The Kruger Brewer Master Class: Brewing H2O
Thean Kruger A landscape architect and horticulturist by profession, from Cape Town, South Africa, Thean Leonard Kruger better known as ‘the Kruger brewer’, is also a brewing consultant who has established himself in setting up breweries
A landscape architect and horticulturist by profession, from Cape Town, South Africa, Thean Leonard Kruger better known as ‘the Kruger brewer’, is also a brewing consultant who has established himself in setting up breweries across Europe, Asia & Africa. He is also on the panel as an international specialist who assists a well renowned equipment manufacturer, Mithraeum, in Slovenia and famous malt manufacturer, Castle Malting S.A., in Belgium.
Beer is over 90% water, saying that brewing water is important is an understatement of galactic proportions. So, I searched and searched and saw that there is a site or two that does discuss generalized water profiles. All pro-brewers will tell you that each recipe should have its own water profile, each construction of malt, hops and yeast needs its profile fine-tuned to be perfect. While I am going to be giving water profiles for many styles, they may never be optimal for your particular recipe, so keep playing with it until you get it right – it takes on average 2 or 3 brews of the same recipe with different profiles to get it right in a commercial setup where we know our stuff. The plus side is that you will get your beers to the level where they don’t taste like homebrew anymore and will taste like commercial examples of the style – this is the final frontier after you have mastered the rest, including yeast control.
What is the Importance of Brewing Water?
Water is essential in brewing as an ingredient and as a process facilitator. Beer is composed of 90 – 95% water (typically). Water is the main ingredient and is added to the malt to create the mash in the brewhouse process. When you balance your water chemistry vs your recipe, you are performing a similar function of a sound engineer at a sound board. The sound engineer shifts the hundreds of keys, ensuring each note is either amplified or muted so that the overall composition is a marvellous piece of art – the difference between a platinum selling artist and your buddy in his garage!
The Aspects to Consider in Water Chemistry
This is the bit about the different elements in brewing water – I’m going to keep this as simple as possible.
50 to 200ppm (Added generally through Gypsum or Calcium chloride). This is the most important item on the list. This element is responsible for actually lowering mash pH in the first place. It’s also crucial for yeast health and a clear beer. The higher the amount, the more easily the yeast flocculates. It is also essential for enzymatic processes in the mash.
0 to 30ppm (Added through Magnesium Sulphate). This is another element that is one of the primary contributors to lowering mash pH, although not as well as calcium. It is also a yeast nutrient. The minimum amount is zero in the mash water because all barley wort contains loads of this stuff, but I can tell you from experience that adding even a small amount of magnesium (in the form of Epsom salts or MgSO4) to your mash does great things for the flavour of your beer.
50 to 400ppm (Added through Gypsum or Magnesium Sulphate). The first major flavour component, many brewing software types will tell you this increases “bitter” in a beer, but it’s a little more complicated than that. It’s a combination of either sharpness, bitterness or dryness in the flavour perception, as well as increasing the hop character in beers. The only time I would go over the 250ppm limit is if I’m looking to do a “to style” Dortmund export or something similar. You’d be forgiven for thinking an IPA needs more, but it doesn’t, as it is one of the contributing factors to an IPA’s bitterness sticking to your tongue. Most award-winning IPA’s have a flash of skull-rattling bitterness and a clean hoppy finish that encourages you to drink more = less than 200ppm. If it lingers on the tongue too long, you’ll lose on drinkability. Another point to ponder, is that despite it saying that the minimum requirement is 50ppm, I forget it altogether if I’m brewing continental pilsners and other similar lagers, due to the fragile flavour profile of those beer styles and the hops implemented.
0 to 200ppm (Added through Calcium Chloride or Salt). This is the other major flavour component – it provides a fuller, rounder or sweeter perception to the beer, and is used to either increase malt flavour perception or to temper the effects or sulphates (known as the sulphate to chloride ratio, which we will discuss shortly). There are brewers who take the levels of chlorides up to 300ppm or more, but I would not for various well-informed reasons, so I recommend you don’t either. It’s a very important element for malt forward beer styles.
0 to 150ppm (Added through Salt or Bicarbonate of Soda) Sodium, sodium, sodium – what to do with you? Sodium is an element that is sometimes unavoidable when correcting water chemistry and can lend a sweet quality to certain beers but can become salty when you approach or exceed 150ppm. It does lend a certain well-rounded character to pale beers as well, but much better to keep the concentrations lower than 100ppm unless you are absolutely sure of what you’re doing.
0 to 250ppm (Added through Bicarbonate of Soda, usually) This is the primary ingredient that stands between your stout being wonderfully chocolatey and rich and a one-dimensional cold espresso disappointment. When you need an alkalinity buffer, this is your go-to addition. It does make hops overly bitter in a harsh sort of way, so avoid it completely in highly hopped beers as well as pale beers (it can taste harsh on its own too in beers below 7 SRM).