Do Water Profiles Make A Difference?

One of the many benefits of having a club is coming together to answer some questions many of us have but don’t have the time or patience to explore. This is where our frequent comparison brews come in – we decide on a topic of interest and try to answer some questions, discover something new or maybe just delve into something we wouldn’t have tried on our own. Having already done comparisons with malt, hops and yeast, this time around we decided to focus on water. Specifically, how the sulphate to chloride ratio affects the character of a beer. We wanted to try and target as wide a range as possible across the many beers styles, with both malty and hoppy qualities in each beer. We settled on an American IPA, American stout and English bitter. This post will focus on the IPA, with parts 2 and 3 for the stout and bitter, respectively.

Method

As we are looking at changing only two variables – chloride and sulphate – it seemed most sensible to pair brewers off for each beer style. The choice of recipe was completely up to the individual teams to come up with, the only requirement of course was to have one brewer use heavy sulphate and the other heavy (relatively) on the chloride. Once the beers are ready, we then analyse each one as a group.

Starting with a rundown of the recipe, we then discuss what we expect to get from each beer:

  • Bitterness level
  • Aroma & flavour
  • Mouthfeel
  • Finish

We then taste the beers side by side and note down the characteristics of each beer as we taste them, and give a final overall impression.

American IPA

Recipe

Golden Promise 65%; Extra Pale Maris Otter 25%; Carapils 5%; Light crystal 5%
Citra, Amarillo & Columbus hops in hop stand and dry hop (4g/L); 60IBU
Lallemand BRY-97 yeast

Expectations

CharacterSulphate (S:C=3:1)Chloride (S:C=1:3)
BitternessPronounced & lingering, harsherMilder but still high level
FlavourMuted flavours due to bitterness. More pine/citrusHigher levels of tropical/stone fruit
MouthfeelPotentially astringentFuller, more rounded
FinishDry finishSweeter due to lower bitterness perception

Results

So did reality match our expectations? Pretty much! While the beers looked identical, there was a distinct difference in aroma. The chloride beer had more stone fruit, whereas pine dominated the sulphate laden IPA. There was a higher overall intensity to it as well. A sweet maltiness was also evident with more chloride. Flavour was a similar affair, though both beers had a high bitterness level. It was noted that it seemed to linger for longer in the sulphate beer, and was perceived to be at a higher level. The level of hop flavour between the two were fairly equal.

Mouthfeel was another area where they were distinctly different. The chloride beer was indeed more full and rounded, softer. While the sulphate didn’t seem to bring any astringency with it, it was a thinner beer and seemed to be drier. This was despite a .002 higher FG than the chloride beer.

Overall, the sulphate beer was perceived to be closer to a classic West Coast IPA, with the chloride beer more of a Mountain IPA (certainly not a NEIPA!) The differences between them seemed to fade as the beers warmed in the glass, but topping them up with fresh beer from the bottle brought them back. The chloride beer was generally sweeter and fruitier, whereas the sulphate beer had higher overall intensity of bitterness, flavour and aroma (piney, dank, grapefruit.)

The interesting thing of note was blending the two beers together – it seemed to make an even better beer!

Next up we have the American stout comparison in part 2.

For more information on similar experiments carried out on sulphate to chloride ratio, check out this Brülosophy post, with similar findings to our own.

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