Friday, January 28, 2011

Five Gallons At A Time: Water Chemistry, Part III

The content of this page was updated on 9/7/2012.

If you've read Parts I and II, you're up to speed on the importance of mash pH and you know a few simple treatments to get it in the right ballpark with Madison municipal water. Now it's time to learn a little bit more about why calcium is good and alkalinity is bad.

Based on my own experiments, mashing Pilsner malt with distilled water will result in pH near 5.65. From there, several things will affect mash pH:

-Alkalinity in the water will raise mash pH.
-Calcium and magnesium in the water will lower mash pH.
-Adding acid to the water will lower mash pH.
-In general, darker malts will lower mash pH more than lighter malts.
-In mashes with alkaline water, thinner mashes will raise mash pH.
-In mashes with acidic water, thinner mashes will lower mash pH.

Alkalinity is the amount of strong acid required to lower the pH of a solution to a given value. For us, that value is 4.3. An alkaline solution doesn't necessarily have a high pH, but a lot of acid is needed to lower its pH. It may seem counter-intuitive, but distilled water has a small amount of alkalinity because its pH is higher than 4.3. For brewing water, alkalinity can be thought of as the number of bicarbonate ions (HCO3-) plus twice the number of carbonate ions (CO3--) present in a given volume of water. These two compounds, plus carbonic acid (H2CO3), comprise a buffer system that resists changes in water pH. If you want to treat your water with slaked lime, it'll be important to know the concentrations of the three molecules in your water supply. Otherwise, knowing the overall alkalinity will be sufficient.

In a mash, calcium ions (Ca++) react with malt phosphates to release hydrogen ions (H+). In essence, adding calcium is an indirect way of adding acidity. I suspect that magnesium ions (Mg++) behave in a similar manner, but I don't know for sure. Treating water with magnesium isn't very common because the ion is detrimental to beer flavor at fairly low concentrations.

In water reports, ion concentrations are commonly quantified in the weight-based unit ppm (parts per million) or mg/L. At the minuscule concentrations we're dealing with, the two units are interchangeable. However, because pH measures the number of hydrogen ions in a solution - i.e. molecules with one unit of ionic charge - the interactions between acidic and alkaline compounds are governed more by electric charge than molecular mass. A convenient unit to use is milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L), i.e. the number of millimoles of ionic charge contributed by a compound in a liter of water. Here's how to convert the values in your water report to mEq/L:

mEq/L = mg/L x Ionic Charge / Molecular Mass

For example, a calcium ion (Ca++) has an ionic charge of 2 (the number of + or - signs) and a molecular mass of 40.08 mg/mmol. If the calcium concentration of a given water supply is 80 mg/L, its equivalent concentration is 80 x 2 / 40.08 = 3.992 mEq/L.

With that sorted out, our water utility throws us for a loop and reports alkalinity as "mg/L as CaCO3". Furthermore, water reports that simply say "mg/L" for alkalinity often mean "mg/L as CaCO3". It's a stupid unit that equals the equivalent weight of a calcium ion plus the equivalent weight of a carbonate ion, but it can (and sometimes is) used to describe the concentrations of compounds that involve neither calcium nor carbonate. Really, it's just [mEq/L x 50]. If a given water supply has an alkalinity of 350 mg/L as CaCO3, its equivalent concentration is 350 / 50 = 7 mEq/L.

In the 1950s, a German brewing scientist named Paul Kohlbach found that the pH of 12-Plato kettle wort from a pale malt mash could be estimated by the following equation (adjusted to use mEq/L as the unit for alkalinity, calcium and magnesium):

Wort pH = pHdw + 0.084*(Alkalinity - Calcium/3.5 - Magnesium/7)

In the equation, pHdw is the pH of wort produced by a distilled water mash. I don't think Kohlbach accounted for the fact that distilled water has an alkalinity of about 0.05 mEq/L, so this is probably a better equation:

Wort pH = pHdw + 0.084*(Alkalinity - Calcium/3.5 - Magnesium/7 - 0.05)

The take-home message here is that a unit of alkalinity is 3.5 times more effective at raising pH than a unit of calcium is at lowering it, and 7 times more effective at raising pH than a unit of magnesium is at lowering it. The term [Alkalinity - Calcium/3.5 - Magnesium/7] is known as Residual Alkalinity (RA), and it quantifies the degree to which a given water supply will raise or lower the pH of wort. The same holds true for mashes, but the 0.084 multiplier will be replaced by a series of values that depend on mash thickness. We'll get to that in another post.

Returning to our water supply, here are some values from a Madison water report and their conversions to mEq/L:

Calcium (Ca++) = 80 mg/L -> 80 x 2 / 40.08 = 3.992 mEq/L
Magnesium (Mg++) = 45 mg/L -> 45 x 2 / 24.31 = 3.702 mEq/L
Chloride (Cl-) = 36 mg/L -> 36 x 1 / 35.45 = 1.016 mEq/L
Sulfate (SO4--) = 17 mg/L -> 17 x 2 / 96.06 = 0.354 mEq/L
Alkalinity = 339 mg/L as CaCO3 -> 339 / 50 = 6.78 mEq/L

Plugging these values into Kohlbach's equation allows us to calculate the residual alkalinity of the water supply:

RA = 6.78 - 3.992/3.5 - 3.702/7 = 5.111 mEq/L

Since residual alkalinity is often reported in mg/L as CaCO3, it's often nice to know the value for comparative purposes. In our example, RA = 5.111 x 50 = 256 mg/L as CaCO3. To brew a Pilsner at a water-to-grain ratio of 1.5 qt/lb, mash water with a residual alkalinity around -150 mg/L as CaCO3 would be ideal. For a stout, mash water with a residual alkalinity of 40 mg/L as CaCO3 could be appropriate. Regardless of your intended grainbill, the residual alkalinity of our water supply is astronomical. That's why Madison water is challenging to brew with. The next article in this series is here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Press Release Thursday: Isthmus Beer and Cheese Festival

Disclaimer: Madison Beer Review received complimentary tickets to this event. While the tickets were not conditioned upon our writing about the event or publishing this press release, I believe in full disclosure.

Mrs. MBR and I went to this event last year and it was awesome. After hearing some decent feedback from the breweries and event organizers, it sounds like this year's will be even awesomer. The basic gist is in the name: Beer and Cheese. What could be more Wisconsin-y than that?

-----------START PRESS RELEASE-------------------
Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest – January 29, 2011

MADISON, Wis. – Taste Wisconsin’s Best at Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest on January 29 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Alliant Energy Center’s Exhibition Hall.

Join us between the lakes in frosty Madison for a wintertime celebration of Wisconsin’s finest beer and artisan cheeses. Meet and mingle with brewers and cheese makers from all over the great state of Wisconsin, as you sample over 160 varieties of their delicious and often hard-to-find products.

At the fest, you will enjoy a huge variety of Wisconsin beers and cheeses from 26 brewers and 29 cheesemakers. For the complete list of the Fest’s brewers and cheese makers, please visit

Plus, you can also enjoy these informational and delicious pairing presentations:
Beer & Cheese Pairing presented by Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board & Potosi Brewing

Chocolate & Beer Pairing presented by Ambrosius Chocolatier & Furthermore Beer

*Tickets for these special pairing sessions are separate and available at Isthmus Publishing only

Tickets are limited. Advance tickets are $40 and can be purchased at, Isthmus Publishing (101 King Street), Fromagination, all three Steve’s Liquor locations, Vintage Brewing Co. and The Malt House. You can buy $35 tickets with a qualifying purchase of beer or cheese at Star Liquor.

Union Cab is offering free cab rides to the event and $5 off cab rides from the event.

The 2011 Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest is sponsored by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Gorst Valley Hops, TRICOR Insurance, Union Cab, Ambrosius Chocolatier, Furthermore Brewing, Fromagination and Star Liquor.

Isthmus is Madison’s information machine, presenting local news, food & drink features, arts & entertainment and more. Isthmus connects more than 150,000 regular readers to what’s going on in Wisconsin’s capital city, online daily and in
print weekly.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

By Popular Demand

Being around the beer industry brings a certain notoriety that I don't experience with, say, being in the legal industry. So, when the latest news about a beer tap that fills cups from the bottom made the rounds, my inbox was flooded with links and expressions of amusement and amazement. So, since there seems to be some interest in this novelty item, I'll link to one of the cooler videos here:

[Ed Note: sorry you'll have to click through to YouTube. Apparently the fine folks at GrinOn don't want you watching it on Madison Beer Review; they would rather get some identifiable information on you from the cookies and tracking data at YouTube]

Invented by some folks out in Washington state who go by the name GrinOn Industries (warning: video starts automatically on the link), it fills a plastic cup from the bottom up.

How, you ask, is that possible?

It is not terribly complex, and I am sure that if I tasked you with inventing such a device, you would probably come to the same conclusion these guys did: separate the bottom of the cup, place the cup over a water-tight spigot, fill, then lock the lid in place before you remove the cup. They choose to use magnets to keep the bottom of the cup in place.

If you are anything like me, the next question you ask is: why?

The most useful application is also the most obvious: sporting events. This device fills cups exceedingly quickly: 56 pints in one minute. And, according to the marketing materials, does so without any of that pesky foam. Indeed, this seems to be its biggest selling point, since foamy beer, in the stadium application, is the biggest problem with draft beer. Primarily, foam causes delays in filling and adds to waste. By filling from the bottom up, among other things, I'm sure, reduces agitation of the liquid and, hence, reduces foam. You can see this property in action when you pour beer down the side of a cup rather than straight down the middle.

Of course, head is not always a bad thing. Indeed, with many beers it is downright attractive and provides a wonderful aroma and flavor component. Moreover, there very few places where there is a need to serve 56 beers in one minute. On top of which, the appliance requires specialty glasses that you can only buy, guess where ... I'll give you a minute ... oh ... you didn't need a minute ... yeah, you can only buy the glassware (plasticware) from the company that manufactures the tap system. A surprise, I know. Yes, like printers and ink, razors and razor blades, iPods and iTunes, the big-ticket item is completely useless unless you source all of your disposable items from the same company.

Honestly, though, the contraption is interesting. It could very much take over in many non-craft markets. Heck, why not use one at, say, Chili's? There is no downside to it there, other than the specialty glassware, and if you need the fast service (so you can reduce bar staff or keep up with a busy Friday night) you have the capability.

On the other hand, the special glassware does not come in "tulip", "weiss", or "snifter" sizes, and foam is not necessarily a bad thing. So, bars like The Malt House or Brasserie V or Sugar Maple or Casanova would have no use for it. And, since I don't drink beer at ball games, and do drink beer at The Malt House or Brasserie V or Sugar Maple or Casanova, I have no use for it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Press Release Tuesday: Breast Cancer Recovery Foundation

I don't normally write the press release, but all I got was the jpg below about the event. Since this is a 'text-driven' enterprise, I thought I'd add some text.

A new event being held at Dexter's Pub, 301 North Street, here in Madison, on February 13th from 12pm to 4pm. Entry is a mere $20 donation. Or, if you enter the chocolate competition, a $15 donation. A number of breweries, distilleries, wineries, and chocolatiers will be participating and will have wares for your sampling. I'm trying to track down more information on what, exactly, a "chocolate competition" is, and will update this post as soon as I have more info.

----------UPDATE on Chocolate Competition----------------
It is a very informal "chocolate recipe/cooking" competition. All those that make and bring an item with chocolate as one of the ingredients will be judged in both a "formal local celebrity judged" competition, as well as a "people's choice" competition. The judges will go first and then award their prize through collaborative measures after tasting and discussion.

The public competition will be judged next by folks placing tickets (5 will be given to everybody, use all 5 for one entry or split amongst many) obtained at entry into cups representing their favorite item. Most tix wins! Awards are provided by Dexter's and brewers.

Then after all that if there is some left people can circle back a second time. Thus, even those not competing get to try many things for "free".
---------END UPDATE--------------------------------------

Friday, January 21, 2011

Drinking Craft Beer in Mansfield, Ohio

As most of you are aware, I am not from Wisconsin. I am from most of the entire area of Northern Ohio. Born in the shadows of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, raised in Mansfield, lived on the East and West sides of Cleveland, college in Toledo and Akron. But, I spent my formative years, the years between the ages of 2 and 15 in Mansfield, Ohio.

Mansfield is an industrial wasteland, a brief layover and spot to hide-out for drug dealers running from the law in Cleveland (1 hour North of Mansfield), Columbus (1 hour South of Mansfield), and Akron (1 hour East of Mansfield). It is similar to Janesville, Wisconsin in that GM also had a plant there that they shut down there - not to mention manufacturing facilities for Tappan, Westinghouse, and Mansfield Tire and Rubber. It is the county seat of an otherwise rural county. It is, approximately, the dividing line between Northern Ohio and Southern Ohio, with most residents choosing to side with the gun-toting, southern drawling, race baiting, NASCAR-loving, John Boehner-voting, redneck part of the state (i.e., everything South of Mansfield, Ohio). But, it's home, and I still have family that live there.

It is a place where Budweiser and Miller have not just a hold on the market like everywhere, but a place where bar patrons actually get in fights over which is awesomer, Bud or Miller. Grocery stores provide a wonderful choice of 30-packs of Bud, Bud Light, Bud Ice, Bud Ice Light, Bud Select, Bud Ale, Miller Chill, etc., etc., etc.

And Great Lakes.

So, imagine my surprise when my Google Alert for "Beer" results in an article from hometown newspaper the Mansfield News Journal. It is a terrible paper, it always has been. The actual reporting that goes on the News Journal is AP re-writes at best. But, apparently, they actually have a beer columnist - Mr. Steve Goble, a copy editor and self-appointed "beer snob". His column is called "Brewologist" (what does that even mean?). The article that came up in my alert is called "How Awesome is Colorado Craft Beer? Really Awesome? Or Super Awesome?"

So, you're probably asking yourself why I'm writing all of this deeply personal, resentful, silly things about people and places that you neither care about nor have any interest in. And the answer is simple: because it's my blog and I can do what I want. Actually, no, that's not why.

There's two really interesting things about this article in an over-arching theme sort of way.

First, a craft beer column in Mansfield, Ohio. Freaking Mansfield, Ohio has a beer columnist. That has got to be some sort of milestone in the metrics used by the Brewers Association to determine penetration of craft beer in the minds of Americans. If Mansfield, Ohio is drinking craft beer, the "education" and "market introduction" days are over.

It is officially time to welcome in the era of Growth for the craft beer industry. Classic indicators of the Growth stage are increased competition in the space, price competition among entrants, and increased distribution outside of the core customer base. We can officially assume that most consumers know about the product and are now searching for distinctions between competing products.

Second, I'm about sick and tired of hearing about how Colorado beer (and Oregon and California, for that matter) is so freaking awesome. Like anywhere else, Colorado has some great breweries. But Colorado also has really terrible breweries and many mediocre breweries (such as Boulder Beer's Hazed and Confused - the subject of the article). For some reason, they all insist on distributing outside of Colorado, though. Maybe because New Belgium rules Colorado with such an iron fist that they are all tired of fighting for New Belgium's scraps.

But it's also why Wisconsin breweries need to look at this and learn some lessons. Yes, I understand the "don't grow too fast" argument, but these mediocre Colorado breweries are making in-roads in the Midwest because they are stretching themselves a little bit and beating our own breweries to the shelves. Journalists in Mansfield, Ohio are writing about Colorado beer, not Wisconsin beer, or Indiana beer, or Illinois beer, or Minnesota beer.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

German Brewing ca. 500 BC

According to, some brewing operations just outside of modern day Stuttgart, Germany may have provided some insight in to brewing 2500 years ago.

Excavation of the area near the burial site of a Celtic prince has revealed some charred barley in six ditches.

More from
At the Celtic site, barley was soaked in the specially constructed ditches until it sprouted, Stika [an archeobotanist with the University of Hohnheim at Stuttgart] proposes. Grains were then dried by lighting fires at the ends of the ditches, giving the malt a smoky taste and a darkened color. Lactic acid bacteria stimulated by slow drying of soaked grains, a well-known phenomenon, added sourness to the brew.

... The Eberdingen-Hochdorf brew probably contained spices such as mugwort, carrot seeds or henbane, in Stika’s opinion. Beer makers are known to have used these additives by medieval times. Excavations at the Celtic site have yielded a few seeds of henbane, a plant that also makes beer more intoxicating.

Heated stones placed in liquefied malt during the brewing process — a common practice later in Europe — would have added a caramelized flavor to this fermented Celtic drink. ... He suspects that fermentation was triggered by using yeast-coated brewing equipment or by adding honey or fruit, which both contain wild yeasts.
mmm ... smoked malt, carrot seed, and honey with a wild, sour, lactic fermentation. Henbane, not used in modern brewing, is a psychoactive drug that would have caused visual hallucinations, not to mention tachycardia, convulsions, and vomiting.

I'm most intrigued by the malting process, though. While all of the malt would have had some smokiness, the malt closest to the fires would have been almost black, while that in the middle of the ditch, less so. Given the finding of charred malt, perhaps the malt in the middle, uncharred and, depending on how long the ditch is, probably not even deeply roasted, would have made for something more closely resembling a deep gold or light amber color, rather than the dark, black color implied by the article.

It is also somewhat difficult to gauge how strong, alcoholic, the beer would have been. While far from the most efficient way to make beer, if left to age long enough, which it likely was not, it could have become quite strong - maybe 4-5% ABV or so. Moreover, the fermentables in the honey or other added fruits could have boosted the alcohol content significantly.

The addition of henbane seems kind of interesting, as well. If this would have been the sole, or even primary, drink they would have spent much of their waking hours completely stoned. While not out of the realm of possibility, this seems unlikely; if only because some people do not process henbane well and would have had severe negative reactions to it. For that reason, it would be my own conjecture (completely scientifically based of course) that they would have either reserved this for special occassions, and chose to drink something not quite so toxic for their basic sustenance. For instance, there are Norse myths about using psychoactives in battle to reduce desertion and fear. Not to mention the use of henbane in Ancient Greece by oracles.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Nils Oscar Swedish Barley Wine-Style Ale


I'm not a stout person. I'm not a winter ale person. So, my winter months are generally filled with porters and IPAs. As a special treat I like to drink a barleywine or two. A barleywine or two for the winter, not for the evening. It's a treat. A refined style that few breweries truly do well.

And I'm in the minority. Far more people prefer the big beefiness of a stout. The big body. The aggressive hopping. The full mouthfeel. The chocolate familiarity. Cold. Warm. It rarely matters.

The barleywine can be a little harder to get your head around. High alcohol. Lots of esthers. Perhaps aggressive hopping. A thinner, more viscous body. A bigger concentration on the lighter malts - and lots of 'em. Perhaps some caramel malt thrown in. At their worst they are cloying, alcohol bombs. At their best they can be refined, and sweet easy sippers reminiscent of a fine liquor. Best served at upper cellar temperatures, almost room temperature - like a wine.

So, I stopped in at Barriques in Fitchburg to check out what they had and I saw this Nils Oscar Swedish Barleywine. What makes it a Swedish barleywine? I have no idea. Other than that it's actually from Sweden. Nyköping, Sweden, specifically. Just north of Oxelosund on Route 53 on a small bay of the Baltic Sea. Hey, everywhere's local for someone, right?

Nils Oscar Swedish Barley Wine-Style Ale
BeerAdvocate(B). RateBeer(93).
Appearance: A murky, dirty blonde - one of the lighter-colored barleywines I've seen; the head is thin and barley existent, the carbonation is quick and fizzy and settles quickly
Aroma: lots and lots of pilsner, light malt; the malt aroma is big and fresh with a pronounced caramel apple coming up behind; there is a slight ever-so-slight fresh grass hoppiness
Flavor: convoluted flavors of malt come in and out of the mouth; the surprising hoppiness and the strong malt profile somehow give it a cider-y flavor; the alcohol, all 9.5% of it, is completely hidden
Body: lighter than most barleywines, it coats and swirls in the mouth, but the finish is moderately clean
Drinkability: lighter than most barleywines, this one would work equally well in a pint glass as the goblet I poured it into; while one is certainly enough, it is not a chore to finish like many barleywines can be
Summary: Is it my favorite ever? Probably not. But it is very enjoyable and something a little different for the style. While it's a little pricey ($4.99 or so for an 11.2oz bottle), to share over chicken stroganoff with Mrs. MBR for Friday night movies is perfect.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Press Release Thursday: Distill America

It's that time again. Distill America: A Celebration of American Distilling. This awesome event is put on the Madison Malt Society at the Edgewater. While it sounds strange to say a "Liquor Fest" it's very similar in format to a beer fest (with proportionately smaller pours, obviously). The difference is the access to distillers and folks in the industry who can tell you everything you want to know about the liquor of choice. Interested in what distinguishes Ri from Booker's? Taste 'em side by side and ask the distiller. Perhaps your drink of choice is apple, pear, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, or gooseberry brandy; you can try any of those. Want to know the perfect vodka for a killer bloody mary? There's approximately 1 million vodkas to sample. Distillers from all over the country are reprensented. It's a fun evening. Responsibility and safety are strongly emphasized and encouraged. So, stop in to one of the retailers selling tickets and pick some up - it's a great time and a great event.

MBR will have much more coverage as the event gets closer, but get your tickets now!

------------START PRESS RELEASE-----------

Hello folks,

It is that time of year again. Tickets are currently on sale for Distill America: A Celebration of American Distilling brought to you by the Madison Malt Society. You may have noticed the slight change in our name. We felt the need to make it a bit catchier for people to remember but rest assured the event is the same good time gathering of many of the best distillers the USA has to offer.

This year’s event will be held again at the Edgewater Hotel. It will be held on Thursday February 17th, 2011. Tasting will take place from 7pm until 10pm unless you decide to buy a VIP ticket which gets you in at 6:15pm for a more one on one experience with the distillers.

Tickets this year are available at Star Liquor, Barriques on Monroe, Barriques in Middleton, Barriques in Fitchburg, The Malt House, and Merchant in the Madison area.

They are also available at Great Lakes Distillery in Milwaukee and North Shore Distillery in the Chicagoland area.

The list of distillers scheduled to attend can be found at

Photos from past events can be seen at

This year includes many of the legends of distilling that have attended in years past as well as many new and exciting craft distillers. Every year new distilleries are popping up all over the country making new and exciting products. This year as always many of these new distillers will be showcasing their wares at this tasting.

Of course Wisconsin’s own distillers will take center stage again this year with Death’s Door, Yahara Bay, Great Lakes, Old Sugar Factory, Aeppeltreow, and 45th Parallel.

There will be an array of food at the event but patrons are advised that coming on a full stomach is a good idea.

This event benefits WORT Community Radio.

Union Cab will provide discounted cab rides home the night of the event to discourage attendees from driving.

Event sponsors include: Star Liquor, Union Cab, the Isthmus, and Lakeside Press

If you have any questions about this event email: or call Adam at Star Liquor at (608)255-8041.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Madison Craft Beer Week Update


OK everyone; I first mentioned this back in December, but I thought I'd give you an update on Madison Craft Beer Week happening from April 29 through May 8. If those dates sound familiar, it's because Great Taste of the Midwest Tickets will likely be going on-sale on the 8th.

As a reminder, Madison Beer Review and The Malt House are coordinating activities for a week of beer celebration in and around Madison. It will be epic.

The first new thing you'll notice is that totally rad logo there on the left. The logo was designed by Gage Mitchell Design, and you will be, hopefully, seeing it everywhere. We'll be getting posters and materials out to bars and restaurants soon. The website,, is getting closer to done and will be getting the full bling in due course.

The events and activities are slowly starting to come together and it will feature at least 1 if not 2 beer fests, music events, a number of tastings, beer dinners, educational events, and the opportunity to walk away with some sweet swag. One of the more unique things that we are trying this year will be around Friday Night Fish Fry - with craft beer and participating breweries going on tap at your favorite Fish Fry holes around town. We know you'd rather be eating fish, so we'll bring the beer to you.

The details are still very much in the works. But we are starting to hear real excitement from breweries that want to participate and stores, restaurants, bars, and clubs that want to hold events.
*****If you are a brewery, retailer, restaurant, tavern, or pub or you're just interested in being involved, please get a hold of us. You can email me (Jeff) directly at and I'll be happy to send you everything you need to know about Madison Craft Beer Week.****

Monday, January 10, 2011

Five Gallons At A Time: Water Chemistry, Part II

The content of this page was updated on 9/12/2012.

If you're looking to keep things simple, either of these two water treatments should get your mash and sparge pHs in the right ballpark using Madison city water:

To brew an amber ale, one option would be to add 0.9 g of CaCl2, 0.6 g of CaSO4 and 0.9 g of slaked lime (aka pickling lime) to each gallon of water you use for mashing and sparging, plus 0.4 mL/gal of 88% lactic acid - a common strength sold at homebrew shops - to the mash water alone. The other option would be to forgo the mineral salts, add 1.9 mL/gal of 88% lactic acid to the total water volume, and add and additional 0.3 mL/gal of lactic acid to the mash water. If you choose the lime treatment, you should treat your water the night before you brew so the precipitates settle to the bottom of your vessel and you can leave them behind. Lactic acid doesn't precipitate solids, so you can perform lactic-only treatments on brewdays. If you use CaCO3, omit it from the water treatment and add it directly to your mash. Whether you choose lactic acid or slaked lime, make sure you mix everything well when you add the compounds.

You may wonder why I didn't create different treatment regimes for malty and hoppy beers. In my opinion, the popular claim that gypsum (CaSO4) accentuates hop character is total garbage. Because gypsum imparts a sulfury character to beer, I only use it for two purposes:

1. Making beers that taste like they were brewed at Fuller's.
2. Adding calcium when I don't want to add any more chloride (from CaCl2).

If you prefer gypsum over CaCl2, simply replace a given weight of CaCl2 with the same weight of gypsum. I'd probably flip the two values for English ales, but you can use 100% gypsum if you're feeling saucy.

Finally, I add metabisulfite to drive off any chlorine or chloramines (chlorine with ammonia added to make it less volatile) that may have been added to the water by the city. I don't believe Madison uses chloramines, which is good for us, but it's becoming more common and may arrive here someday. Half of a crushed campden tablet is enough to treat ten gallons of water, as is 300 mg of sodium metabisulfite or 350 mg of potassium metabisulfite. If you filter your water with active carbon, you don't need to worry about this at all.

Up next: a basic overview of how water chemistry affects mash pH, which you can read here.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Five Gallons At A Time: Water Chemistry, Part I

The content of this page was updated on 8/19/2012.

All-grain brewers: did you know that pH is just as important as temperature for mashing and sparging? It's true! You already know that alpha amylase and beta amylase, the malt enzymes responsible for converting starches into sugars, work best at temperatures between 149 and 158 degf. They also work best when the pH is between about 5.2 and 5.5*. If your mash pH is too far out of that range, your runoff gravity will suffer. If the pH of your grainbed is too high during sparging, you could extract excessive tannins.

Surprisingly, a lot of craft brewers don't pay much attention to pH. I'd wager the reasons are twofold:

-The underlying water chemistry is extremely complicated.
-Mash pH tends to work itself out, as long as the mash water is low in carbonates.

Unfortunately, Madison's municipal water is high in carbonates. Carbonates raise mash and sparge pHs, so brewers 'round these parts should strive to get rid of them. In the next few weeks, I hope to show you a few simple ways to do just that. Afterward, I'll outline some calculations that will either bore you to death or help you fine-tune your water treatments for specific recipes**. The next article in this series is here.

*When measured at room temperature, which you should always assume unless I specify otherwise.

**I'm not a water chemistry expert like A.J. deLange, who probably has nightmares about people like me giving advice on the subject. My calculations work well in my home brewery, but accounting for all of the chemical reactions and how they're affected by things like pH, time, temperature, molecular concentrations and the partial pressure of atmospheric CO2 (seriously) is way over my head. Throughout this series of posts, you should take my geekery with a grain of salt.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

News Alert! Sam Adams Still A "Craft" Brewer

The Brewer's Association, the national promotional and lobbying organization for craft breweries has decided that Sam Adams can still belong to its club.

The problem was this: the BA defined a "craft" brewery as one that is "small" (among other things). To them, "small" meant "under 2 million barrels" per year. The argument being that no brewery that makes more than 2 million barrels per year could possibly be considered as doing it as a "craft"; at that point it was Big Business.

Last year Sam Adams (Boston Beer, stock: SAM) surpassed 2 million barrels making them, under the Brewer's Association definition, not a "craft" brewer. And, more importantly, the Brewer's Association would lose Sam Adams' statistics in its fight for market share and relevance.

Oh. They'd lose its dollars and political clout, too.

So, rather than do the right thing and eliminate arbitrary barrel requirements entirely or jettison the wholly inapplicable "small" nom de guerre, the Brewers Association simply raised the barrel qualification to 6 million barrels. Done. And done.

Jeff Alworth over at Beervana suggests calling this the "Jim Koch Exception" after the NBA's "Larry Bird Exception" that allows teams to exceed the salary cap in order keep veteran players.

Finally, not to pick a fight, but consider the comparison to Ben and Jerry's purchase by Unilever a decade ago: can a company that is publicly held, by definition acting in the best interests of its nameless, faceless, profit-seeking, stock holders, be considered "craft"?

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Boulder, CO • January 3, 2011-The board of directors of the Brewers Association (BA), the trade association representing the majority of U.S. brewing companies, has voted to change the BA's designation of "small" in its definition of a "craft brewer." The Association's board of directors also has revised its bylaws to reflect the change.

In the BA's craft brewer definition, the term "small" now refers to any independent brewery that produces up to 6 million barrels of traditional beer. The previous definition capped production at 2 million barrels. The changed definition is currently in effect and can be reviewed on the BA website, The change to the bylaws went into effect December 20, 2010.

In the Brewers Association's bylaws, two classes of membership (Professional Packaging Brewers and Associate membership) have been redefined with a qualifying barrelage of 6 million barrels versus 2 million barrels.

The association cited several reasons for the change, including the recognition that "small" is a descriptive term relative to the overall size of the industry.

"Thirty-four years have passed since the original small brewers tax differential defined small brewers as producing less than 2 million barrels," said Nick Matt, chair of the Brewers Association board of directors and chairman and CEO of F.X. Matt Brewing Company. "A lot has changed since 1976. The largest brewer in the U.S. has grown from 45 million barrels to 300 million barrels of global beer production."

Matt added, "The craft brewer definition and bylaws now more accurately reflect and align with our government affairs efforts." On the legislative front in 2010, the Brewers Association supported H.R. 4278/S. 3339, which sought to update the cap on an excise tax differential for small brewers to 6 million barrels per year in production for their first 2 million barrels.

Retaining Market Share for Craft Brewers
The industry's largest craft brewer, The Boston Beer Company, is poised to become the first craft brewer to surpass 2 million barrels of traditional beer within the next few years. Loss of The Boston Beer Company's production in craft brewing industry statistics would inaccurately reflect on the craft brewing industry's market share.

In addition to Boston Beer, the current growth trajectory of other sizable BA member breweries places them on a course approaching the 2 million barrel threshold in the coming years.

"With this change to the craft brewer definition and BA bylaws, statistics will continue to accurately reflect the 30-year growth of market share for craft brewed beer," said Matt. "Brewers Association statistics on craft brewers will continue to keep pace with the growth of the industry."

Craft brewed beer market share is now approximately five percent of the U.S. beer industry, and growing. The BA has a stated mission of helping America's craft brewers achieve more than five percent market share by 2013.

Matt added, "Rather than removing members due to their success, the craft brewing industry should be celebrating our growth."