona, Pacifico, Negra Modelo, Modelo Especial, Estrella, Leon, Victoria, etc.  This Indio is a dark amber lager that seems like it would be in the American Dark Lager category.  It's not overly roasty which suggests some debittered black malt or something.  I have put together a recipe to attempt to duplicate it.  I will make a starter with one of my vials of White Labs 940 Mexican Lager yeast and make one batch of Hacienda Lager (my version of Victoria) and then I'll make another batch of this Indio-inspired beer.  If it's good, I'll put it in the recipe forum.  In the meantime... our vacation included a lot of sun, swimming, surf, beer and standard Mexican food.  We rented some waverunners, we parasailed, we walked up & down the beach, we swam in the ocean, went over to Las Brisas to watch the sunset, we saw the cliffdivers and all of that.  Most days were spent hanging out at the pool and beach and the temps ranged from about 85° to maybe the low 90s.  A very fun trip for all of us and a good way to break up the cold season here in the Midwest.  Now we just need to get through the next 3 months of cold and snow.  There are pics of the trip to Acapulco under GALLERIES.  Cheers.

Busy, Busy, Busy...

Posted by kenlenard on December 7, 2009 at 12:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Holiday time.  Lots of stiff going on with work, kids, the season, brewing, etc.  I made my Christmas beer with vanilla and cinnamon and I really like it.  It's red, clear and cinnamony.  But I decided that it's not a good idea to take up one my 2 taps with that beer so I bottled the remaining case of that to make room for some other stuff.  There is a homebrew gathering at the Mayfair Court Brewhouse on Saturday, December 12 and I wanted to try to get as much stuff as possible into bottles and 2 really good beers on tap.  I will have some Aviator's English Ale, Cobblestone Kolsch, Holiday Schmoliday and a few others in bottles and then Ballyhoo Best Bitter and either Brauhaus Original Helles or a Prague Pilsner on tap.  I know that the others will have some good stuff too.  If you're reading this & you live in the area... and have no plans on 12/12, email me for my address and come on over and raise a glass.  Cheers.


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