What brewing salts do I need?

Answered by Cody Janus

When it comes to brewing salts, there are several options that can be used to modify and enhance the water chemistry for brewing beer. The specific salts that you will need may vary depending on the style of beer you are brewing and the characteristics you are looking to achieve. Let’s take a closer look at some of the commonly used brewing salts and their purposes:

1. Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate): Gypsum is one of the most widely used brewing salts and is typically added to increase the calcium and sulfate levels in the water. Calcium is important for enzyme function during mashing and yeast health, while sulfate can enhance hop bitterness and flavor. Gypsum is often used in hop-forward styles like IPAs to create a crisper, drier finish.

2. Calcium Chloride: Calcium chloride is another popular brewing salt that is used to increase the calcium content of the water. It is often used in styles that benefit from a fuller mouthfeel, such as malty beers like stouts or English ales. Calcium chloride can also help to balance out the bitterness of hops, providing a smoother and more rounded flavor profile.

3. Epsom Salts (Magnesium Sulfate): Epsom salts are used to add magnesium and sulfate to the brewing water. Magnesium is an important nutrient for yeast health and can contribute to a smoother fermentation. Sulfate, as mentioned earlier, can enhance hop bitterness and flavor. Epsom salts are typically used in small amounts, as excessive magnesium levels can have negative effects on the beer.

4. Chalk (Calcium Carbonate): Chalk is primarily used to increase the alkalinity of the water and raise the pH level. It can be beneficial when brewing dark or malt-forward beers that require a higher pH during mashing. However, chalk is not very soluble in water and can be difficult to work with. It is often recommended to use other brewing salts, such as gypsum or calcium chloride, to adjust the water chemistry instead.

5. Sodium Chloride (Table Salt): Sodium chloride is used to increase the sodium content of the water. It can be used in small amounts to enhance the roundness and complexity of flavors in certain beer styles, particularly those with a malty or sweet profile. However, excessive use of sodium chloride can lead to a salty taste in the beer, so it should be used with caution.

6. Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate): Baking soda is primarily used to increase the alkalinity of the water and raise the pH level. It can be beneficial when brewing light or hop-forward beers that require a lower pH during mashing. However, it is important to note that excessive use of baking soda can introduce unwanted flavors in the beer, so it should be used sparingly and with caution.

It’s worth mentioning that water chemistry can be a complex topic and it is highly recommended to test your water and consult brewing software or resources to determine the appropriate amounts and combinations of brewing salts for your specific beer recipe. Additionally, it can be helpful to keep detailed brewing notes and experiment with different water profiles to find the balance that works best for your brewing style and preferences.

In my personal experience, I have found that adjusting the water chemistry can have a noticeable impact on the final flavor and character of the beer. For example, when brewing hop-forward styles like IPAs, I have used gypsum to increase the sulfate levels and enhance the hop bitterness, resulting in a more crisp and vibrant beer. On the other hand, when brewing malty styles like stouts, I have used calcium chloride to add a touch of sweetness and roundness to the flavor profile.

The specific brewing salts you will need depend on the style of beer you are brewing and the desired water chemistry. It’s always a good idea to start with small additions and experiment to find the ideal balance that complements your beer recipe.