Monday, January 17, 2011

How to Burtonize Your Brewing Water

If you're brewing and IPA and you want a good, firm bitterness you'll want to Burtonize your brewing water, AKA make it like the water in Burton-on-Trent where IPAs were made initially. The water in Burton-on-Trent is very hard. To match it exactly, the ions in your water should have the following profile:
Calcium (Ca+2) 352.0 ppm
Magnesium (Mg+2) 45.0 ppm
Sodium (Na+1) 44.0 ppm
Chloride (Cl-1) 16.0 ppm
Sulfate (SO4-2) 801.0 ppm
Bicarbonate (HCO3-1) 320.0 ppm

The most pronounced aspect of the water from Burton-on-Trent is the sulfate level. At 801ppm (some sources say 820ppm) those sulfates are enough to have a mild laxative effect, which is probably not quite what most brewers are going for. The good news is that you can get most of benefit of Burtonized water without going nearly that far into the sulfate levels.The reason you want sulfates is that they provide the increased perceived bittering and crispness in the taste of your beer for styles such as IPAs. For most beer styles including IPAs the rest of the water ions for Burton-on-Trent are merely interesting.

The easiest (and cheapest) way to get the bittering benefit of Burtonized water is to add a tablespoon of food-grade gypsum (calcium sulfate) to your water for a five gallon batch. One tablespoon will increase the sulfate level by 354ppm. It will also increase the calcium level by 148ppm and lower the pH level a bit. If your water is reasonably soft or if you started with deionized water you'll be in the ideal sulfate range between 300ppm and 500ppm; your IPA will be Burtonized enough to accentuate the bitterness and not in any danger of being overloaded with sulfate. You're all set.

If you want to be authentic for an English Pale Ale, I guess the easiest way to accomplish this is to buy a sufficient quantity of 'Burton Salts' at your homebrew store and follow the directions, but you'll need to start with water that has been deionized by distillation or reverse osmosis (RO), or have tap water that is very soft. Going this way costs more because you'll have to pay for the water, and you'll pay a premium price on the official "Burton Salts" as opposed to buying the stuff that does the same thing as Burton Salts. I still have a packet of Burton Salts that I haven't tried yet, so I can't comment on the effectiveness of the official approach.

I don't see a good reason to do anything more than adding a tablespoon of gypsum to adjust the water for an American IPA. Then again, you could bump the sulfate level to 820 and claim it is the medicine you use to help you stay "regular." Most people probably won't be able to use Burton Salts to match the water from Burton-on-Trent if they are using local water, because the local water already has different levels of the various ions. Instead you'll need to do the calculations to adjust the ion levels to get from your water as a starting point to a 'Burtonized' finish. To figure out how do that, check my previous blog post on Brewing Water Chemistry.

The following additions would get me close, assuming a 5.5 gallon batch. Your Mileage May Vary, so do your own calculations. And really, that's a lot of chemicals to put in your beer so your best bet is a tablespoon of gypsum.
Brewing Salt Additions to Burtonize
Chalk (CaCO3) 2 grams 1.11 tsp
Baking Soda (NaHCO3) 4.3 grams 1 tsp
Gypsum (CaSO4) 25 grams6.25 tsp
Epsom Salt (MgSO4) 6 grams 1.33 tsp
Canning Salt (NaCl) 1 grams 0.17 tsp

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