Water Profile for Sours (Ideal Target for Alkalinity/Bicarbonate?)

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jahajazz

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Hello All,

I'm working on getting better results from my sour beers, and in that effort I had a Ward Labs water test done. Overall, I don't think my water is terrible, but I'm not sure exactly what would be the best practice for my future water adjustments? My Total Alkalinity (CaCO3) is 144 ppm, and the Bicarbonate (HC03) is 175ppm. Based on what I have read, these levels would typically dictate using RO or distilled water if I was brewing something like a pilsner. However, given that I'm brewing sours, I took a look at the Brussels water profiles on brewer's friend and found Alkalinity (HC03) ranging from 150 - 350 ppm. I know that the alkalinity will necessitate using acid to lower the mash/boil pH. I have a pH meter, and I am comfortable controlling that variable. Are there other downsides to using my water? I see two most likely options:

1) Start with RO/Distilled water and build up to the levels suggested by @RPh_Guy on his wiki. This supposes there are other downsides to my bicarbonate levels aside from having to use extra acid to lower pH.
2) Simply use my water as-is, plus a bit of calcium chloride to get the chloride level above 50ppm, brining with it some extra calcium. I do not think there would be any other worthwhile alternations to make?

Here is my data:
BrusselsWater.png


Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

Edit: Reading further in RPh_Guy's regarding Alkalinity and perceived sourness, my higher bicarbonate levels will mean that my beers will have a higher lactic acid level and will in all likelyhood taste more aggressively sour. So far, that hasn't been an issue for me, but I will also keep that in mind.
 

mabrungard

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Ideal bicarb level for a sour? There probably isn't one. But there may be a reason or two to go high or low with bicarb.

With low bicarbonate, the pH of the beer is going to drop easier and to a somewhat lower terminal value. Not much acid will have to be produced by the acidifiers. That might be good or bad.

With high bicarbonate, the acidifiers are going to have to produce more of the acid protons and the corresponding anions in order to reach an acceptably low pH for a sour beer. The good thing about that extra production, is that those anions are actually where the flavors are. So you can avoid an overly low pH while producing a flavorful sour beer.

So, the answer for bicarbonate level will likely be based on how you want your sour to taste.
 

RPh_Guy

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The good thing about that extra production, is that those anions are actually where the flavors are. So you can avoid an overly low pH while producing a flavorful sour beer.
Lactate anions do not produce a good flavor on their own. Make a solution of 3% calcium lactate and taste it; it's quite terrible and tastes nothing like sour beer.

Sour flavor comes from lactic acid (corresponding to the TA), but the rest of the microbial flavor in sour beer—and arguably the more important flavor aspect—comes from other compounds such as esters.

The role of increased water alkalinity or an increase to either of the other buffering systems in beer (proteins, phosphates) is to ultimately increase the TA (sourness) if the bacteria are allowed to reach terminal pH and/or allow for more bacterial growth and presumably increase production of flavor compounds.

@jahajazz No, there are no other issues with increased alkalinity in a sour. However, RO water does offer the advantage of greater control over the full mineral profile.

Cheers
 
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couchsending

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There are lots of issues to think about honestly.

Just like with any pale beer, highly alkaline water is no bueno. This results in higher mash pH which more importantly leads to higher pH during sparge and the resulting tannin extraction from the grain. Again this depends on your grist but if we’re talking traditional long term sour beer that will finish close to 1.000 your OG won’t be that high so the tannin extraction from low final runnings gravity can be worse.

However depending on how long you plan on aging your beer and it’s level of sourness some tannin extraction might be beneficial. Traditional Geuze is often brewed specifically for higher tannin extraction which can add more structure to 3 year old beer.

If you’re not looking to age your beer for that long however Sourness will clash with the harsh tannins from grain due to high pH in the mash/sparge. Sour plus high tannin from grain is not pleasant.

You don’t necessarily need RO. You could probably get away with additional Ca salts plus lactic acid.
 

RPh_Guy

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highly alkaline water is no bueno. This results in higher mash pH which more importantly leads to higher pH during sparge and the resulting tannin extraction from the grain.
The OP said he is correcting mash/sparge pH, so excessive tannin extraction is not a concern.
 

goodolarchie

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I'm just glad we were able to set @mabrungard straight about water chemistry
????

@OP I would probably be going for Distilled or RO then making my adjustments in your shoes, but I wouldn't automatically assume a long-aged sour wouldn't turn out well with your profile. I was listening to an older Tim Clifford interview, he mentioned Sante Adairius' water in Capitola is god awful, as in he wouldn't serve it to a patron. But there's something to be said for how "rustic" farmhouse beers dealt with minerality, which you touched on by comparing Brussels water. And SARA beers are simply phenomenal. There were some nuances he mentioned as to how they dealt with this, I can point you to the interview if you want.

Assuming you are making the right adjustments for the mash, I would recommend just trying a small batch with your water, give it time, see how it does. I'm a fan of 85% phosphoric for mash adjustments. Maybe do two batches in close proximity, control for the water (distilled adjusted) and see what you think?
 
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