Does this sound familiar? When I first started brewing, I was doing 5 gallon extract batches in the kitchen. That did not last long since the spouse banished me to the back yard to perform my brewing activities. Soon enough, I graduated to brewing all-grain batches using an Igloo cooler as a mashtun. The system was all gravity fed and I had to recirculate the mash manually by draining wort into a plastic pitcher then pouring the wort back on top of the mash. I finally bought a pump so I could recirculate more efficiently. Later on, I built a single tier system with two pumps and moved up to brewing 10 gallon batches.
Somewhere along the way, I also started to control my fermentation temperatures using a variety of gizmos and gadgets. All of these changes, and countless brew sessions, made my beer better. From the endless conversations I have had with other brewers, this is a typical evolution and I am still evolving as a brewer. That is one of the things that I love about this hobby. There is always something new to try and something new to learn.
My latest evolutionary step, and most difficult step so far, is modifying my brewing water. The other modifications and changes that I have been through involved adding better equipment or controls to make brewing easier and to improve the quality of my beer. Modifying water involves science. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a scientist. I have read the Water book from Brewers Publications twice, had numerous conversations with John Palmer on the topic, and yet I am still baffled by the science of water. I understand the general concepts behind the modifications to achieve water profiles for brewing different styles of beers, but science of it all remains a mystery.
So, what is a pragmatic brewer to do? Use tools that smarter people than I have developed, of course. I have used different tools at different times to make my water calculations. I used to use Palmer’s spreadsheet that he made available on howtobrew.com. I have also used the water tool in BeerSmith, as well as the Bru’n Water and EZ Water spreadsheets. I started using reverse osmosis (RO) water last year and I experimented with all these tools to build my water back up to where I needed it for a particular recipe. I noticed differences between the different tools that I was using to reach my desired target water. For instance, one tool may suggest adding 5 grams of Gypsum and another tool might suggest 7 grams to reach the same ppm. Obviously, this begs the question as to which tool is correct. There is also the question of how accurate each tool is in predicting the adjusted water makeup. For instance, if the water tool tells me that adding 0.8 grams per gallon of Calcium Chloride is going to result in 135 ppm of Chloride in my water, how accurate is that prediction?
Until recently, running tests on water for home brewers meant taking samples and sending them off to a lab. This can get expensive and you have to wait days for the results, which is not ideal when you are wanting to brew with the water you created. Industrial Test Systems (ITS) introduced their Smart Brew kit last year and I had been wanting to get one for some time, but the price point was a little hard to justify. The advanced kit comes with an Exact iDip photometer, pH meter, and reagent strips for testing all the major water parameters you need for brewing. The advanced kit (with the pH meter) is around $420 and the basic kit (no pH meter) is about $310. I was lucky enough to run into the ITS guys at the Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia earlier this year. They were running a show special and I pulled the trigger on the advanced kit. I saved about $100 by buying it at the conference. Now I had the tools necessary for testing my water. The Exact iDip photometer connects to a smart phone app via Bluetooth. The app can then send the compiled test results to you via email which makes it very easy to compare the results of the tests with the predictive spreadsheets.
Now, the testing and comparisons begin. More to come.