Brewing Salt: Wort Chemistry

Salt has played a multifaceted role throughout history, symbolizing trust, hospitality, and value across cultures. From the Roman practice of paying soldiers with ‘salarium’ to expressions like ‘नमक हराम। किसका नमक खाया है।’ in Hindi and ‘मीठु’ in Gujarati and Marathi, salt reflects societal norms and values. In Japan, ‘塩を送る’ (shio o okuru) represents the offering of salt as a symbol of trust and hospitality, while in Arabic culture, ‘عين الملح’ (ain al-milh) or ‘the eye of salt’ signifies attention to detail and care.

Expressions like ‘Worth one’s salt’ and ‘Salt of the earth’ underscore salt’s importance and reliability. However, it’s also wise to ‘take it with a pinch of salt,’ recognizing the need for skepticism.

Salt has influenced historical events like the Salt Tax, which sparked protests like the Dandi March in India, and facilitated trade along the Salt Route. Additionally, salt has been used to form alliances through agreements like the Salt Pact and Salt Covenant. Even in nature, salt’s significance is evident, as seen in the presence of natural salt licks.

In summary, salt’s role in pickling, food preservation, and the reliability/portability of food is deeply intertwined with cultural, economic, and historical contexts, making it a truly indispensable element in human civilization.

Water profile is one of the most undervalued, yet important aspects of your home brewing beer. Each water body contains its unique flavor and ecology elements which make it unique. Yet recipes on the internet hardly talk about it.

Wort or Water Chemistry is getting the most of your hops and malt by minutely tweaking the ions in your water. Most amateurs start with RO water for their brewing and are pleasantly surprised with their experiments. Calcium Carbonate/acid blend to alter the pH is good enough for 90% of the brewers.

It’s only after you get into the zest of perfection, do you realize the importance of water chemistry. Which is a subtle but powerful tool for any brewery arsenal.

How to fix Brewing Water:

  1. IPAs are not hoppy enough. (add sulfate: Calcium or Magnesium)
  2. Your light beers are great but dark beers are not so much. (need to use hard water—- Calcium Ca, Magnesium salts Mg)
  3. Water is too acidic: Add some Calcium Carbonate to increase the pH. The right pH is important for the best enzyme action
  4. pH is too alkaline: Usually, this is a sign that the water is hard and rich in minerals. Adding some food-grade acids like Malic acid, Citric Acid or tartaric acid would solve the problem. I prefer to use malic acid for fruit wines and fruit ales as it is naturally found in fruits and hence improves the flavor profile.
  5. Adding a bit of Table Salt (NaCl sodium chloride) can improve the flavors of your fruit ales and fruit cider wine. In Gujarati salt is called મીઠું (Mīṭhuṁ) because of its power to enhance the flavor balance (sweetness)
  6. Most municipalities use chloramines to purify drinking water. The old method of boiling water or allowing it to sit overnight for chlorine to dissipate will not work for you. Using Campden powder is the best solution to take out the chlorine. (the product page FAQ & video to help you with the procedure)
  7. The point to be noted is that one needs to regulate the pH at each stage/step of brewing /mashing and also before adding the yeast. Enzymes and biochemical reactions are very susceptible to optimal pH levels.
Calcium Magnesium Sulphate chloride. Understand the brewing water salts and their uses
Hardness in Brewing Water

Temporary vs Permanent Hardness

With so much Ca, Mg, and SO4 salts being added, brewing water especially for IPA is definitely hard. However, some home brewers often ask if they should focus on temporary hardness (by adding CaCO3) or permanent hardness (Epson and gypsum salts).

Temporary hardness is called so, because Calcium (or magnesium) bicarbonate when boiled precipitates into a white deposit. If you have seen inside your water heater or coffee machine, you can recognize this white deposit of calcium on your vessels. Winemakers love Calcium carbonate because it reduces acidity in wine and improves flavor profile.

However, the last step of beer brewing is boiling the wort. You don’t want to get your beer chemistry go haywire due to sedimentation of the calcium salts. Hence most beer brewers use CaCO3 for the sole purpose of regulating wort pH only.

The permanent hardness is due to sulfates of calcium and magnesium salts. These sulfates don’t react with the acids in your wort. Hence don’t alter the wort pH so much. Secondly, sulfates are stable during boiling. Thirdly, the SO4 on their own also adds to the hoppy characteristic of the beer. Therefore food grade Epson and Gypsum are more heavily used to make the brewing water hard.

hard water profile test for beer brewing
water profile test

Warning about Chemicals:

  1. Keep your brewing water salts and chemicals away from kids & pets. Always label and store in airtight containers away from sunlight.
  2. Be sure of the molarity (strength) of the salts before you add them. Calcium chloride will soon turn into an aqua solution once opened. So I dilute it to a known strength the moment I open the packet. Similarly, some salts hydrate lose water during storage and hence become stronger. Check the storage instructions and if needed make a solution of known strength when fresh.
  3. Some brewing salts have varying degrees of hydration. Google for adjustments in the ratios (molar weight) to tweak your recipe.
  4. Keep logs records and notes.
  5. Although recipes call for de-ionized water/distilled water. I found that RO water is typically good enough. But do your experiments beforehand.
  6. Most chemicals are available in four different grades. Technical grade (cheapest), food grade, laboratory grade, and Pharmaceutical grade (called IP which is the most expensive). Understand the difference between % purity, permissible levels of impurities, and the nature of impurities between the four before you go on a scavenger hunt to find your missing reagent.
  7. Most chemicals have a simple titration-based method to test purity. But unless you have a chemistry background or you are planning to pursue this commercially, it will be an overkill.

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Please do yourself a favor and avoid using RO water (unless your water supply is tainted with Arsenic, heavy metals or chemical pollutants). RO water machines waste 1 L of water to produce one glass of RO water. Also by stripping away the minerals, not only your water taste goes down but it also weakens your bones.

HomeBrew Beer Water Treatment Easy Guide
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