Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Beer Dust! Water Science Made Easy

Hey faithful blog readers!  Today I'm taking a quick break from my usual beer reviews, photography, and brewery visits.

Those who know me, are probably well aware that I've been a homebrewer for about 25 years.  Doing the math, I've been homebrewing for more than half of my life!  Over the past 10 years or so, the knowledge of the craft as well as the ability to share that knowledge has risen exponentially, and the overall quality of homebrew has risen with it.  We are in a great time for the hobby!

Since I moved to Waconia, Minnesota I have had one major problem with my brewing: the water.  Our water here tastes funky--musty swimming pool, mildew, hints of decomposing flesh at times.  Yuck!  The water is also hard as sin.  I can drop an ice cube into a glass of water and watch the flakes of sediment literally rain down through the glass.  England's Burton On Trent is known for hard water with plenty of calcium and magnesium, but if their water is a 10, my local water goes to 11.  (Hey we were talking England, so I had to quote Spinal Tap!)  I quickly discovered that using this water resulted in decent stouts and porters, but everything else had strange flavors and lacked the balance I was looking for.  Based on things from the Internet I tried using Five Star's 5.2 Mash Stabilizer, but didn't see much positive effect on things.  Looking back, this is because I was actually adding more salts to my already mineral-laden water.  Besides, that product is more for mash pH.  I have tried to get water reports from the city but with mixed results and much variation season to season, resulting in more variables for handling this.

I tried cutting our local water with reverse osmosis (RO) or distilled water that had all the nutrients/salts stripped from it.  This helped a bit, but was less than reproducible.   Then I worked on strait RO and building it up using mad-scientist powders and my tiny gram scale.  This resulted in better final beer, but still left me with a lot of questions.  For instance: "So I'm using the water profile of a certain region in Germany--but do the Germans do anything to their water, or take it as is?"

I read the Water book by John Palmer.  OK, I tried to read the Water book.  Three times.  I have a medical degree and have taken plenty of chemistry classes in the past, but that was a long time ago, and this was just hard to follow.  And frankly, I find water chemistry boring and not as "fun" as recipe formulation and the actual brewing process.  I know I'm not alone in this!

My brew system in action!

Enter, my good friend Keith Brady.  Keith is a molecular biologist and actually likes the whole water chemistry aspect of brewing!  I had been blown away by his IPA's and Pale Ales over the past several years at brewclub meetings and was very excited when I discovered that water profile tweaking was a major part of his success.  Keith continued to win awards both small scale (our Jack Of All Brews monthly Golden Mash Paddle) and larger scale (Minnesota State Fair, and many more).   I continued to struggle a bit with those hoppy beers, but continued to do well with my dark beers.

Next up comes fellow club-mate Mike Lebben, also an award winning homebrewer, who actually has a business background.  Mike, Keith, and I talked over some beers and decided to combine our knowledge bases and come out with a pre-measured packet of water salts to be added to RO or distilled water.  These are based on a specific beer style profile and aim to improve the taste and balance of those beers.  With a year of testing under our belts, and lots of work on getting our logo and packaging arranged, we just opened up our new business: Beer Dust was born!

Beer Dust won't be for everyone.  Those hardcore homebrewers already messing with their water are not necessarily going to want to invest in our packets, and that's just fine.  Though I admit, I'd like to see some advanced brewers try Beer Dust and give us feedback on how well it works for them.  Mainly our goal is to help the beginner and intermediate brewers to get a better result in their finished beers.  We have been testing the formulas in all-grain and extract brews, and the IPA works great for both versions.  Will Beer Dust guarantee a perfect beer?  No way!  Much depends on the individual brewer's skills in recipe formulation, temperature control, and especially sanitation and cleaning.  This is just a way to take some of the guess-work out of the brewing process and add a level of control to the process.

For the first run, we have our IPA packet ready to order.  As our sales grow, we plan to put that money back into Beer Dust so we can keep putting out new profiles.  We already have the recipe hammered out for Pale Ale, and are still doing test batches for Brown Ales (both English and American versions eventually!)

We're all excited to see where this venture takes us, and hope that the growing homebrew community will want to give Beer Dust a try for themselves.  I'm sure that we will certainly spark some good discussions out there on the Interwebs, but hope that folks will actually try us out before making too many judgements.  We are certainly open to hearing constructive feedback, as well as ideas about future styles people want to see from us!

Please check out our website for more information and to order HERE.  Also like our page on Facebook HERE and share it with your friends if you can.  At this point we are really trying to get the word out about Beer Dust and could use all the help we can get!

No comments: