Monday, February 25, 2013

Hotbreak At Last

One of the more popular beers we're brewing here in San Miguel is a Belgian tripel with honey. Belgian tripels are one of my favorite styles and the reason I brew it to begin with but it's nice to see that it's being received well here. It could be the people are drawn in by the rarity of a higher alcohol beer but I believe it's the high quality and unique character that is the selling feature.

Nice chunks of hot break material
After the boil
As you know, I've been working to modify my challenging brewing water in order to brew better beer and for this recipe I've tried to mimic the water used from the region that Chimay is brewed. By diluting my tap water with a percentage of reverse osmosis water and adding back in some essential minerals that the filtration stripped out I am finally able to see the positive results from these efforts.

One clear sign that I'm on the right track is the great 'hot break' material I'm seeing in the boil kettle. In the past when using the local tap water I would see very small, dusty evidence of protein formations. Now, the break material is large and dense. The perfect indicator that the mash and sparge ph are in the right acidic zone. This is also suggestive of the beer being clear and bright after fermentation and some aging in the kegs and bottles.

This tripel recipe is naturally simple composed of 22 lbs. of 2-row, and a pound of crystal #20 for a 11 gallon batch. I add cane sugar late in the boil to raise the gravity to the level I want. After a couple days, when I see a serious amount of krausen forming on the beer, I pour raw honey directly into the fermentor.

I've included the spread sheets that show the water modifications I use for this recipe and you can see that I'm using 3/4 of my brewing water as reverse osmosis filter water. Along with that I'm adding back in calcium sulphate in the form of gypsum and some calcium chloride. R.O. water combined with my grain bill lower my mash ph down to 5.6 in this case.

In the sparge water I'm including a few oz. of phosphoric acid to lower the ph. In the future I may leave the sparge water adjusted with the mineral addition only and see if the resulting break material is just as good without the lower ph achieved with the acid addition. Truth be told, I doing this because I'm running out of the acid.

With these water adjustments I expect to reap the benefits in terms of better mash efficiency because of the lower ph, better attenuation in the fermentor from the more efficient starch conversion, a clearer finished product along with a defined malt flavor and hop utilization and flavor.

I will be reviewing future beers I'm brewing that have the adjusted water and talk about whether the qualities I'm hoping for are evident as a result of using the new water. Let me know if you have any questions about my brewing practices down here in Mexico. Cheers!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Homebrewing Club In SMA

I met with the local homebrewers here in San Miguel de Allende and tasted a mix of Mexican homebrew. Although the group was small (only 7 of us at this meeting) all were enthusiastic about brewing beer here in SMA and sharing information about their processes.

Mexican Homebrewers
Caguama field
Behind these walls are brewers
The club doesn't have a name yet and this meeting was really the first in a series of efforts to solidify the group. A unanimous decision was made to elect Mike Baumgartner (possibly against his will) as president or at least the official organizer responsible for bringing this band of renegade brewers together for regular meetings and brew related activities.

Mike brought out several caguamas of ales that he has designated by batch number. I think we sampled #'s 9, 16 and 26? Each one tasting different than the other but all with a malt forward quality. Barry brought a good example of an English ale similar to 'Old Peculiar' and I almost guessed the secret ingredient. Fernando brought a sample of the beer he's perfecting in order to sell at his restaurant La Mesa Grande called 'La Bruja' and I brought in a few styles from the selection I'm promoting through the smallest brewery in the world 'Dos Aves' including a German hefe, pale ale and dry stout. I making good progress with the water I'm using for these beers and learning a lot about which minerals impact the aspects of beer flavor, clarity, bitterness and maltiness.

La Mesa Grande's Pale Ale

This was a very enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Sampling homebrew and getting to know each other and discussing the topic of brewing.

All the while I'm still sampling the Mexican craft beers that are available here and although Calavera in all it's versions is readily available in a number of locations here I never got a chance until recently to review their version of the American pale ale. This is what I thought of this beer:

Calavera's American Pale Ale

The aroma is sweet, perfumy and flowery or floral with very mild citrus notes. It is slightly cloudy with a thin white head that dissipates quickly. The flavor is immediately sweet light caramel maltiness, honey and alcohol even though the abv. is low at 5.4%. There is a tropical fruit quality of papaya and pineapple. This beer has a moderate to low carbonation that leaves a thin watery feel in the mouth.

They've got a great and easily recognizable logo featuring a skull in a crescent moon and it makes me consider whether the Dos Aves logo will have this same attraction to the public.
I couldn't get to their website at although this is printed on the label.

Anyway, I'll be reviewing other Mexican beers in the near future here as I continue to update you with the progress of the brewery. Cheers!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Brewing Water

One of the big challenges I'm facing as I try to get this tiny brewery up and running is brewing with the local water. Water that is far from ideal when it comes to making good beer. The primary problem is the very high alkalinity as a result of the extreme hardness from bicarbonate, calcium and sodium levels. These mineral not only cause a high ph level that inhibits starch conversion in the mash but also leave the final beer tasting muddy, dull and uninspired.

To brew a good beer you have to start with a good mash ph level. A ph of between 5.2 and 5.5 will enhance the enzymatic action that occurs, converting starches to sugar and at the same time producing a fermentable wort. It allows for a good 'hot break' in the boil which later helps with beer clarity, yeast flocculation and enhanced hop flavor and utilization.

I wasn't sure what the water was like here in San Miguel except that it was hard. The local water company would not or could not provide me with any information about its make up. Using a chemical ph tester I could see that the ph was above 8 but this was the extent of my knowledge. So, I sent a sample off to Ward Labs to try and get to the bottom of this. The results came back quickly and although I'm not surprised with the analysis, I can now see exactly what I'm dealing with.
Dos Aves Brewing Water Profile

PH 8.2 with Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) Est. ppm 376

PPM _________________________________________

Sodium, NA 61 (this sodium level is pretty high)
Potassium, K 15
Calcium, Ca 56 (the calcium is relatively high, but less than London)
Magnesium, Mg 16 (pretty typical)
Total Hardness, CaCO3 207
Nitrate, NO3-N 8.9 (SAFE)
Sulfate, SO4-S 11 (very low)
Chloride, Cl 15
Carbonate, CO3 14
Bicarbonate, HCO3 321 (high and very similar to the Bicarbonate in Dublin)
Total Alkalinity, CaCO3 287
Total Phosphorus, P 0.75
Total Iron, Fe <0 p="">

As you see from the report above, I'm working with some pretty hard water. Although in comparison to some brewing water from around the world, much of the other components in the water are within reasonable levels.

Brewing water used for classic styles of beer
Water stripped to it's basics
Capturing brewing water
But, the hardness has to be dealt with if I'm going to make decent beer down here, and when I say decent I mean really good beer that other brewers in the area envy. So my approach is simple, dilute the tap water with treated water. In this case I'm using reverse osmosis filtered water. Water that is virtually stripped of all minerals. From the report you can see that the bicarbonates are at 321 parts per million and if you compare this to other brewing water around the world it is only exceeded by the water in Flanders and is almost identical to the waters of Dublin. But, if I substitute 50% of my brewing water with treated (R.O.) water I will drop the bicarbonate lever down to half or 160 ppm which is getting closer to a reasonable level and at the same time lower the ph. My level of dilution will naturally depend on the style of beer I'll be brewing. Lighter beers will receive a higher percentage of the treated or soft water where as the darker beers will require less. The reason for this is because the darker roasted grains in darker beers provide additional acid in the mash that will help drop the mash ph.

However, I also need to consider the other elements in the water when I dilute it. Some of these minerals may end up reduced to levels too low and I will need to add them back into solution to balance the water composition that is needed. Again, depending on the style of beer I'll be brewing. For instance, replacing the diminished calcium with gypsum, or adding back in epsom salt or calcium chloride. Fortunately there is a great water spread sheet available to guide me through what are the proper amounts of each of these minerals per beer style. It's called Bru'n Water and can be used to either compare your water to water from other parts of the world or compared to water used in particular beer styles.

The bottom line is that there are two elements that must be considered when your goal is to achieve a good mash ph. One is the brewing water composition and the other is the mash grain bill. The water provides the initial ph level and the grain bill will drop that level down depending on the grain color. The darker grain and the more you use of it, the more it will lower the ph of the mash.

I'm looking forward to tasting the beers that will be coming out of the fermentors in the near future. Everything brewed from this point on will have gone through some degree of water treatment and I have high expectations of getting clear, crisp and defined malt and hop qualities from the use of style specific water. I'll keep you posted.

How do you treat your water?

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