The Kruger Brewer Master Class:  Brewing H2O

The Kruger Brewer Master Class: Brewing H2O

Thean Kruger

A landscape architect and horticulturist by profession, from Cape Town, South Africa, Thean Leonard Kruger better known as ‘the Kruger brewer’, is also a brewing consultant who has established himself in setting up breweries across Europe, Asia & Africa. He is also on the panel as an international specialist who assists a well renowned equipment manufacturer, Mithraeum, in Slovenia and famous malt manufacturer, Castle Malting S.A., in Belgium.

Beer is over 90% water, saying that brewing water is important is an understatement of galactic proportions. So, I searched and searched and saw that there is a site or two that does discuss generalized water profiles. All pro-brewers will tell you that each recipe should have its own water profile, each construction of malt, hops and yeast needs its profile fine-tuned to be perfect. While I am going to be giving water profiles for many styles, they may never be optimal for your particular recipe, so keep playing with it until you get it right – it takes on average 2 or 3 brews of the same recipe with different profiles to get it right in a commercial setup where we know our stuff. The plus side is that you will get your beers to the level where they don’t taste like homebrew anymore and will taste like commercial examples of the style – this is the final frontier after you have mastered the rest, including yeast control.

What is the Importance of Brewing Water?

Water is essential in brewing as an ingredient and as a process facilitator. Beer is composed of 90 – 95% water (typically). Water is the main ingredient and is added to the malt to create the mash in the brewhouse process. When you balance your water chemistry vs your recipe, you are performing a similar function of a sound engineer at a sound board. The sound engineer shifts the hundreds of keys, ensuring each note is either amplified or muted so that the overall composition is a marvellous piece of art – the difference between a platinum selling artist and your buddy in his garage!

The Aspects to Consider in Water Chemistry

This is the bit about the different elements in brewing water – I’m going to keep this as simple as possible.

Calcium–
50 to 200ppm (Added generally through Gypsum or Calcium chloride). This is the most important item on the list. This element is responsible for actually lowering mash pH in the first place. It’s also crucial for yeast health and a clear beer. The higher the amount, the more easily the yeast flocculates. It is also essential for enzymatic processes in the mash.

Magnesium–
0 to 30ppm (Added through Magnesium Sulphate). This is another element that is one of the primary contributors to lowering mash pH, although not as well as calcium. It is also a yeast nutrient. The minimum amount is zero in the mash water because all barley wort contains loads of this stuff, but I can tell you from experience that adding even a small amount of magnesium (in the form of Epsom salts or MgSO4) to your mash does great things for the flavour of your beer.

Sulphate–
50 to 400ppm (Added through Gypsum or Magnesium Sulphate). The first major flavour component, many brewing software types will tell you this increases “bitter” in a beer, but it’s a little more complicated than that. It’s a combination of either sharpness, bitterness or dryness in the flavour perception, as well as increasing the hop character in beers. The only time I would go over the 250ppm limit is if I’m looking to do a “to style” Dortmund export or something similar. You’d be forgiven for thinking an IPA needs more, but it doesn’t, as it is one of the contributing factors to an IPA’s bitterness sticking to your tongue. Most award-winning IPA’s have a flash of skull-rattling bitterness and a clean hoppy finish that encourages you to drink more = less than 200ppm. If it lingers on the tongue too long, you’ll lose on drinkability. Another point to ponder, is that despite it saying that the minimum requirement is 50ppm, I forget it altogether if I’m brewing continental pilsners and other similar lagers, due to the fragile flavour profile of those beer styles and the hops implemented.

Chloride–
0 to 200ppm (Added through Calcium Chloride or Salt). This is the other major flavour component – it provides a fuller, rounder or sweeter perception to the beer, and is used to either increase malt flavour perception or to temper the effects or sulphates (known as the sulphate to chloride ratio, which we will discuss shortly). There are brewers who take the levels of chlorides up to 300ppm or more, but I would not for various well-informed reasons, so I recommend you don’t either. It’s a very important element for malt forward beer styles.

Sodium–
0 to 150ppm (Added through Salt or Bicarbonate of Soda) Sodium, sodium, sodium – what to do with you? Sodium is an element that is sometimes unavoidable when correcting water chemistry and can lend a sweet quality to certain beers but can become salty when you approach or exceed 150ppm. It does lend a certain well-rounded character to pale beers as well, but much better to keep the concentrations lower than 100ppm unless you are absolutely sure of what you’re doing.

Bicarbonate–
0 to 250ppm (Added through Bicarbonate of Soda, usually) This is the primary ingredient that stands between your stout being wonderfully chocolatey and rich and a one-dimensional cold espresso disappointment. When you need an alkalinity buffer, this is your go-to addition. It does make hops overly bitter in a harsh sort of way, so avoid it completely in highly hopped beers as well as pale beers (it can taste harsh on its own too in beers below 7 SRM).

Sulphate to Chloride Ratio
This is the ratio between the two major flavor ions we discussed earlier. To keep matters simple, suffice it to say that you actually really need at least 50ppm of either for a noticeable difference and never max out both values as it will cause a minerally taste in your beer (super strong beers can handle this, but most won’t). The subject of whether to make a beer sulphite forward, chloride forward or balanced is highly dependent on what kind of beer you’re trying to make. If hops play a starring role, go for sulphites. If it’s malt, go for chlorides. If both hops and malt are to be highlighted a balanced profile is preferred. It’s the level of the ratio that makes all the difference in which aspect is going to shine, but remember that adding, for example sulphur, won’t just highlight hops, but also make the beer seem drier. It’s one of those things you have to play with to get it right. When I wasn’t sure – back when I started asking these questions – I simply added small amounts of a solution of either gypsum and water or calcium chloride and water to a glass of beer to figure out which way to go the next time I brewed the same recipe.

To illustrate the difference between the two, let’s look at 2 different recipes for the same beer style and figure out which way to go. I usually use a beer like cream ale for examples, as it’s an easy beer to make and can be interpreted many ways:

Recipe 1:

Cream ale with corn meal

80% 2 row malt
20% corn meal or flaked corn
20 IBU hops (dry hopped as well)
64.4°C mash temp
With the above recipe, I have the fact that the corn will lend an element of sweetness, but I want this to be a cream ale that has a definite hop character. I have to drop to the mash temp and make this beer sulphite-dominant to make sure I end up with that fresh hop character and typical crisp finish required of cream ales. Sulphite/chloride ratio of about 1.5 (slightly bitter)

Recipe 2:

Cream ale with rice and sugar

80% 2 row malt
15% rice flakes
5% sugar
15 IBU hops (bittering only)
66°C mash temp

This recipe, on the other hand, is already going to be very dry and crisp due to the sugar and the rice. In this case I might opt to increase the mash temperature and to make the beer a malty chloride-dominant brew. Sulphite/chloride ratio of about 0.6 (very malty)

As you can see, there is no one-rule-fits-all scenario. You have to think about what you want to create and there are no wrong answers as long as the beer tastes good when you’re done.

Dealing with Mash pH

Dropping the mash pH is as simple as either increasing the calcium content, or actually adding acid to it for paler styles. For the purposes of beginners (and this article) I would ask that you do 2 things:

  • Stick to the amount of calcium in the recipes / formulas given for now.
  • Buy a PH Meter and measure your mash pH 10 minutes after doughing in ONLY add acid if absolutely required.
  • When it comes to using acid, try using orthophosphoric acid if you can get hold of it. Lactic acid if you can’t.
  • Buy another pH meter – you can’t work without these things.
  • PRO TIP: Only pale and amber beers benefit from a pH of 5.2 to 5.4. To get your brown ales and stouts to have that rich flavour, aim for a mash pH of around 5.6 to 5.8. Along with residual sugars, it’ll help the final beer pH finish higher, softening that roast element into something luxurious and wonderful.

Water Profile Recipes

I have opted to use the 2008 BJCP guidelines, as they are more familiar to most than the new 2015 version. Coupled with that, Jamil Zainasheff’s book “20 Classic Styles” can be used along with the following guidelines. If you brew it and it doesn’t come out the way he describes in the book, the water chemistry is wrong, and you should try again. Also, dodging the subject of alkalinity and residual alkalinity like a plague, I have expressed alkalinity as a value of bicarbonates, easily added to soft or RO water through the addition of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). If you have water that exceeds this amount for the style you are trying to make, ditch it for a few bottles of RO or distilled water and either dilute or build from scratch. This will however bring up the subject of sodium – if so and in doubt, just try to aim for a sodium level below 100ppm unless stated otherwise.
A note on calculations and water additions:

  • I assume you are using software to calculate your water – no one in their right mind would start off trying to manually calculate water chemistry. For this simplified version, I have opted to use BeerSmith 2 water profile calculator.
  • Due to the low volume of the water homebrewers use and the fact that brewing water chemistry generally uses the same sorts of compounds, you are going to be scraping around so many small amounts of powders,
    it would make even the most hardened cocaine addict squirm. If you are
    struggling with getting the measurements right, increase the volume of water you are treating to make it both easier and more accurate – it is far easier to treat 50 gallons of water than it is to treat 5.
  • Always look at the ABV and colour range of your intended brew, if it’s on the higher side of the style, aim for the higher mineral content specified below, if it’s lower, aim lower.
  • On many forums I have seen people arguing over the amount of residual minerals actually going into the beer and enhancing the flavour, due to boil off, mash absorption, etc, etc.

One golden rule: Less minerals is always better. When you calculate, calculate for the batch size alone i.e. you want to make 5 gallons, so you calculate on 5 gallons of water alone and never mind about the sparge. The reason is that when you boil, you concentrate everything. I’d rather you learn to err on the side of caution and get the hang of it first, instead of overdoing it and being unhappy with your result. You beer will taste great, I promise!

Let’s work through a few examples to help you to use these water profile recipes.

WATER: A comprehensive guide for brewers (John Palmer & Colin Kaminski)

I hope these formulas assists all those yet to take the plunge into the final frontier in the quest for the perfect pint. This really is the last step in perfection and is absolutely essential to those wishing to go commercial.

1-Light Lager

1A. Light American Lager

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50000500
MAX5010305010050

1B. Standard American Lager

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500050500
MAX75103015010050

1C. Premium American Lager

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500050500
MAX75103015010050

1D. Munich Helles

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50000500
MAX7510305010050

2-Pilsner

2A. German Pilsner

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN300050500
MAX75101015010050

2B. Bohemian Pilsner

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN30000500
MAX505105010050

2C. Classic American Pilsner

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN300050500
MAX75101015010050

3-European Amber Lager

 

3A. Vienna Lager

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500005050
MAX751030100150150

3B. Oktoberfest Lager

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500005050
MAX751030100150150

4-Dark Lager

4A. American Dark Lager

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000050100
MAX7510050150150

4B. Munich Dunkel

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000050100
MAX7510050150150

4C. Schwartzbier

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000050100
MAX7510050150150

5-English Pale Ale

5A. Standard / Ordinary Bitter

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000100500
MAX1501030200100180

5B. Special / Best Premium Bitter

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000100500
MAX1502050200100180

5C. English Pale Ale

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000100050
MAX1501030400100150

6-Scottish & Irish Ale

6A. Scottish Light 60

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50001005050
MAX1502050200100180

6B. Scottish Heavy 70

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50001005050
MAX1502050200100180

6C. Scottish Export 80

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50001005050
MAX1502050200100180

6D. Irish Red

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50001005050
MAX1001020300100150

7-Porters

7A. Brown Porter

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN501005050100
MAX753050150150200

7B. Robust Porter

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN501005050100
MAX753050150150200

7C. Baltic Porter

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000050100
MAX1002080100150250

8-Stout

8A. Dry Irish Stout

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50005050100
MAX7530100150150200

8B. Sweet Stout

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5010205050100
MAX7530100150150200

8C. Oatmeal Stout

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5010205050100
MAX7530100150150200

8D. Foreign Extra Stout

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5010205050100
MAX7530150150150250

8E. American Stout

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5010205050100
MAX7530150150150250

8F. Russian Imperial Stout

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5010205050100
MAX7530150150150250

9-IPA

9A. English IPA

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50001005050
MAX1501050300100150

9B. American IPA

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50001005050
MAX1501050400100*150

*These are recommended norms, but I would omit them entirely for this style.

9C. Imperial IPA

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500010050*50
MAX1501050300100*150

*These are recommended norms, but I would keep them on the low side for this style.

10-German Wheat or Rye

10A. Weizen

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50000500
MAX100203050100100

10B. Dunkel Weizen

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50005050100
MAX7530100150150200

10C. Weizen Bock

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN501005050150
MAX7530150150150250

10D. Roggenbier

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000505050
MAX753030150150200

11-Belgian & French Ale

11A. Witbier

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50000500
MAX100203050100100

11B. Belgian Pale Ale

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000100500
MAX1502020300100150

11C. Saison

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500010000
MAX1502020300100150

11D. Bier De Garde

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000505050
MAX15030100100150150

12-Sour Ale

Minerals don’t have a huge impact on sour beers, due to all the bugs we add in there. Your concentration should be on enough calcium to get your mash Ph down and that’s about it. If you are still not sure, generally aim for the lower end of the spectrums provided.

12A. Berliner Weisse

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000000
MAX15050501000

Aim for the lower end of the spectrum.

12B. Flanders Red

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000000
MAX100100100100100

12C. Oud Bruin

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000505050
MAX1001050100150200

12D. Lambic

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50000500
MAX15010201001000

12E. Geueze

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50000500
MAX15010201001000

12F. Fruit Lambic

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50000500
MAX15010201001000

13-Fruit Beer

Look at the base style of the beer and use the guidelines associated with that beer.

14-Spice Herb or Vegetable Beer

Look at the base style of the beer and use the guidelines associated with that beer.

15-Smoked or Wood Aged Beer

15A. Rauchbier

CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500005050
MAX751030100150150

All other beers in this category need to be assessed by their base beer style.

16-Specialty Beer

Have a look at the beer you are trying to create. Match the colour, bitterness, alcohol content to another beer on the styles list. Use the one you think fits closest to that style.