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Food Grade Acids:  Acid additions counter the H+ ion and directly lower the alkalinity of the mash. Popular additions include phosphoric acid, sulfuric acid andlactic acid.

All of these contribute other flavors and ions to the beer as well, which can again cause problems if used in excessive amounts.

Phosphoric acid is used to make soda, and will contribute phosphates to the mash.   This helps to develop ester flavors, mostly for German wheat and Belgian style beers.

Lactic acid will add lactates, and is used in many Belgian styles to sour the beer, such as Style 18, Belgian Strong.

Sulfuric acid will contribute sulfates.   This would be used in Dortmunder Export (Style 1E), in English IPAs (Style 14A), Schwarz Beer (Style 4C) or any other beers where sulphury flavors cannot be derived from yeast where moderate sulphur flavors is desired.

Acid Malt:  Due to German purity laws (Reinheitsgebot), which prevent additives to German beer, acid malt is used to aid in the brewing of light beers to lower mash pH. Souring malt with lactic bacteria for a short period, which effectively creates lactic acid, makes acid malt. Adding acid malt is effectively equivalent to adding lactic acid to the mash. Adding one percent of acid malt lowers the pH of the malt by 0.1 pH.

A related technique developed by the Germans is to create a sour mash, which again contains lactic acid produced by lactic bacteria. The technique is to mash a quantity of grain, cool it to about 80ºF and then adds some fresh malt (it will contain lactic bacteria naturally) and lets the mixture sit overnight. The bacteria will quickly sour the mash and start fermenting it, again creating lactic acid. The next day this sour mash can be mixed with a regular mash to lower its pH.

 Acid Rest:  An acid rest in the 95ºF range can break down phytins in the malt intophytic acid that will lower the mash pH.  Traditionally done in German triple decoction mashes, it is most effective when used with undermodified malts.

When looking through the BJCP Beer Style Guidelines, there are references to expressions like “Burtonized water” or “soft water” and a host of references to water.  In my article Water 101 I touched on the subject but never really delved too deeply into the subject of water treatment.

What treatments are necessary for what styles?  What do you add or do to water to make the desired treatment?  I will attempt to answer these questions. First we need to find a list of water treatments available.

Burton Water Salts:  A blend of natural minerals designed to harden water for brewing. This is important when brewing beers from grains. The pH level of your water plays an important role in the waters ability to leach out compounds from the grains.   Burton water salts contain a balanced blend of calcium sulphate, magnesium sulphate and sodium chloride. It also has an organic compound call papain. It is included to help prevent beers from forming a haze when chilled.

This treatment is used in Style 11 (English Bitters) to help match the indigenous water styles of England.  It is also used in most of the rest of English style beers in the 2015 BJCP guidelines. 

Note: Be sure to consider the chemistry of your own water source before adding ANY treatment!

Gypsum/calcium chloride:  American pale ales (and Style 10 beers) should be low in carbonates, under 50 ppm (parts per million). It should also be high in calcium.  We do this from the addition of gypsum (calcium sulfate) or calcium chloride.  Calcium levels anywhere in the 100–250 ppm range are acceptable. Extract brewers need to know that malt extract has minerals dissolved in it.  Any pleasant-tasting water should be good enough to brew an extract-based American pale ale. The best kinds of water for extract brewing are soft water with a little gypsum added to accentuate the hop presence (about 1 teaspoon per 5 gallons).  All-grain brewers can add gypsum if they have very soft water. Use 2-4 teaspoons of gypsum for 10 gallons of brewing water, which is what you’ll need to make a 5-gallon batch.


5.2 Stabilizer:  Many brew stores now carry an additive called 5.2 stabilizer which is a powder you can add to the beer to lower the mash pH to 5.2.  It consists of buffers that reduce the alkalinity of the mash to reach a 5.2 level.  This is a good simple solution for many homebrewers.

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So there you have it, water treatments that are available for common use to duplicate water styles of some beer styles.

For more information, I recommend the following book:

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