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Thursday, 29 April 2010

Malt / Hop Balance

(or More Water Gobbledy-Gook)

You learn something new everyday, so they say, and the more I scratch the surface of this craft of brewing the more I realise that even though it has a strong basis in science (after all none of it would work without the science), bringing all the science together to brew the perfect beer is more of an art form than you would suspect!

I've already discussed the importance of profiling the water by reducing carbonate and therefore alkalinity of the brewing liquor. After adding CRS to reduce the carbonate I was a little worried about the high levels of chlorides and sulphates remaining in my water.

Someone pointed out to me that actually the levels left in my water are quite small compared to the sulphate level in Burtonized water (which have sulphate levels at around 800ppm). 

What is much more important to the flavour of the beer at the end of the process though is the ratio of Sulphates to Chlorides. A higher ratio of Sulphate will result in the hop flavour and bitterness being accentuated, whereas a higher ratio of chloride will result in the malt characteristics being more accentuated in the final product.

One of the reasons that Burton breweries were famous for quite strong and hoppy beers was the high sulphate levels in the source water compared to the chlorides, the strength of the beer being upped to increase the maltiness and body of the beer.

I probably have about 1 1/2 times the amount of sulphate to chloride in my water so it will accentuate the hoppiness a little. Initial samples of my latest brew show a very clean and crisp hop bitterness and flavour to the brew without being overly astringent.

In addition, the target mash Ph is not only defined by the water but also the profile of grain being used. Obviously darker malts will lower the Ph in the mash as they are more acidic than pale malts. 

Calcium Sulphate (Gypsum) and Calcium Chloride flakes will both have the effect of lowers the Ph as well but one will increase the sulphate and the other the chloride allowing fine tuning of the flavour profile.

So to brew the perfect beer there are a large number of scientific conditions that need to come together at the same time (Alkalinity, Mash Ph, mineral content, mash temperature, hot break, cold break). As each recipe may call for tweaks to the process then, although backed up by the science, the brewer is practicing an art form that requires good knowledge of the ingredients and processes in order to bring it all together at the right time.

So brewing is a science and an art form. I continue to learn more every day, and enjoy the product of that learning even more.

Happy Days!


  1. I'm playing with this stuff a lot at the moment. From experience, what was the change in your beer when you increased the sulphate to chloride ratio? Was it a minor improvement in hop flavour or a significant one?

  2. Sorry Mark, I thought I had replied to your comment but Android obviously let me down!

    I would say that this ratio is just another tool to allow you to get the edge and to polish a beer off.

    Get the ratio right and you'll have bright crisp bitterness with less astringency and a clearer hop flavour when required or a softer edge and maltiness when brewing that style of beer.

    To be honest the water treatment calculators will do most of the hard work for you and tell you what salts to use. Any tweaking on top is where the "art" part comes into effect :)

    For me, all water treatment is just a further refinement of the process and I think it's what helped me win a few competitions last year by just giving an edge to the quality of the beers.

    I'm quite lucky with my water anyway as apart from reducing alkalinity there isn't a huge amount to do.... there is plenty of calcium and using CRS boosts the sulphate levels up. What I'm then doing is just fine tuning for a given style.