Water Revisted, Part 2: A Basic Approach

Brewer's Notes, Measurement, Process, Water

Returning briefly to water, I thought a nod toward a simple approach that yields good results is to take a direct look at AJ deLange’s A Brewing Water Chemistry Primer on homebrewtalk.com. This makes fairly straightforward recommendations with a few “exceptions” that I will paraphrase below. Please visit the site and ask questions.

AJ picks up two key goals: First is to ensure that water properties allow for a mash pH in a suitable range (5.1-5.5) and the second is to match flavor contributions relevant to either personal preference or stylistic nuances in the finished product. The key constituents being alkalinity, calcium, sulfate and chloride.

Dilution and Alkalinity: If you choose to use your tap water for brewing, it is critically important to get a brewer’s water quality report. This information will allow you to properly determine what treatments are necessary to achieve “soft” water. The primary constituent in the report is alkalinity – usually expressed as ppm CaCO3. The goal of the recommendations below are to start with water with less than 35 ppm as CaCO3 alkalinity water. Other issues may involve high sodium or magnesium levels. For most home brewers, this means significant (1:1 to 3:1) dilution with reverse osmosis or distilled water to reduce concentrations by the rate of dilution. It may be more economical and less labor to simply brew with 100% R/O. Dillution or all R/O will require the re-introduction of ions to achieve our goals.

Baseline Recommendation:

Add 1 tsp of Calcium Chloride (CaCl2)  to each 5 gallons of water treated. Add 2% sauermalz (acidulated malt) to the grist.


For most pale lagers: Use 1/2 tsp CaCl2 and 3% sauermalz

For dark ales (most stouts and porters): Use 1 tsp CaCl2. No sauermalz

For many British ales: Use 1 tsp CaCl2 and 1 tsp gypsum

For very minerally beers (Export, Burton Ale): Use 2 tsp CaCl2 and 2 tsp gypsum

Procedures with a pH meter:

Use a calibrated pH meter to measure and adjust your mash pH into the appropriate level. Using lactic acid or phosphoric acid, you can lower mash pH. Using pickling lime or baking soda, you can raise mash pH. If your mash pH is low without adjustment, next time reduce the amount of sauermalz appropriately.

An example:

For a 5.5 gallon batch of English Bitter (Burton), I would purchase about 10 gallons of reverse osmosis water (assuming dilution will not work – otherwise would be less). Into the heated water that I plan to use for the mash (not the sparge water) I then chuck 2 tsp of calcium chloride and 2 tsp of gypsum before I dough in. Make sure that the salts are dissolved. I would then add the grist (with about 2% aciduated malt), stir well and then immediately check mash pH at room temperature.

I take a small sample, and cool it in a cold bowl, then decant into a shot glass. I take the temperature as well as two pH readings. Record and then put the sample back into the mash (unless I use it for conversion testing).

If the mash pH is low, then I would figure out my alkalinity requirement from pickling lime, add about half, stir well, then check pH again. If it remains low, I then add half of the remaining addition. Repeat until I achieve my mash pH.

If the mash pH is high, the I figure out the acidity requirement with 10% phosphoric or 88% lactic acid, and follow the previous procedure, adding half and measuring until I achieve my goal.

With low alkalinity water – very small amounts are usually needed, a few ml at a time to make the adjustments – so one could use a few milligrams or millilitres of acid or base as the starting point.


The proof is in the flavor of the finished product. You should see improvements in hot and cold break in the boil kettle, as well as healthier fermentation and flocuation and clearing. As you add minerals – make them part of the recipe – so that you can brew it again and replicate the result – or make adjustments as required.

If the result is a bit bland – take a look at my post on adding gypsum or calcium chloride to finished beer. Then make the adjustments necessary the next time that you brew!

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