Hoppy Beers, Soft Water & A Batch of Brown Ale

I brewed a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale clone on the 3rd of August (I will post a side by side comparison in a few days). It has only now reached the stage where it is drinkable, and is rather a nice pint. Let me restate that: it is an excellent beer, however the hop aroma and flavour has faded slightly. Before now, the beer had a very harsh, mouth filling astringency, that I am attributing to hop tannins. Am I just drinking ‘green’ beer before it is mature? Perhaps, but I’m convinced that my water chemistry, and in particular my boil pH, has something to do with it. The water here is practically distilled, with Calcium under 30 mg/L and other ions even less. I don’t have a figure for the Bicarbonate level but I would be surprised if it were much over 10 mg/L, and certainly no more than 20. To get to the bottom of this I have ordered an alkalinity testing kit. I should add, that most beers turn out very well with my water, wheat beers and lagers in particular turn out magnificent. Dark beers and hoppy beers, not so great.

Taking a suggestion from Chris (the JBK forum brewing sensei), I cut my brewing liquor with some high bicarbonate spring water (2L in a 23L batch) to see if I the hop character is less harsh in the resulting beer. Todays brew was a brown ale with Glacier hops. I see it as halfway between an English and American brown, with the yeast character of the former and the robust malt and hop character of the latter. The recipe is here. It is the first time i’ve used the White Labs British Ale yeast and also Glacier hops, so i’m excited to see what they bring to the party. Below you can see a brief clip of the sparge in process.



  1. Bailey · September 5, 2009

    Interesting. I’ve been wondering for a while if its our water that’s letting us down when we brew but tackling it in a serious way seems a bit of a hassle. Time to bite the bullet this winter, I think.

  2. Geoff · September 5, 2009

    What kind of water are you brewing with Bailey?

    I used to consider it a dark art but there seem to be four very simple elements to it:

    1) Treat for chlorine/chloramine (campden tabs or carbon filtration).

    2) Reduce or increase total alkalinity to a range of 15 – 50 with acid treatment or chalk. Higher end of the range for darker beers.

    3) Ensure a minimal level of Calcium (around 100 mg/l) to ensure mash and fermentation reactions can take place and yeast can flocculate.

    4) Less important, a sulphate/chloride ratio with gypsum and CaCl2 additions, balanced towards sulphate for hoppy beers and chloride for malty beers.

  3. Bailey · September 5, 2009

    London tap water, but with Campden tablets for the chlorine. Boak’s the brewmistress — I just carry stuff — so maybe I should get her to chip in at this point.

  4. Geoff · December 1, 2009

    I solved this problem ~ Five Star’s 5.2 Stabiliser product seems to have been causing the astringency in my beers. I’ve got rid of it now, just use traditional brewing salts like Gypsum and Calcium Chloride.

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