Is Brita filtering my well water worth it for brewing?

I’ve filtered my brewing water since I started. Not sure why… but always assumed it was better than not. And no, I haven’t had my well water tested (other than when we first bought the house 10+ yrs ago). That test wasn’t the homebrewing water test of course. The only issue I’ve had with our well is that at times, we’ve had a sulfurish smell from the water, but that always dissipates. We use a Brita pitcher/filter as well as their larger spigot dispenser (which I keep in the fridge). I’m really wondering if I need to filter my brewing water. Given I do this with the Brita pitcher and dispenser, it obviously takes a long time and more effort than seems worthwhile.

According to the Brita site:
The Brita® Pitcher Filter Systems and the Brita® Faucet Filter are both excellent water filtration products offering different filtering techniques. The best product is the one that most meets your individual needs. Both products reduce the contaminants that most commonly concern consumers — lead and chlorine (taste and odor) — and both products deliver great-tasting Brita® water. The Brita® Pitcher Systems also reduce copper and mercury — which the Brita® Faucet Filter can’t do. But unlike the pitcher, the Faucet Filter removes the microbes, Cryptosporidium and Giardia, and reduces the chemicals Atrazine, Lindane, Benzene, Trichloroethylene and Asbestos.

I suppose I should get the water tested with the brewer test, but I’ve been too cheap and lazy to bother with it. Our Brita filtered water tastes fine, so I’ve always just gone with that. But, to prep around 10 gallons of water for mashing and sparging is a pain using the Brita devices. Trying to avoid the added cost of a “whole home filtering system,” again, as I’ve had no reason to worry in the past.

Would greatly appreciate homebrewers thoughts on water filtering. I’m not getting into water chemistry, because I simply don’t have that kind of time for this hobby. I know many brewers strip down their water to nothing, and then “build” their brewing water up with salts and minerals. At this point, for me, that’s more work that I want to do.

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Altbier batch #2

I first brewed Jamil Z’s Cowboy Alt from his Brewing Classic Styles book in early 2012. I entered it as a German Alt in a local comp and scored a 38 and second place in the category. Having never had true German altbier, I simply compared what I tasted versus the descriptions (North German Alt and Dusseldorf Alt are different sub-styles, and Cowboy Alt is a Dusseldorf) and felt mine was a bit lacking in the bitterness to be judged as a Dusseldorf. Entered it in the No. German Alt cat). It’s a different beast. German Ale yeast that ferments best at a good deal lower than typical ale yeasts (upper 50s vs mid-upper 60s for ale). It’s classified as a hybrid due to the use of ale yeast at low temps.

My second batch is now fermenting away in the basement, in a tub of water, holding a temp around 59-60°. The odor from the blowoff is smelling like sulfur, more typical in a lager yeast.

I ended up brewing without planning it. I had all the ingredients, but when my daughters soccer game was cancelled, my Saturday was suddenly freed up. So I never made a yeast starter from the Wyeast 1007 smack pack. It’s not a big beer, so I felt I could get away with just using the pack itself. Smacked it, and left it to expand, but it never did. I know Wyeast will tell you that they don’t always expand but that the yeast can still be healthy.

It was a 6 hour brewday… I had to weigh and crush my grain (usually with try to do this the day or night before) plus, it’s an extra hour process as I typically brew ales. mashing for 60 minutes, and boiling for 60. But given the base malt of this Alt being pils malt, and a low mash temp (149°), I needed a 90 minute mash and boil each. The longer boil is to make sure I get rid of all the DMS precursors more common from pils brews.

I had basically no indication the initial pitch of yeast was working after a 36 hrs though. I got a bit nervous, didn’t want to was a brew. Thankfully A&G Homebrew in Portsmouth was still open 7 days a week (soon to change for summer hrs). I ran up there Monday afternoon and got a second 1007 smack pack. Smacked it in the car, did some errands, and headed home. Much like the first pack, the 2nd didn’t expand either. It was a few months old, but that’s not bad. I know the first pack was relatively new as well, so age wasn’t an issue. I pitched the second one and by TU evening it was slowly burping CO2. Given the way it’s gone this week, I think what I saw Tuesday was the first pitch of yeast kicked into gear. After several days of steadiness and an inch thick krausen, it seemed to kick into an extra gear. I think the second pitch had kicked in. So I’m just letting it go. Will likely leave it for 2 weeks and check the gravity to see if it’s finished. Then into a keg where I will gas it up and let it sit cold for a month. This hybrid style needs cold conditioning (lagering) more than a typical ale, but not as long a lagering period as most lagers.

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Follow up on the Mosaic IPA

Batch #2 of the Mosiac IPA came off much more according to plan than batch #1 (which missed it’s OG and came in at 6% rather than the intended 7%, but was delicious). Hit my gravities this time around. Only negative was the boil-over (my first, so I guess I can’t complain) right after adding my 60-miunte bittering hop addition (1 oz of NBrewer). I assumed I lost some of those hops with the boil-over, so I tossed in a little more after I got it under control.

I gave this 10-14 days in the primary (I honestly forget now) and then 1 week in the 5 gallon better bottle secondary on 3 oz of dry hops (1 each Mosaic, Columbus, and Chinook). The beer dried out nicely and I got a final result of 7.3% abv. Kegged it 2 or 3 weeks ago. It’s been drinking nicely. Not nearly as bitter as the previous batch, and not quite the level of hop aroma I was anticipating. The bready malt flavor is there though. I recall the same flavor being in bath 1 as well. The grain bill was a bit different this time in that I used 1 pound each of vienna, munich, and carapils in addition to the base 2-row. In the 1st batch it was 0.5 lb vienna, 1.25 C-10, and 1 lb carapils.

The lack of crystal malt definitely differentiates it from many IPAs out there. Even with the C-10 in the 1st batch, there wasn’t much caramel malt flavor. That was the first time I’d used C-10. I’m assuming it offers some non-fermentable sugars, but not the caramel flavor found in the darker crystal malts.

I do wish it was more bitter. The previous, 6% abv batch had that bitterness you can feel on your teeth. It lingered on the back of the tongue. This is more balanced (not a bad thing) given the higher alcohol. Next time I’d up the bitterness if shooting for this ABV range.


Quick EDIT: the mosaic still dominates, despite being only about 1/3 of the late hop additions. I used Columbus and Chinook to try to get more pine and dank hop notes, but the Mosaic seems to mask them a bit. Granted, the Mosaic fruitiness is mellowed a bit, I think by the use of the other 2 hop varieties. THe first time I used Mosaic, it dominated like a single-hop beer. Super fruity.

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Mosaic IPA rebrew

Last weekend I managed to finally squeeze in a brew day… the first one in two months. I decided to rebrew my last IPA attempt, seeing that I got a very positive response from others, and I personally was pretty happy with it as well. One thing that I needed to improve upon was hitting my numbers though. Last time I had aimed for a 7% IPA and got a 6% one. Not a big deal, but as a homebrewer, I want to become more reliable with my outcomes. Getting proper balance for a beer relies upon hitting the numbers closely. Undershoot an IPA’s abv, and it could easily become too bitter.

In the last couple of bathes I’ve adjusted my boil-off rate, and begun using a couple new items: a refractometer and a new ThermoWorks digital thermometer. I also replaced the stainless steel braid that I use in my cooler mash tun to strain the wort.

Last Sunday’s brewday thankfully was fairly uneventful. I only had one “oops” in that I forgot to add the irish moss late in the boil which would assist a bit in clearing the final beer. But that’s minor in my mind. I’m not entering it in competition, so if it’s a bit cloudy, so be it. It won’t effect the flavors. I used 16 pounds of grain in this recipe, and pretty much hit all my numbers.

  • Mash temp of 151°F
  • pre-boil gravity of 1.060
  • starting gravity (post-boil) of 1.066

The low mash temp should help the beer dry out and finish with a relatively low gravity. I should be looking at an ABV of around 7% this time, along with a bitterness of about 75 IBU. I used northern brewer hops for bittering (appears I finally used up all my magnum hops), and Mosaic, Columbus, and Chinook later in the boil (Mosaic and Columbus at 20 min for flavor hops, and all three varieties at 5 min for aroma). I have three ounces of those three hops set aside for dry hopping in the secondary carboy once the majority of the fermentation is complete. It’s been bubbling pretty steadily all week, with about an inch and a half of krausen at the top. Due to the amount of hops in the boil kettle, I didn’t get the full five gallon yield I typically aim for. Likely I will end up with more like four and a half gallons of finished beer… maybe even less as the dry hops will absorb even more liquid.

I chose the Columbus and Chinook to go with the Mosaic hops last time seeing that the one time I went with mostly Mosaic, the beer was dominated by the stonefruit associated with Mosaic. The Columbus and Chinook offer up some resinous, piney flavor and aroma that I find works well when blended with the fruit from Mosaic.

The only difference in the grain bill compared to the previous attempt was that I used a pound of light munich instead of C10 (crystal 10L). This is in addition to the 13 lb of basemalt and pound each of Carpils and Vienna malts.

I’m heading off skiing with friends this weekend, so I likely will just let this sit in the primary fermenter until at least mid-week, giving it a week and a half in the primary. I may let it go as long as two weeks given the high abv though. Then I’ll rack it onto the dryhops in the 5 gallon Better Bottle for roughly one week before kegging. Really looking forward to this one. I may even bottle a gallon or two as I have some friends who would really like a few bottles to save and have here and there.

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Saison coming around nicely

Now that the rye Saison has been in the keg for a couple weeks, it’s really hit its stride. Definitely not a beer for everyone, stylistically. And compared to commercial saisons out there, I’d say this is a bit off the path, but I really enjoy it. The rye definitely provides a little spiciness, something I don’t taste in something like Notch’s Saison. This is definitely more in line with Backlash’s War, their once-brewed rye farmhouse ale. Makes sense in that I chatted a bit with Backlash’s Helder Pimentel while developing the recipe. You can see the details of the recipe and brewing process in previous blog entries. I’d say the only thing I would have liked see happen was for it to have dried out more. It did get down to a final gravity of 1.010, which is pretty dry for most ales. But for a Belgian like this, even dryer is possible. I fought a fermentation battle for 5 weeks, and when it seemed to level off at 1.010, I was more than ready to call it done.

Hopefully I can share some samples with some folks who know Saisons, as I would really appreciate some feedback on this one. As the brewer, it’s sometimes hard to be objective. I can make a beer “better” in my mind if I think hard enough.

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Saison, 5 weeks in the fermenter

Saison Update after 5 weeks.

Despite pitching the French Saison 3711 in the 2nd week after the Belgian strain krausened and crashed, this ferment was very slow. I lowered the carboy temp for the French yeast, which works better at lower 70s vs the Belgian which likes high temps. After realizing the French yeast wasn’t going to eat through the sugars with the vigor many have said it would, I ramped up the carboy temp gradually up to 81° over the 5 weeks, swirling the carboy once a week to make sure the yeast was up in suspension. The airlock continued to bubble once every 10 seconds or so for this whole time. In the last week it slowed though, so I took a gravity sample yesterday (5 weeks to the day). I had to adjust the gravity reading to account for the hydrometer being off by .004 points, as well as the high temp of the beer (81°). It was finally down to 1.010.

The airlock continues to bubble about every 20 seconds but I think it’s basically done. Unfortunately, I don’t have an empty keg to rack to. Since I added the second tap to my kegerator, and had a robust porter and rye pale ale on tap, I’ve not emptied a keg as quickly. If I don’t free up a keg soon, I will rack to a 5 gallon Better Bottle to get it off the yeast cake and let it sit in the basement without the fermwrap/temp control on it. Basement temp in the winter is in the mid 50s.

The long wait on this brew didn’t bug me as much as it would have in the past, due to having two kegs of good homebrew on tap the whole time, thankfully.

If it finishes at the 1.010 gravity it’s at now, I’m looking at a 7% ABV Saison which is pretty much on target. Seems the 1lb of sugar in the boil and the low mash temp have helped dry this beer out. Might even get below the 1.010. Will take a final reading when I rack.


Belgian slowly fermenting…

So, the belgian saison brewday went well. 1 concern was my thermometer as my lab thermometer proved faulty last brew. I used my turkey fryer thermometer, and adjusted it as it seemed to be reading the ambient temp high by about 5°. Could have been handled too casually now looking back.

Aimed for 149° mash temp. Base of Belgian Pils malt so I mashed for 90, then boiled for 90 as well, to avoid the DMS precursors. Used 2# rye, 1 # each of dark munich and white wheat, and .5# of flaked oats.

Pitched starter of Wyeast 3724, knowing it could stall. Heavy activity after 12 hrs, lots of krausen for a few days then it all sunk and airlock activity slowed quite a bit. After 1 week, I pitched an smack pack of Wyeast French Saison yeast (3711) which is known to eat through anything and help beers finish quite dry. I figured the first week had given me all the yeast-driven flavors I was going to get from the 3724. The gravity at that point (I’m pulling from memory, as I didn’t seem to write it anywhere at the time) was around 1.048. After a couple days at 74° with the 3711, the top of the beer foamed a bit, and the airlock picked up speed again. Nothing like the initial few days in the fermenter, but a noticeable change.

After 6 days with the 3711 (2 weeks total in carboy) the gravity is 1.036. Airlock bubbling every 13 sec or so. Was hoping it would be much lower after a week with the 3711. Increasing temp to 77 and hoping time heals all… again.

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Belgian Saison attempt #2 coming up

I attempted my first Belgian brew in the summer of 2012. I discussed recipe and process with several professional brewers (Notch, Backlash, and Pretty Things) I aimed as a similar, but not exact by any means, grain bill used in Pretty Things 2012 “Field Mouse’s Farewell” Farmhouse ale. The only thing I changed which I regretted was the yeast.

I had read too many articles and comments about the traditional Belgian Saison yeast strain stalling out mid-fermentation. Beers stopping at 1.030 specific gravity, when the beer should finish very dry (1.010 or less). Top that off, my local brew shop didn’t have the Belgian Saison strain available, so I went with Wyeast 3522 Belgian Ardennes yeast instead. Built up a 1.5 liter starter, which took off in the fermenter, which was filled with krausen after just 18 hours. OG was 1.061, and it finished at 1.010 after 2 weeks in primary and another 10 days in a secondary.

I bottle conditioned the beer, aiming for 2.75 volumes of carbonation (about as high as I dare using standard 12 oz bottles). Carbonation was perfect. Beer was beautiful. But the yeast driven flavors I associate with a Saison just weren’t there. It was more of a Belgian blonde in that aspect. Again, a tasty beer that hid the almost 7% ABV well. Dry, crisp finish. But just NOT a Saison.

So, this time I will use the Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison strain. If it stalls, I have a packet of Wyeast French Saison yeast available, which I’ve heard will ferment ANYTHING. Either that, or as some do, just toss in some US dry ale yeast (S-05) if/when the Belgain yeast stalls. The initial part of the fermentation should provide the yeast characteristics, while a secondary yeast would mainly just help finish the process.

My grain bill will change slightly this time, adding some dark Munich to the pils, rye, and wheat malt. I also will use a little flaked oats in the mash. A pound of sugar will be added late in the boil to boost ABV and help to dry the beer out as well.

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Rye batch #5 follow-up

So, the Rye Pale Ale (not ipa given the 5.3% final ABV) actually dropped about 3 points in the secondary while dry hopping. Finished at 1.014. Any off-flavors I may have noticed in gravity samples have disappeared. Have had it kegged for over a week now, and it’s a fine beer. Not great. Not what it has been in previous brews. But… it’s enjoyable. Amarillo is offering up all it’s glory. Rye is noticeable, but still subtle enough. Not as complex in the malt flavors as in the past, which I assume is due in part to the mash temp disaster, as well as it not hitting the intended original gravity.

The kegerator now has it’s second tap, so the porter and rye are pouring side-by-side. This lead me to try something I really never considered until someone on twitter suggested that a major benefit of multiple taps is the ability to blend beers. I poured a little porter and roughly the same amount of rye pale ale, and found a completely new beer. I think I’ll try it again, but with more of the pale than the porter.

Love having the kegerator. Can easily have a short pour when I don’t want a full beer. Can pour a big-ass Hefeweizen glass full too.

So, I survived the rye pale mash disaster, didn’t have to dump it. It paid to take it through the hole process. After the initial mash temp getting into the 170°s, rushing to cool it by adding ice, etc, I considered saving my hops and my time and not bothering to even boil it. But I had already spent the time crushing grain and mashing it, I figured I should try, if for nothing else than to see the effects of the mash temp issue. Again, not ideal, but definitely a decent APA that I won’t mind drinking.


feel like I’m going backwards

How I managed to get a couple silver medals in a local homebrew comp a couple years ago not long afterm oving to all-grain brewing is kind of beyond me now. How I managed to brew my Rye IPA recipe 3 times in the past couple years and get VERY consistent results, only to have all my brews in recent months go haywire… I just don’t get it.

In the past 4-5 months, almost all my brew days have been chaotic. My gravities have defied logic. I’ve been very lucky the beers have been drinkable, and a couple actually quite tasty, after all that went wrong.

  • Batch #4 of my Rye IPA was over-sparged resulting in a lower ABV beer than intended. That same beer lost all its hop aroma in the keg after I discovered there was a CO2 leak and the keg was sitting in the kegerator not properly pressurized/carbonated.
  • My Zombie Dust clone attempt ran into poor extract efficiency due to a really course crush using the lhbs’s mill (where I always crushed my grain until a couple batches ago). Scrambled, adding over a pound of dried malt extract (DME) to the boil. I rushed this a bit to the keg (drinking 3 weeks after brewday) for our Labor Day party, and amazingly it came out pretty good. Not as intended, but tasty and enjoyable.
  • My 2nd batch of Mosaic IPA had similar lower-than-anticipated original gravity (OG). Meanwhile, the same recipe (same grist, different hopping schedule) when brewed the first time a few months prior was much more as calculated.
  • My first attempt at a Deshutes’ Black Butte Porter clone had similar low boil-off, low OG results and is currently in it’s 2nd week of fermentation.

In MOST cases I have been hitting near the pre-boil gravity readings my homebrew software (I used BeerAlchemy as it’s made for Mac OS unlike many others) has calculated. The big issue is in the gravity change from pre- ot post-boil. I used to anticipate a 1 gallon loss to the boil. In the middle of freezer Winter temps I found my OG was coming in higher than anticipated, and realized I wasn’t taking into account the seasonal changes (colder temps, drier air, increased loss during the boil as I brew outside only). So I started calculating for 1/5 gallons or more lost to boil. Then I forgot to lessen that when the warmer weather arrived, thus I was using too much sparge water resulting in lower gravities. The weird thing is that for the porter brew as well as my most recent Rye IPA attempt (#5), I went back to the 1 gallon boil-off rate, only to find my gravity increasing about .004 pts form the preboil reading compared to calculations anticipating twice that increase. Hence, more lower than planned OG beers.

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