Author Topic: a question about pickling lime v. chalk  (Read 10667 times)

Offline nateo

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Re: a question about pickling lime v. chalk
« Reply #30 on: May 01, 2012, 08:10:25 AM »
I guess, but I don't see any difference in water that started with low alkalinity and ended up with a lot of it versus a base water with high bicarbonate.

Just the conjecture that neutralized bicarbonate (like what would happen in your acidic mash) lends an unpleasant flavor. I'm not an expert mead maker, but I've noticed it's definitely true when making mead, and also when making Belgian candi syrup. You can use much larger amounts of lime than chalk before you hit the taste threshold. How applicable that is to beer I couldn't say with certainty, but I strongly suspect similar flavor issues.

I think it's more a question of "Is lime better than chalk or baking soda"?  I think it does have some advantages over both, but disadvantages as well.  I would never recommend anyone use lime unless they have a pH meter, as the strips (even colorPhast) are just not accurate enough.  Even with that, use safety precautions and err on the low side.  I personally don't think any beer benefits from a mash pH of over 5.5, and even a beer with lots of roasted malts will be very easy to get above this with a strong base like lime.

Agreed. I think using a 10% or 5% solution will address some of those concerns, but I'd agree to never use lime unless you have a pH meter.
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Offline narvin

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Re: a question about pickling lime v. chalk
« Reply #31 on: May 01, 2012, 12:01:18 PM »
I guess, but I don't see any difference in water that started with low alkalinity and ended up with a lot of it versus a base water with high bicarbonate.

Just the conjecture that neutralized bicarbonate (like what would happen in your acidic mash) lends an unpleasant flavor. I'm not an expert mead maker, but I've noticed it's definitely true when making mead, and also when making Belgian candi syrup. You can use much larger amounts of lime than chalk before you hit the taste threshold. How applicable that is to beer I couldn't say with certainty, but I strongly suspect similar flavor issues.


I agree, and am not a big fan of chalk either.  Beers I haven't added chalk to are almost always better than the ones I have.  The possible reasons are:

1) No need for additional alkalinity.  This is definitely possible; AJ Delange thinks that few, if any, circumstances warrant adding alkalinity.  My water has a bicarbonate content of 59 ppm. I've checked the mash pH with my meter on beers like a 60 SRM stout, and found that the contributions from a mostly roasted malt grainbill still result in a mash pH of 5.5.  The same mash read at about 4.9 with the colorphast strips, which, even with the 0.3 margin of error that Kai found, do not seem to be at all reliable for dark beers.

2) Neutralizied alkalinity.  Possible, but I don't see the same effect when using lactic acid in light lagers.

3) Residual chalk.  Could impart flavors, given that it doesn't dissolve completely.  Also possible that we are adding twice as much as we need, given the poor solubility, and the rest dissolves/reacts in the boil and causes a high wort pH.  This is generally never good.

I just want people to be careful with adding alkalinity.  In most cases, alkalinity is a bad thing.  I'm still looking for "the answer", as well; even though generalizations about water are hard to make, there are some best practices.  It seems to me that they are style based, and based on flavor.  100 ppm of bicarbonate have very little effect on the conversion, given the mash pH shift is less than 0.1, but have a large effect on flavor.

Keep experimenting!
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Offline nateo

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Re: a question about pickling lime v. chalk
« Reply #32 on: May 01, 2012, 12:41:35 PM »
Narvin - I completely agree. I don't know if you saw the thread where I was heckling John Palmer, but if I had to make a sweeping generalization, I'd agree with DeLange way before Palmer.
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Offline mabrungard

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Re: a question about pickling lime v. chalk
« Reply #33 on: May 01, 2012, 03:14:46 PM »

I would never recommend anyone use lime unless they have a pH meter, as the strips (even colorPhast) are just not accurate enough.  Even with that, use safety precautions and err on the low side.  I personally don't think any beer benefits from a mash pH of over 5.5, and even a beer with lots of roasted malts will be very easy to get above this with a strong base like lime.

I'm not willing to go quite that far.  If you have the capability to dose your water accurately with lime, there is no more need to have a pH meter for that addition than with any other mineral addition. 

If you are starting with a low alkalinity water like distilled or RO, then you know that you will need some alkalinity for highly acidic grists with significant crystal or roast content.  If you have any confidence in the acidity correlations for various grain types, you can certainly have some confidence that you can calculate what the total acidity you are adding via your grist.  With that knowledge, you can estimate what alkalinity your mash will need to produce an appropriate mash pH. 

The great thing about lime is that you will get exactly the quantity of alkalinity in your water with respect to your dosing.  And with that alkalinity being delivered in the hydroxl form, it is going to react with whatever proton donor it encounters.  Its especially going to react with and neutralize those available acids (those sluts!). 

So you can depend on this reaction to proceed fully to completion, unlike chalk.  If you dose lime right and understand your mash acidity, the pH will be right.  You don't have to worry about the buffering capacity like when you're adding acid to an alkaline water.  Adding lime into an acidic solution is a straight one to one response when you are starting with little or no alkalinity in the water.   

Nate, I have to disagree that 'in most cases alkalinity is a bad thing'.  I've found just the opposite.  I find that inappropriate alkalinity content is a bad thing.  That goes both ways.  Too low an alkalinity produces a thin, body-less beer that is likely to be tart.  That might be a good thing in a Berliner Weisse, but not so good in other styles.  Too high an alkalinity creates a litany of faults through excessive mash pH and wort pH.  But the appropriate alkalinity produces a better beer every time. 

There are brewers that brew beers like stouts using RO water and maybe some calcium mineral.  They are making beer. But in the hundreds of darker beers that I've judged that have an acidic twang and thin body, I can only assume they were brewed with low alkalinity water.  In some cases, I've been able to confirm from the brewer that they used low alkalinity water for the brew. 

Conversely here in the land of very alkaline water, I've tasted some truly wonderful dark beers that I've queried the brewers as to their water adjustements.  They typically do little to their water.  (of course their lighter beers stink unless they've learned the magic of alkalinity reduction).   Aiming for the appropriate alkalinity to coordinate with the needs of the grist is the path to better beer. 

I have been advocating an elevated mash pH target for darker beers for probably 3 years now.  I always found that if I over-neutralized my high alkalinity brewing water when I was in Tallahassee or my under-alkalinity RO water here in Carmel, my dark beers were sharp and unpleasant.  Whereas, when the mash pH was a little bit high at 5.5 to 5.6, then those same beer recipes were much smoother.  Recently, I was trolling through Kai's Braukaiser site and noted that he had pointed out a reference (I think it was either Kunze or Briggs) that said that a slightly higher mash pH helps improve the extraction of color and flavor from roast malts.  That was an Ah Ha moment for me!  It corroborated my empirical findings above. 

That higher pH target also helps me understand why so many brewers using RO or distilled water have to reserve their roast grains from the main mash.  That process helps moderate the problems of a too low mash and also allows the mash to naturally increase its pH as the mash progresses.  That moves the pH closer to a range that the roast color and extraction is going to appreciate. 

Appropriate alkalinity should always be a brewers goal, not 'no alkalinity'.  That no alkalinity water recipe does not hold true for all beers.  You can also fault Palmer's original nomograph and spreadsheet.  It was the downfall of many a dark beer brewer since it recommends far too much alkalinity.  But, don't go to the extreme in aiming for too little alkalinity.

Enjoy! 
« Last Edit: May 01, 2012, 05:24:49 PM by mabrungard »
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Offline nateo

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Re: a question about pickling lime v. chalk
« Reply #34 on: May 01, 2012, 03:31:51 PM »
Martin - As always, thank you for being the voice of reason.
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Offline garc_mall

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Re: a question about pickling lime v. chalk
« Reply #35 on: May 01, 2012, 05:26:48 PM »
These conversations are where I learn the most. I still don't understand water chemistry as much as I would like, but every time one of these threads come up, I learn a bit more, or a different way of understanding my water chemistry. Thanks you guys.
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Offline weithman5

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Re: a question about pickling lime v. chalk
« Reply #36 on: May 01, 2012, 06:11:12 PM »
so next time i brew my dark (probably not until the fall or winter) i will brew back to back batches. one i will use pickling lime to correct my alkalinity. this brings up two questions.

1.  where do i get it?
2.  why can i not just use strips and correct for the difference over using a meter?  this is similar to when everyone comments about weighing priming sugar over using a measuring cup.  i once checked the repeatability of my 3/4 cup and i was consistently withing 1-2 grams of 153g.  granted a 1% error but within the accuracy of my scale.
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Offline bo

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Re: a question about pickling lime v. chalk
« Reply #37 on: May 01, 2012, 06:45:23 PM »
so next time i brew my dark (probably not until the fall or winter) i will brew back to back batches. one i will use pickling lime to correct my alkalinity. this brings up two questions.

1.  where do i get it?
2.  why can i not just use strips and correct for the difference over using a meter?  this is similar to when everyone comments about weighing priming sugar over using a measuring cup.  i once checked the repeatability of my 3/4 cup and i was consistently withing 1-2 grams of 153g.  granted a 1% error but within the accuracy of my scale.

You can get it at a supermarket by the canning supplies. One bag is a lifetime supply and it's only a few dollars.

Offline nateo

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Re: a question about pickling lime v. chalk
« Reply #38 on: May 01, 2012, 06:49:24 PM »
You can get it at a supermarket by the canning supplies. One bag is a lifetime supply and it's only a few dollars.

The closest Walmart to me used to carry lime with their canning stuff, but they don't anymore. Sometimes hardware stores carry canning stuff, but none of the hardware stores around me carry lime. All of the Mennonite stores by me carry it, though. Just FYI, it might be hard to find.
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Offline hokerer

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Re: a question about pickling lime v. chalk
« Reply #39 on: May 01, 2012, 07:14:21 PM »
Our supermarkets tend to be very seasonal with canning supplies so it's hit or miss whether you'll find it.  I can reliably find it year round at our local Southern States Co-op, though.
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Offline ccfoo242

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Re: a question about pickling lime v. chalk
« Reply #40 on: May 01, 2012, 07:19:37 PM »
I find shaking a chicken's foot at my mash tun helps keep my pH in a range between 5.1 and 6.2.
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Offline weithman5

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Re: a question about pickling lime v. chalk
« Reply #41 on: May 01, 2012, 07:35:42 PM »
You can get it at a supermarket by the canning supplies. One bag is a lifetime supply and it's only a few dollars.

The closest Walmart to me used to carry lime with their canning stuff, but they don't anymore. Sometimes hardware stores carry canning stuff, but none of the hardware stores around me carry lime. All of the Mennonite stores by me carry it, though. Just FYI, it might be hard to find.

well then, the amish store near my mom's probably will have it too.
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Re: a question about pickling lime v. chalk
« Reply #42 on: May 02, 2012, 05:27:37 AM »
You can get it at a supermarket by the canning supplies. One bag is a lifetime supply and it's only a few dollars.

The closest Walmart to me used to carry lime with their canning stuff, but they don't anymore. Sometimes hardware stores carry canning stuff, but none of the hardware stores around me carry lime. All of the Mennonite stores by me carry it, though. Just FYI, it might be hard to find.

well then, the amish store near my mom's probably will have it too.
I found my bag at a farm supply store that had a canning section. It was the dead of winter.
Walmart may have a canning section that is seasonal in the Midwest.

You could also search for "Mrs. Wages" and buy online.
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Re: a question about pickling lime v. chalk
« Reply #43 on: May 02, 2012, 05:43:44 AM »
Read through Martins thoughtful post. One should be aware that some of the successful Michgan breweries known for their Porters and Stouts have highly alkaline water.  Disclaimer - I don't know what they do for water adjustment. I did want to point out that the tap water in Kalamazoo has >400 ppm of bicarbonate if I remember the discussion with another homebrewer.

My tap water is from wells in town, and has a 364 ppm bicarbonate level. See the "post your water report thread" in the Ingredients section for my report if interested.
« Last Edit: May 02, 2012, 05:47:08 AM by hopfenundmalz »
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Offline narvin

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Re: a question about pickling lime v. chalk
« Reply #44 on: May 02, 2012, 06:20:01 AM »
Totally agree with you, Martin, about not all alkalinity being bad.  Just saying that since most water already has some, more may not always be necessary, even for dark beers.  YMMV.

The reason I recommend against the strips is that I don't find them to be accurate.  I wouldn't want to raise mash pH by 0.2 or more in error.
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