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General Category => All Grain Brewing => Topic started by: thcipriani on January 19, 2014, 07:52:53 pm

Title: Distilled water brewing
Post by: thcipriani on January 19, 2014, 07:52:53 pm
I've always heard that you need 50ppm calcium in your brewing water to produce good beer. I've read it in the water book and on this forum, but I've never heard the genesis story of this heuristic. Does anyone know? (seriously, not just a question that serves a rhetorical purpose)

Not having 50ppm calcium can cause:

* Your mash not to convert
* Your beer not to ferment
* Your finished beer not to clarify

I know I've brewed beers using < 50ppm calcium and I think that I could brew with distilled water.

Before doing any sort of experiment with a full batch of beer, I figured I should first try to determine if a mash would convert using distilled water. I knew I wanted to take a gravity reading, and I also knew that my hydrometer tube is ~200mL, so I started with 300mL distilled water. I added 150g grain to keep to roughly 1qt/lb.

I wrote up this little test here: http://www.tylercipriani.com/brewing/distilled-water-conversion/

**tl;dr**: The mash _did_ convert...eventually.

I want to try some 1 gallon experiments using 0ppm calcium (distilled), ~25ppm calcium and 50ppm calcium waters and monitor their mash, starting gravity, final gravity, fermentation, clarification and, ultimately, flavor.

Thoughts? Anyone besides me think it's a cool idea?
Title: Re: Distilled water brewing
Post by: hopfenundmalz on January 19, 2014, 10:18:59 pm
The Congress Mash uses distiller water. Martin Brungard has been saying you may not always need 50 ppm or greater. I did a Bo Pils and had a fine mash with 35 ppm, and I think it could go lower, as that was a triple decoction with an acid rest.

It would be a good little experiment to run.

Edit - mash pH is also important. You could use acid to drop the pH to 5.5. Gordon Strong claimed he does this for his mash with RO water. Adds brewing salts to the kettle for flavor, and any Ca in the kettle will be there for the yeast.

Title: Re: Distilled water brewing
Post by: erockrph on January 20, 2014, 07:43:25 am
I've often wondered if this is one circumstance where a decoction and/or step mash would actually show some real-world benefit compared to a low/medium temp single infusion.

I have a Bo Pils coming up in a couple of months and I'm already waffling on how to handle my water. I have a real soft well and I'm tempted to give that a run with only a lactic acid addition, but at the same time I really want to get a highly fermentable wort and my low Calcium scares me a bit.
Title: Re: Distilled water brewing
Post by: mabrungard on January 20, 2014, 07:51:35 am
I am already in the middle of a research project on this subject and can report that there are only a few consequences of brewing with low calcium water. Conversion and fermentation are NOT affected by low calcium. However, oxalate will not be precipitated which may lead to beerstone formation and yeast MAY not flocculate as well when low calcium water is utilized for brewing. These 'problems' are not really detrimental to beer production...they just mean that you will have to do a little extra work to create fine beer and keep your equipment in order (beerstone removal, filtering, lagering, etc).

However I do see evidence that for some yeast, that elevated calcium content CAN be detrimental to their fermentation performance (mainly lager yeasts).  When you think about it, there are yeast strains that have evolved to perform with low calcium content water and they may NOT perform well when you give them a higher calcium content than they have evolved with.

Another thing to consider: Malt provides around 100 ppm calcium and 300 ppm magnesium to wort. Those values will vary with malt variety and the OG of the wort, but the point is that there is calcium and magnesium  in wort and there is little need for more of those ions in the brewing water.

Many of you know that I recommended magnesium in brewing water at low levels, but that is primarily for taste. Magnesium is needed for yeast function, but malt wort has plenty of Mg. With that said, we have to question the maximum Mg level of 40 ppm that I and others have quoted for brewing water? I can only surmise that the Mg that wort supplies is 'bound' to ligands and organic molecules in the wort and it DOES NOT create the negative flavor perceptions that Mg in water can create.

The recommendation for 50 ppm calcium does appear to be overblown and it appears to be most applicable to ales where it can provide a benefit in the clarity of those beers. In the case of lagers, it does appear that the brewer can and should target a much lower calcium content in their brewing water. AJ Delange told me that he routinely targets 20 ppm calcium in his lagers using calcium chloride and that level is mainly because he feels that the resulting chloride level is where his beers taste best. More calcium is not helpful to the final beer in his opinion and we also have ample example that many successful lager breweries utilize very low calcium water in their brewing.

An article documenting this research will be coming out in the future. For now, I can safely state that you can always brew with no calcium in your brewing water. However, not all yeast will appreciate that condition. Ales do appear to benefit from and be less adversely affected by excess calcium. Lager yeasts will probably benefit from using less calcium in brewing water.

It does appear that the 50 ppm Calcium minimum can be ignored in some brewing.     
Title: Re: Distilled water brewing
Post by: erockrph on January 20, 2014, 07:58:06 am
^^^ This is why the AHA forums are so awesome. Thanks Martin!
Title: Re: Distilled water brewing
Post by: HoosierBrew on January 20, 2014, 08:03:24 am
+1.  Great info Martin.  Thanks !
Title: Re: Distilled water brewing
Post by: HoosierBrew on January 20, 2014, 08:08:05 am
Martin, does this change at all your upper level recommendations for Calcium in ales ? 
Title: Re: Distilled water brewing
Post by: duboman on January 20, 2014, 08:30:37 am
Martin, thanks for sharing! It was always my understanding that there was a minimum amount of calcium required for yeast health and fermentation but from what you put forth it seems that this is an overly generalized assumption in most cases.
Title: Re: Distilled water brewing
Post by: denny on January 20, 2014, 09:44:04 am
^^^ This is why the AHA forums are so awesome. Thanks Martin!

Absolutely!  Martin, that's some great info.  Thank you!
Title: Re: Distilled water brewing
Post by: dmtaylor on January 20, 2014, 10:14:04 am
Martin, that is awesome information, thank you.

Now the real question I still have is: Do we need a little calcium in the water to improve final beer FLAVOR?  What are the flavor impacts when we brew style X with 100% distilled water?  Will the beer taste too lifeless and watery?

Let the experimentation continue!  Cheers.
Title: Re: Distilled water brewing
Post by: tomsawyer on January 20, 2014, 01:25:07 pm
Martin, you say malt provides 100ppm Ca to a wort, is that at 1qt/lb?  2qt/lb?  The malt is going to have a certain amount of salt and some of that will be dissolved (not all since calcium salts tend to be poorly soluble), but the concentration is dependent on the mash ratio.  I also wonder what the variation in calcium content is in different malt varieties, grown in different soils, etc. 

Title: Re: Distilled water brewing
Post by: mabrungard on January 20, 2014, 07:32:11 pm
Lennie, that 100 ppm estimate is based on a typical water/grist of about 1.5 qt/lb. I'm sure there is significant difference in the mineral content of malts based on where they were grown. Clearly, that mineral content imparted into the wort is variable.

Dave, I've tasted beers made without minerals and they are bland. Some content is needed for flavor. As I pointed out, AJ likes low content, but not zero content.  The beers don't taste right without some mineral content.
Title: Re: Distilled water brewing
Post by: bdrinkrow on January 22, 2014, 11:38:40 am
Interesting.. Bru'n Water is the best!

I've only brewed my Kolsch with around 22 ppm ca and it was a 90 minute mash and it was lagered.. It would be a cool experiment to read about..

For everything beside that beer I use the Primo RO water from the machine at the grocery store after I found a profile on youtube for it.  It's not the RO profile in Bru'n Water.  It's half the price of distilled here in Michigan and my water is pretty hard from the tap.
Title: Re: Distilled water brewing
Post by: hopfenundmalz on January 22, 2014, 12:26:49 pm
This higher Ca for ale yeast will help them flocculate out quickly, which is what an ale brewery wants.

Lager yeasts will have more time at lower temp, and will settle at cold temps. For a traditional lager schedule you would not want them flocculating out, as they wouldn't clean up as well. It may not mater if you do a D-rest, as they have already cleaned up, and you can crash the yeast out.

So I agree that lager yeast may be better off with lower Ca levels if one does a traditional lager profile.

I look forward to the article in Zymurgy. This hobby always has something new to learn.
Title: Re: Distilled water brewing
Post by: thcipriani on January 26, 2014, 10:01:21 pm
So my initial idea was to brew 3 batches this weekend—one with distilled water, one with 25ppm calcium and one with 50ppm calcium. I haven't brewed in, oh, I don't know, 4 months, and the last time I _did_ brew was on totally different equipment, so how hard could that be, right? Right? RIGHT!?

So, anyway, I got two batches done: Distilled and 50ppm calcium.

A few hiccups, nothing major, some trouble holding mash temp. There has been some delay in fermentation as I've only had single-stage temp control, and, initially, I was banking on the wrong stage (i.e. room got too cold, not too hot). This post, however, primarily focuses on the mash.

Write up here: http://www.tylercipriani.com/brewing/distilled-water-vs-50ppm-calcium/

Any notes on methods, layout and process very welcome.

Title: Re: Distilled water brewing
Post by: dmtaylor on January 27, 2014, 06:07:27 am
Personally I might have picked a style with more specialty grains to bring the mash pH down more but this will still make for a very interesting experiment.  Please report back on how similar or different they TASTE once completed chilled and carbonated.  Thank you for sharing with us!