Sunday, March 11, 2012

Paradigm shifts in my brewing philosophy

I've brewed beer, wine, mead and cider for about eight years now. I still consider myself a "newbie," but along the way I've picked up some knowledge.

When I first started I approached brewing like I was making a cake. I got recipes online or at my LHBS, followed the instructions, and ended up with beer I was proud of, but wasn't all that great.

Soon I started formulating my own recipes. They were a generally a muddled mess of ingredients. I didn't fully understand how the flavors would interact. I made mediocre beer.

The first big shift in my thinking happened when I started looking into water chemistry. I think the importance of water chemistry is overestimated by most amateur brewers. Getting your mash pH in line is crucial, and is related to water chemistry, but trying to imitate "historic" brewing waters is a terrible idea, from my experience. The worst non-infected beer I've ever made was a pale ale with Burton-on-Trent water.

The next shift in my brewing philosophy was to pare my recipes down to make them as simple as possible. Plain old 2-row has a lot of flavor. I started thinking about the types of flavors I wanted in the beer, and adding ingredients with purpose. My brews turned out much better.

The latest shift in my brewing philosophy came when I realized how important proper yeast health is to good fermentation. More on that later.


  1. Interesting article. I haven't tried changing or checking my water profile yet. I live in Eureka Missouri, and have tried both the Eureka water (softened with a water softener) and also Culligan RO water purchased at Walmart. Any recommendations?

  2. Water from a water softener will have a lot of sodium (if it's a regular salt softener) or potassium (if it's a nusalt softener). High potassium levels aren't as detrimental as high sodium. Water from a regular salt softener should almost never be used for brewing. RO is much better, but maybe less convenient.

    Mash pH is really important. I would check out a utility like Bru'n water: . Martin's spreadsheet has a lot of great info on water treatment, and has a calculator you can use to guess your mash pH based on your ingredients and water. But I can't stress enough to use a light touch, and only add things with a purpose. If you're not sure what it does, leave it out.

    My well water is insanely hard, but can be treated with lime softening to make it usable. I'm planning on doing a blog about how I treat my water at some point soon, so check back later on that.


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