I have a problem balancing the "this is only a hobby" part of my brain with the "I want to make the best beer possible" part of my brain. If I have to dig deeply into water chemistry, I fall asleep and most of it goes right over my head. It will also seem too much like work when this is supposed to be a hobby. But the longer I brew, the more I look for information so I can feel good about brewing the best possible beer. Whenever the topic of water came up in the past, I decided that there were more important things to worry about. And there may be. Afterall, I have pretty decent water here in the Chicago suburbs. It has its limitations, but it's pretty good brewing water.
Let me say right here and now that all of the information on this page is stuff I have picked up from people who are much smarter than I am. This is simply a guideline for looking into your brewing water. The information here has been put into the simplest form so I can process it without my head exploding. It has all been regurgitated and boiled down so that I can properly apply it to my brewing water and the styles of beer that I make (which vary widely). I also invite anyone who has something to add or who would like to correct something on this page to feel free to do so. This process started when I tried making a Czech or German Pilsner with a good amount of Saaz hops and my filtered tap water. It was not as smooth as I had hoped and it turned out that my water was not very compatible with brewing pale-colored beers. After doing a little homework, I grabbed the EZ_Water spreadsheet as well as the Bru'N'Water spreadsheet.
But before we get into that, we have to cover a couple of basic things. First and foremost, you really can't go much further with water until you have a good water analysis. This can be obtained from your local municipality, water supplier, etc. If you cannot get good water information this way, the best thing to do is get a water sample (the water you plan to use for brewing) and send it to Ward Labs so they can do a W-6 household water analysis on it. They will tell you all of the necessary information including the pH of your water and the levels of various ions present in your water like calcium, magnesium, sulfates, etc. To gain an understanding of your water and to use either of the spreadsheets properly, you must have these numbers. In the spreadsheet, you can enter all of these pieces of information (calcium, magnesium, sodium, chloride, sulfate and bicarbonate), the dilution you plan to use (if any), the salt additions you plan to use (if any) and then the spreadsheet will tell you what color beers (in SRM) are most appropriate for your water. It will also tell you about the chloride-to-sulfate ratio of your beer. This ratio represents the perceived "maltiness" or "bitterness" of your beer. Too much calcium and not enough sulfate? Your beer may lean to the malty side. Too much sulfate? The beer could have a spiky, harsh taste to it. There is a lot of information online about this. For the record, the water analysis that I received from Ward Labs for my Lake Michigan (Chicago suburbs) water looks like this...
Total dissolved solids (TDS): 264
Electrical Conductivity, mmho/cm: 0.44
Cations/Anions, me/L: 3.3 / 3.4
Total Hardness: 135
Nitrate, No3-N: 0.4
Sulfate, SO4-S: 9
Carbonate, CO3: <1
Bicarbonate, HCO3: 138
Total Alkalinity, CaCO3: 113
This might be a good spot to mention that looking into your water may not even be necessary. It's possible that many all-grain brewers do exactly what brewers of yesterday did... brew the type of beer that best suits your water. If you are an all-grain brewer and you cannot imagine your beer being any better than it is right now, you may be off the hook. This is a topic with many variables including your water (many variables there), the type of beer you like to brew and your tastebuds. Some brewers make bigger, more flavorful beers that may not fall victim to small water issues. But I do make beers that are on the lighter side and may be considered more finesse beers. I have a number of lager recipes that I make that are all 5% ABV or under and mostly 30 IBU and under. They are balanced beers where a water problem may make itself known. But if you're an all-grain brewer who makes a lot of different styles and you haven't checked out your water profile, I urge you do take these steps. Because of the widely varying water profiles across the country (and the world) and because water makes up 90+ percent of your beer, I consider this topic to be as important as sanitation or making proper yeast starters for beer. Do you notice that many homebrewers exchange recipes but never talk about what the water should be like? I hear many homebrewers say, "Our tap water is GREAT for brewing!" and it may be. But if a homebrewer wanted to make a wide array of beer styles, no one water composition can work for all of them without some sort of treatment or understanding of general water principles. Many homebrewers are blessed with soft water which I consider to be the best for brewing. With soft water, the brewer can make some of the softer styles like Pilsner without issue and when they want to make something like Oktoberfest, Amber Ales, IPAs or stouts, the proper water additions can get the water right where they would need it. But when you have high levels of sulfate, sodium, bicarbonate, etc., you have to look into dilution as the easiest way to adjust your water.
My water happens to be a little low on calcium (34 ppm) and also a little low on magnesium (12 ppm) which is important for yeast health. Also, my sulfate number (expressed as SO4-S) needs to be multiplied by 3 so that number is actually 27. With my tap water and no dilution or salt additions, my chloride-to-sulfate ratio is "balanced", which is good. Also, the ideal SRM range for my untreated water is 12 to 17. As it is, I already design recipes that are malty or balanced, not overly hoppy. So my malty recipes, combined with my "balanced" water creates beers that are in line with my tastebuds. I have spoken to a number of good brewers who also happen to know their water and they suggest that a brewer should never have to add magnesium (Epsom salt, MgSO4, Magnesium sulfate) to a beer. Most water has at least trace amounts and even if it doesn't, grain is made up of a small amount (about 0.13%) magnesium which supplies the yeast with more than enough than it needs to function.
My goal here is to have the right water composition for each style (or at least each color range) of beer. As I began to look into this, I concluded that unless you're making a stout, high levels of bicarbonate are almost always unwelcome. In my experience, bicarbonate masks the delicate flavors of hops or grain. It doesn't allow the beer drinker to perceive all of the flavors that the beer has in it because it almost acts like a smokescreen on your tastebuds. I have compared this to driving around with a dirty windshield. You can see where you're going but not very clearly. In pale-colored beers (SRM 6 and below), high levels of sulfate and bicarbonate can bring on harsh flavors and an unsmooth finish. I have found that in amber-colored beers (maybe SRM 7 to 12), the beer can benefit from a lower level of bicarbonate but if the chloride and sulfate levels get too low, the beer becomes flat and bland-tasting. So my approach for amber beers may be to lower the bicarbonate by diluting my tap water with 25% or 50% distilled water and then adding back enough calcium chloride and/or calcium sulfate (gypsum) to get the chloride and sulfate numbers back to where they were before I diluted the water.
John Palmer's FAMOUS BREWING WATERS from around the world shows the concentration of water ions from famous brewing cities and John Palmer's TABLE 16 shows various water ions and conversions from grams to level teaspoons so that you can look at the way they effect brewing water. Using these two references together can allow you to see how the water salts affect brewing water. My suggestion is to download the spreadsheet from the link above and also look at Table 16. Then take your water numbers from your analysis and punch them into the spreadsheet. Also, enter a target SRM number into the spreadsheet. Let's say you're making a Blonde or Cream Ale. Enter your SRM (say 4 or 5) into the sheet and add your water numbers. At the bottom, the sheet will tell you your ratio and also an ideal SRM range. There is a spot for dilution (using some percentage of distilled water along with your tap water in an attempt to lower some of the ions that are too plentiful for the style you wish to brew) and a spot for salt additions. Watch the chloride-to-sulfate ratio (in the RESULTS box) as you add additions of things like calcium chloride, gypsum or epsom salt. Adjust the numbers until you're in the SRM range of the beer you wish to make and see if you can balance the ratio. You should be able to add small amounts of these salts without going crazy. If you overdo it, the "adjusted mash" box will show bad numbers in RED, suggesting that you added too much of something and now a number is out of range. If you have water that is off the charts in one area or another, it may be best to dilute your water with distilled and then add back enough brewing salts to make up for deficiencies.
Here's an example of a beer that I make on a regular basis... Memory Lapse Pale Ale. This is a malty pale ale with 7¼ lbs of base malt, 1 lb of Crystal 60°L, 12 oz of wheat and 5.2 AAU of Mt. Hood hops at 60 minutes. This is a simple beer and when its made properly, it's absolutely delicious. But any number of small issues could push the profile to far to the malty side, possibly throwing off the delicate balance of the beer. You could accidentally mash too high, you could use old, stale hops, you could have a wimpy boil and not get good hop utilization, you could use an underattenuative yeast which could leave the resulting beer overly sweet, you could use a maltier base malt which could throw off the balance, etc. It also occurs to me that if your water was chloride-heavy, you might need to adjust your water. A very small addition of gypsum could adjust the ratio into the "balanced" range and make the water suitable for making this beer.
The easier of the two spreadsheets is EZ-Water. It's very straightforward and allows you to enter your numbers and get a quick feel for how the pH will work and what the ideal SRM range would be. It allows you to enter your mash and sparge volumes, dilution rates, etc. and make salt additions to the mash to get your pH and residual alkalinity correct for the SRM of the beer you're making. Again, you enter your water numbers, set your dilution rate (if any), add your salt additions (if any) and it will give you your ions along with a range of acceptable levels and whether you are high or low for any given ion. It gives the same SRM range as the other sheet (in a 5 SRM range), your residual alkalinity and your chloride-to-sulfate ratio. I have gotten into the habit of putting this information together, getting it right where I would like it and then printing it out and stapling it to a sheet that has my recipe on it. This way I know what I did on that batch... both recipe-wise and water treatment-wise. I try to get the mash pH correct by using the right water and additions and if it's slightly high (it's almost always too high rather than too low), I have 88% lactic acid on hand to lower it.
Some of this brewing water information also has a bearing on the clarity of your beer. As someone who puts a lot of effort into getting clear beer, I find it interesting that you can get a jump on beer clarity at the point of mashing. First off, appropriate levels of calcium can promote clarity in beer. The standard calcium range for the mash is 50-150. The calcium in my water comes in at 34 so I'm a little low. If I dilute my water for any reason, the calcium gets cut even further. I'm going to be adding gypsum or calcium chloride on almost every batch anyway, so I can easily get my levels into the target range. There is also something to be said or proper mash pH and clarity. If you're an all-grain brewer and you have no idea what your mash pH is, you may not be able to expect clear beer. Also, higher levels bicarbonate can play havoc with beer clarity as well. It can also mess with your head formation and stability. But with the addition of these very handy water spreadsheets, you can adjust your water so your pH will be ideal for the beer you're going to make. If you're making a light-colored beer (say SRM 3 or 4) and you use the spreadsheet to adjust the ideal SRM range to cover your beer color, your pH should be very close to ideal and that can help you produce a brilliantly clear beer. If you choose to take that a step further, pick up some ColorPhast pH strips or even pick up a pH meter that will tell you your exact mash pH.
It's easy to overdo the additions to the point of the beer being harsh and even salty. Many homebrewers I know (and me!) have made beers that had too much calcium chloride or other addition and the beer turned out salty. So go with a "less-is-more" approach. Take good notes especially if a beer comes out really well. Check to see what you did with your water, your additions, your chloride-to-sulfate ratio, your residual alkalinity, etc. I just went back and looked at a couple of different beers that came out really nice. For any beer I make in that SRM range, what I did on that beer should work for other beers as well. If I wanted to make the same beer but for some reason I wanted to make the beer more "pale", I would probably want to look into reducing sulfates and bicarb since those two components come through like sandpaper in a pale beer.
Also, a quick word about reverse-osmosis (RO) water. I had a conversation with a few brewers who suggested I try diluting my tap water with RO to reduce the bicarbonate. There is a bulk RO water machine at my local grocery store and it's 49¢ a gallon. I would bring a 5-gallon, blue water bottle and fill it up and use that for maybe 50% of my water for a batch along with my filtered tap water. The other brewers I spoke with said that RO water should be close enough to distilled water (which has ZERO water ions in it) that you don't even need to worry about what is in it. For years I played with that water making pilsners and other pale-colored beers and had poor results. Eventually I decided to take a sample of it and send it to Ward Labs. Turns out the water was not as low in ions as one would expect. There were high TDS numbers and bicarbonate of 50ppm. This was not good water for diluting. The truth is that a brewer never really knows what is in RO water unless they have it analyzed. All of the various machines and other sources are going to have numbers all over the place and there is no way to know how well the filters have been maintained, etc. so it's always best to know the numbers in the water you're using for brewing. As a result, I will either use the bulk RO water as 100% of the water for a batch (which is fine by itself) or I will cut my filtered tap water with distilled water.
A quick note about Bru'N'Water... this application is a little more in-depth than other water products and many brewers rave about it. I will admit that I have often fumbled with the control of it, trying to figure out what the spreadsheet wanted from me. That is no fault of Bru'N'Water, for sure. But one thing that I really like about it is the water profiles that are listed in tab 3. There are the "Great Brewing Waters Of The World" like Dublin, Plzen, Munich, etc. and that's fine. But what I like is the list of more generic styles like "Yellow Balanced" or "Amber Malty" or "Brown Bitter", etc. With these, you can create your beer recipe and then craft your water based on these water profiles and also your own tastebuds. I happen to pick up the sharp, hop-enhancing properties of gypsum (calcium sulfate) a little too much. When I make a beer where I inadvertantly used too much gypsum, I usually notice it and it starts to wear down my tastebuds eventually. So for me, I can look at the Bru'N'Water profile that fits my beer and if the sulfate level looks a little high, I can just lower it in my beer. Or if I am making an "Amber Balanced" beer, I can just use the "Amber Malty" profile (which uses less sulfate) and I'm all good. Do not confuse the "Yellow Balanced" (or any of the YELLOW styles) as a profile to be used for Pilsner production. There is too much sulfate & bicarb in those profiles (even in the Yellow Malty profile) to be used for a proper Pilsner.
For me, the key to getting a little better understanding of this topic was the spreadsheet (either one). You do not have to know complex formulas or even understand how salt additions will effect your mash or beer flavor because the spreadsheet tells you exactly what you will get based on YOUR water and what you do with it. Download it and play with it... you'll see that as you punch in numbers, dilute the water and make salt additions, the results will be displayed in an ideal SRM range and the chloride-to-sulfate ratio. There is more information in John Palmer's How-To-Brew book and website and there is also good information on other sites which go into this topic in greater detail.
You may have read this elsewhere on this site, but I do enjoy making some gold beers like Pilsner, American Lager, Kolsch, pale Oktoberfests, Helles, American Wheat, Cream Ale or Blonde Ales. If you look at my water profile (above) that bicarbonate number (138), alkalinity (113) and the hardness (135) can cause some problems when making lighter colored beer. Aside from the idea that darker malts can balance out the presense of bicarbonate (and many darker beers wouldn't be what they are without it), I can only explain what I have learned so far about making beers like this with hard(er) water. In the above section I mentioned that the first step in working with your water is to know what is in it. This applies here too. It will be very tricky to know how to attack this issue without knowing what is in your water. Ward Labs is your friend and if you send them a water sample, they will conduct a W6 household water test for you.
When I first started all-grain brewing, I made whatever styles of beer I wanted to make without thinking about the water. Pale ales, reds, ambers and such came out pretty nicely but pale beers were a different story. There was a harshness and an astringent finish in the beer that I eventually learned was a due to a high level of bicarbonate in my water. Every once in awhile you'll hear about a homebrewer who wants to put a "gold beer" together for a wedding, a family reunion or for Uncle Marty's 60th birthday. Maybe this is not a style that the brewer would ordinarily make or maybe a new brewer assumes they can make any style of beer and not worry about water. If you're an extract brewer and you want to make a pale-colored beer, it's probable that your water will make a decent beer. But all-grain brewing brings the mash into the equation and this is when the wheels can fall off if you're not sure about your water. Many people around the world are blessed with soft water which is really the best water to have if you want to make beer. You can easily make pale-colored beers with little or no additions and if you wanted to make darker beers, the addition of calcium chloride, gypsum or calcium carbonate can easily be made to the mash. But when you have hard water, you need to take away some of what is in the water and the best way to do that is with dilution of distilled or reverse-osmosis water. Some poor brewers have such hard water that they use ONLY distilled or RO water and "build" their water for whatever style of beer they're brewing. I have had some water experts suggest that I cut my filtered water with RO water at a ratio of 9:1. If I were going to cut my water 9:1 with RO, I might as well just use 100% RO... which I have tried. I have attempted to use 50% RO and 50% filtered tap and have had some decent results. I have also used 75% RO water and the results seem better. I currently have a beer on tap that was made with 7 lbs of German Pilsner malt, 3 lbs of Weyermann Munich, a pound of Weyermann Vienna and 8 ounces of Carapils. The beer was made with 50% RO water and about 4 grams of calcium chloride added to the mash. It's a nice, deep gold color and is very clear. The aroma and flavor are very good. The only issue is that there is a bit of a bite in the finish because I only used 50% RO water. For a beer in this style, sulfates and bicarbonate should be very low. Sulfates add crispness and accentuate hop bitterness. Chlorides on the other hand lend rounded smoothness and can almost lend a sweetness to the beer... in a pleasing way. So diluting the water with RO may deplete your calcium levels but they can be brought back up with calcium chloride in the mash.
Another area of concern is mash pH. With a beer like this, it's critical that the mash pH be in the optimal 5.2 to 5.6 range. Check out THIS page from Kai's website. On that page, there is a picture of two different worts that were boiled and then a portion of the liquid placed in a clear bottle for easy viewing. One was at a pH of 5.5 and the other was at 6.5. The lower pH wort still had a beautiful clear color and the higher pH wort was much darker. In the description, Kai says that the difference is remarkable... and it is. The higher pH wort has an ugly, grayish-gold look to it and I have seen that exact color in my own gold beers in the past. It's clear to me that the proper mash and sparge pH can produce much clearer beer. When I have failed to watch my mash pH in the past, not only was the beer darker but there was also a pesky haze and a harshness to the beer that completely ruined it. Either use a good pH meter or if you're comfortable with ColorpHast strips, use them to make sure that your mash pH is in the proper range. The ColorPhast strips have some sort of a correction factor built into them to account for temperature. If you dip your pH strip into the wort at mash temp (say 150°), the reading on the strip will be 0.3 lower than the actual mash pH (so if the strip shows 5.0, it's actually 5.3 and nicely in the optimal range). So I shoot for a mash pH on my strips of 5.0. The jury is still out on whether the strips are "good enough" for homebrewing or if a meter is necessary. Some very smart people wag their finger at strips while others I know say that the strips are excellent for homebrewing and nothing more is needed. I'll leave that part to you.
Another good piece of information I recently picked up was the temperature of the sparge. Many batch spargers will add water that has been heated to 175°. I recently had some discussions about this and found a few brewers who suggest that this is too warm. When the sparge is exposed to high temperatures, the solubility of the grains increases which can cause some tannin extraction (causing a harsh taste) and haze-causing compounds to come out in the wort. Another brewer mentioned that bringing the sparge temperature that high is just not necessary in batch sparging. As a result, I have been heating my sparge water to just 160°.
Another great piece of reading (but clear your calendar first, it's 25 pages and counting!) is a WATER PRIMER that was put together by water-rockstar, AJ DeLange. In that thread, AJ and equally rock-star-status guru Martin Brungard discuss adjusting your water to suit your style of beer. There is A LOT of good information in that thread but what struck me was the area (maybe around page 7 or 8) where AJ mentions that the more RO water he uses in his beers, the better his beer comes out. Basically he is saying that the softer the water, the better. He goes on to say that some of his best beers have been made with 100% RO water and very small or no additions at all. This would put a good-sized dent in the theory that one needs at least 50ppm of calcium in practically every beer you make.
So below is a list of things that I would do when making a beer in this style. I should mention for the record that I have no desire to make Bud Light or Corona. When I say "Pale-colored beer" or "Gold lager", I'm talking about beers that are similar to the one I mentioned above. German Pilsner malt, maybe some Vienna or Munich, some Carapils or Carafoam. Beers that may be SRM 4-5, 5 to 5.5% and maybe 25 to 30 IBUs. I make these beers year-round and use yeasts like WLP940, WLP840, WLP830, Wyeast 2782, 2001, 2124 and similar to ferment these beers. Some of these might fall somewhere between an Oktoberfest and a Pilsner or maybe a Helles. These are beers with character but there aren't many homebrewers making beers like this. If I were to make a beer like this, my process would go something like this:
7 lbs Best Malz German Pilsner Malt
3 lbs Weyermann Munich Malt (6°L)
8 ounces CaraFoam
1 oz Hallertau pellets 4.6% FWH
1 oz Tettnanger pellets 4.5% for 60 minutes
Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager yeast
My water would be 75% RO and 25% filtered tap water. I would mash with 4 gallons and sparge with 4 gallons for a 5 gallon batch. So my mash water would be 12 quarts (3 gals) of RO water (I pick this up in bulk from the grocery store for 49¢ per gallon) and 4 quarts (1 gallon) of filtered tap water. To the grains and water in the mash I would add 5 grams of calcium chloride. I would do this for the calcium and chloride but AJ seems to suggest that using far less can still result in a great beer. If you try it and agree, please let me know. I would do a single-infusion mash at around 151° and I would mash for 90 minutes. It is also possible to do a step mash here and I have done this as well. I would begin the first mash with just 3 gallons of water and begin at a temp of 148-149° and leave it for 45 minutes. Heat an additional 1.5 gallons of the brewing water to 190-200° and add it to the main mash at the 45' mark with the goal of reaching 158-162° for an additional 45 minutes. At the start of the mash and when the temp has been established, check the pH of the mash and ensure that it is in the 5.2 to 5.6 range. Lighter colored beers are better at the higher end and darker beers are better at the lower end. If the pH is too high, you can add more calcium chloride and also lactic acid to the mash to lower it. Take the pH reading again to make sure the pH is correct. Also, look into other products that will lower the pH including other acceptable acids. When the mash is complete, allow the runoff to finish up and then add the remaining 4 gallons of sparge water that have been heated to 160-165°. Again, check the pH of the sparge and make sure that it does not measure above 6.0. If it does, lower it with lactic acid. I usually begin with about .5ml and then check the pH again. I have a small plunger-dropper type thing that has measurements in milliliters. Allow the sparge to sit for 10-15 minutes and then recirculate and drain the remaining wort. I still use a good solid boil, a Whirfloc tablet in the last 5-7 minutes of the boil and a good, quick chill. It seems that the mash and sparge pH play an enormus role in the success of a beer in these styles. It was clear to me when I saw that pitcure on Kai's site and recognized it as happening to me many times. It was evident that I wasn't paying close enough attention to the mash pH.
Finally, it occurs to me that higher levels of bicarbonate in pale-colored beers acts like a smokescreen on your tastebuds. It clouds the delicate flavors that you might be trying to get from your grains, your hops or yeast. When you make a beer with softer water, you can really taste a difference in the beer and the individual flavors are much clearer and more pleasing. If you were to make a beer like a pilsner and then add some Vienna or Munich to it to give it a little extra depth, you may not even be able to detect those malts in the beer if the bicarbonate level was high. Every once in awhile you might hear someone say to add 2-4 ounces of something like Aromatic, Victory or Biscuit malt to a beer. With high levels of bicarbonate, you may have a hard time picking those flavors out because they would be masked. I've mentioned before that this has been a lonely passion for me because I happen to enjoy beers in this style (rare for homebrewers) and I also happen to have water that does not lend itself to these styles. It can be very rewarding to have a gold lager on tap for when friends, family or neighbors stop by and maybe they're not overly ambitious in the styles they like to try. Having a fresh batch of homebrew in this style can really impress the standard beer drinkers out there and possibly open them up to other styles as well. In the summer, it can be very refreshing to have a clean, gold lager on tap and I will make many of these beers in the spring to get ready for the warmer months ahead. If you have questions or comments on any of this material, feel free to email me with the link on the homepage. Cheers!
More on pH...
This is an update to my water page and it includes one of the latest tools in my toolbox. I feel a little sheepish not knowing this earlier in my brewing especially when many of my favorite styles are pale and also German... both of which apply here. In my research of water composition, pH, clarity and overall beer flavor and perception, I am now seeing that finished beer pH is a real key to excellent flavor components in beer. I happened to be drinking some commercial beer (and homebrew) and decided to take the finished beer pH of these beers. A pilsner I made (that was not that great) had a finished beer pH of 4.3 as did a number of darker beers I made that were okay. I had a couple of pale commercial beers including Kona Longboard Lager from Hawaii, Stiegl Goldbrau from Austria and Pacifico from Mexico. All of these beers have a flavor component that I have had a hard time placing and all of them had a finished beer pH of 4.0 to 4.1. I have asked on multiple forums and people will say that it's the experience of the professional brewer, the fresh ingredients, etc. In the case of European beers people would suggest it's the centuries of brewing tradition, fresh ingredients, etc. On something like a Stiegl Goldbrau (just one example of many), there is a snappy, grassy, bright and fresh aroma and flavor to the beer. Not one person on the forums could tell me where that flavor came from. It's the finished beer pH. In my case (batch sparging), the mash pH needs to be zoned in to create the most efficient mash conditions. You're converting starches to sugars and the mash conditions will determine your efficiency, original gravity, etc. But I would often add my sparge water to my grains without any treatment whatsoever... no salts, no acid, nothing. The acidification of the sparge is essential to preventing the extraction of tannins and the creation of phenols and everything about your water profile has to be taken into account here: bicarbonates, alkalinity, the percentage of RO or distilled water, etc. On a number of occasions, I have made pale gold lagers that ended up with a dark color (darker than I would expect) and a grainy, husky, harsh flavor. This has to be something that occurred during the sparge. A fellow brewer suggested adding lactic acid to the sparge water and bringing that pH down to 5.5 before heating that water and adding it to the grains. I did this on two separate pilsners and also on a very pale-colored pale ale. The wort was much lighter in color than it might normally be. So it occurs to me that it's not just the mash pH but also the pH of the sparge and the pH in the kettle right before the boil. Again, I reference Kai's pH page so you can see the color and clarity of the wort that was processed at the proper pH. Here's another example: I made a nice blonde ale with Rahr Pale Ale malt, some Vienna and Carahell. Mt. Hood and Perle for the hops and 1056 on the yeast. My notes say that the mash pH was 5.2, the sparge pH was 5.7 and the kettle pH was 5.5. The good news is that the beer was not harsh and grainy. The not-so-good news was that the beer was a little bland and 'flabby'... probably from a pH that was a little too high to have the best flavor impact on the beer. I determined that there are 40 pints in a 5-gallon batch of beer. So I put a drop of lactic acid into a pint glass and tapped a glass of Blonde Ale into it. It was decidedly better. So I opened the keg and dropped 45 drops (with a milliliter dropper) directly into the keg. I am drinking that beer as I type this and the difference is very noticeable. The beer has a bright, snappy, clean character to it that lacked when the beer was originally kegged. The key on a pale beer is to get a kettle pH that is in the low 5s. In the past, I have gotten the mash pH correct and also looked at the kettle pH but getting the pH correct on all three is the best approach. It's very possible that if the mash and sparge pH were correct, the kettle pH would take care of itself. If not, adding a bit of lactic acid to the kettle would be strictly for flavor perception in the finished beer but would be important to the overall character of the beer. I would probably shoot for a kettle pH of 5.2 or 5.3 on a pale beer. This does not apply to all beers but Kolsch, Pilsner, Helles, Cream Ale, Blonde Ale, American Wheat and any other gold beer or pale beer in general could benefit from this information. Final piece of information: As I stood drinking this beer and watching some Cubs Cactus League action, I decided to take the finished beer pH of this blonde ale. 4.1. THAT is where that character comes from. Cheers Brewing Brothers.