One of the most anticipated new features in BeerSmith 2.3 is the new water analysis and mash pH tools available. I’ve written many posts on why the proper mash pH in the 5.2-5.6 range is important for brewing your best beer, and V2.3 of BeerSmith makes it easier than ever!
Note: The new tools primarily apply to all grain and partial mash brewers where controlling your mash pH is important. For extract brewers I make the case here that you are better off starting your extract beer with neutral brewing water.
Creating a Water Profile
Before you can use the mash pH estimation and adjustment tools you need to have a water profile that matches your brewing water. There are a variety of ways to find your local water profile including using a water test kit, a water profile from your local water supplier, and even using bottled water as a base if your local water is not suitable. The critical measurements include water pH, and the six major water ions: Sodium (Na), Chloride (Cl), Sulfate (SO4), Magnesium (Mg), Calcium (Ca) and Bicarbonate (HCO3). Often you will find Alkalinity (as CaCO3) listed instead of Bicarbonate, and you can convert it to bicarbonate (in ppm) using the formula bicarb = alkalinity * 61/50. These measures are typically listed in ppm or mg/l which are equivalent.
Once you have these values, all you need to do is go to Ingredients->Water and click on the Add button to enter your readings. Give the new profile a recognizable name and save it.
Basic Water Analysis
BeerSmith 2.3 and higher includes water analysis tools for a water profile. First, the small colored balls next to the water ions gives you a visual indicator of whether these ions are in the “good” range for brewing. Good values will be blue and poor values in yellow (borderline) or red (out of range). If you mouse over the colored balls they will show the proper range.
To the right of the ions is the water analysis block. It will show alkalinity and how hard your water is. More important for brewers is the Residual Alkalinity (RA) number. It gives you an indication of how much buffering capability your water has which will drive your pH higher as detailed in the RA article here. In a nutshell, for higher RA values you will generally see higher mash pH values requiring either the use of darker (acidic) malts or acid additions to achieve the proper mash pH.
The color range (derived from John Palmer’s book) is an indication of the proper color range to use with this water profile assuming no further acid additions. Dark colored malts are more acidic which will offset the residual alkalinity of the water to achieve a mash pH in the proper 5.2-5.6 range.
The sulfate/chloride ratio is an entirely different water analysis that affects the perceived bitterness of the beer as detailed in this article. Low sulfate/chloride will result in a maltier beer perception while a high ratio will give the beer a more bitter perception.
Adjusting a Water Profile with the Water Tool
[Optional] Sometimes your base water may not be ideal for all beers. In these cases you can use the water profile tool (under Tools->Water Profile) to create custom water profiles. The tool is pretty powerful letting you blend water profiles and also determine water additions, and I probably can’t cover it completely here.
The simple way to use it is to open the tool, select your local water profile (or bottled water profile) by clicking on the Base Profile button and then select your target profile using the Target Profile button on the on the target line. For example you might target a London water profile for a English bitters style. Next click on the Match Target Profile button to determine the ideal water additions. Finally click on the Save Additions to Target to save the water additions to the target profile.
Now when you add the target water profile in a recipe, the program will ask if you want to also add the water additions and will add them.
Mash pH Estimation
BeerSmith 2.3 and above include mash pH estimation on the mash tab for any recipe. To use the tools, first select the desired water profile as an ingredient in the ingredients list. Add the grains and other ingredients to round out your recipe. Next go to the mash tab and look at the Estimated Mash pH section. It will show the water profile used, water pH from the profile and estimated mash pH for the water and grain bill. Note that this is only an estimate, but it should give you some idea of whether you will need to adjust the mash pH using acid. The mash pH should be in the range of 5.2-5.6 and ideally closer to the 5.2 number for light colored beers to improve clarity.
Note that the estimated mash pH does not directly include any water mineral additions as these are assumed to be factored into the water profile – which is why I recommend using the Water Profile tool to create custom profiles if you are working with water additions.
Also the estimated mash pH does not include potential mash acid additions like acid malts or lactic acid which are instead calculated in the section to the right. I strongly recommend that you measure your actual mash pH during the mash and use the Mash pH Acid Additions section to adjust the mash pH based on the actual reading as outlined below, since estimates are not always accurate.
For those who want to geek out – the mash pH calculator is based on the work of D. Mark Riffe (and others) outlined here including a comparison of various water tools.
Mash pH Measurement and Adjustment
On the recipe mash tab (bottom right) is the section for Mash pH Acid Additions. To use this section you should take an actual mash pH measurement using a pH meter or precision paper strips, and enter that value as well as your desired mash pH. Next select the acid to use (phosphoric, lactic or acid malt) and confirm the acid concentration from the bottle. The tool will then show you how much acid to add to your mash and sparge to achieve the desired mash pH.
For the Chemistry geeks in the audience the mash and sparge pH adjustments are based on the work of D. Mark Riffe (and others) here including a comparison of various brewing water tools.
So that’s a (not so short) summary of the new water and mash pH tools in BeerSmith 2.3 (and higher). Thanks for joining me on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter or my podcast (also on itunes…and youtube…and streaming radio station) for more great tips on homebrewing. Also check out the How to Brew Video series I shot with John Palmer if you want to learn more about all grain brewing.
Related Beer Brewing Articles from BeerSmith:
- Residual Alkalinity and pH for All Grain Beer Brewing
- Mash pH – Hard Water Treatment for Brewing Beer
- Should You Treat Your Sparge Water for Home Brewing?
- Water Alkalinity and Mash pH for Brewing Beer
- Brewing Water – Hard or Soft?
- BeerSmith 2.3 Update – New Features Detailed Overview
- Mash pH for Brew in a Bag, No-Sparge, and Decoction Mashing
- The Sulfate to Chloride Ratio and Beer Bitterness
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