You've probably gotten the look. That look you sometimes get when you tell someone you're a homebrewer -- and you know they view that as someone who makes a lot of booze, cheap. If you're unfortunate, you've had to explain that homebrew is not the equivalent of bathtub gin and you don't have a still hidden in the woods. If you're fortunate, you were regaled with the "funny" tale of Uncle So-and-So, who used to make homebrew and stored the bottles under the porch (for some reason, it's always under the porch), but then one day they all exploded.
I'm always amused at the difference between the perception of homebrewers and the reality. This was drawn into sharp focus last weekend when I gave a talk on water chemistry for the Austin ZEALOTS. Keith Bradley, a longtime ZEALOT and award-winning competitive homebrewer, discussed hosting a water seminar for club members on our Yahoo (email) group and got several positive responses. Debbie Cerda, another ZEALOT, until recently worked at a water treatment facility and volunteered to discuss how our local water is treated. As a former chemistry major, I volunteered to explain a little bit about pH and buffers.
We ended up holding the event at NXNW (an Austin brewpub) at 11 pm on Saturday, and it was "sold out" -- we didn't charge, but the room only held 40 people and we had that many register before hand. Debbie, Keith and I discussed water for 3 hours to a room full of homebrewers who not only stayed awake, but had lots of good questions. Imagine that, 40 homebrewers willing to spend 3 hours of their Saturday learning about water.
Debbie started us off and discussed water treatment in the Austin area and how this affects our water. One part of this was how and why chloramines are used, and how to deal with these as a brewer. I took the second leg and talked about pH and buffers. The take home message of my segment was that you should measure the pH of your mash, your wort as you are running it off and your boiling wort (cool the sample down first), but you don't need to bother to take (or adjust) the pH of your strike water or sparge water. Because wort is much more heavily buffered, the pH of your strike or sparge water doesn't give you any information about what your mash or wort pH is going to be, unless you have worked out a correlation by trial and error (and if so, that information only applies to you). Keith finished things off with a hypothetical look at three beers -- a pale beer, an amber and a dark beer -- and what mineral adjustments you'd need to make to turn Austin water into a suitable brewing liquor. His presentation used John Palmer's spreadsheet to calculate all the possible options....