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08/04/08 09:30 PM  
Belgian Water
Hi all! I found this site a month ago and am like a kid in the candy store. So much great information.

I'm wondering what you guys are doing to your water to emulate what the Belgian breweries are brewing with. I've compiled all the info on the web (mostly Bertens) and AHA books (some of which is from Bertens) but is the source water what people are shooting for? Are Belgian brewers altering the source water and brewing with something different?

I'm interested in what you all think. Thanks!

08/04/08 11:00 PM  
Re: Belgian Water
I would think the "belgian" thing to do would be to work with what you have...
08/05/08 12:28 AM  
Re: Belgian Water
A lot of Belgian brewers alter their water. In fact, some of them absolutely hate their water. I went through the whole imitating Belgian waters thing until I learned to leave my water well enough alone. As soon as I stopped screwing around with my water, the quality of my beers took a huge step forward. Your mileage may vary but I think BPotts' advice is 100% correct, work with what you have and then worry about the water last if you want to tweak.
08/05/08 11:17 AM  
Re: Belgian Water
A big +1 there. I adjust for mash pH and that's it.
08/05/08 11:27 AM  
Re: Belgian Water
I agree with Potts and Ross, water varies wildly within Belgium and so the brewers have all arrived at their own solutions for their own water, just like we all must.

That said, some Belgian (or British or whatever) beers do have a character that's due to something special in their water, and an adventurous brewer could try some stuff with the understanding that they're just experimenting. For instance at least one famed brewery has extremely salty (table salt) water and they do nothing to remove it. High gypsum content in a hoppy English beer would be another example, less risky because its so commonly done. I think Joris Pattyn has said that iron can be a not unpleasant presence in Saison (can't say that I know for myself) but personally I'm hesitant to attempt it.

08/05/08 07:21 PM  
Re: Belgian Water
<<I think Joris Pattyn has said that iron can be a not unpleasant presence in Saison (can't say that I know for myself) but personally I'm hesitant to attempt it.>>

That's perfect! I'm moving to a new house in the country where it's water source is an 85' private well. I've had the water tested and the iron content is quite high. Might be worth a try for one batch..... maybe.

08/05/08 08:39 PM  
Re: Belgian Water
I believe Baums is right. Although brewers can fix their water, most methods have to do with decreasing bicarbonates (slaked lime, etc.) Sodium, cloride, and sulphate are harder to get rid of before reverse osmosis became available so these would most likely end up in the beer. By tweaking the 'flavor' ions you can get closer to a particular beer.

I've read Bertens say that West Flanders water is high in salt, as in NaCl, and this accentuates sourness. It would be interesting to experiment with that to see if that is true.

08/06/08 11:11 AM  
Iron and . . . umm. . . Beer
IIRC, the saison in question is Brasserie a Vapeur's Saison de Pipaix, yes? At least as far as having an iron-like note in the taste.
08/06/08 11:41 AM  
Re: Belgian Water -- possible BBB salt experiment
Ross: good luck!


MG: there are definitely places in rural West Flanders where the tap water tastes almost like seawater.

Whether or not it accentuates sourness I don't know, but I really enjoy West Flanders' strong ales, so table salt additions are something I've been meaning to mess with.

No need to risk an entire batch either--you can easily do this test *tonight* if you have a beer in your fridge (ha). I don't think the Na or Cl ions are likely to have huge effects on fermentation--if I'm right about that then adding salt to finished beer would be a good approximation to a late boil addition. Here's what you could do:


To quickly get to a high, but reasonable, level of salt (100 ppm Na and 155 ppm Cl), dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in 1.5 cups of water, then add 1 teaspoon of this solution to a 12 ounce beer. Better yet, split a beer between two glasses and add 1/2 teaspoon of the salt solution to one half-beer, and 1/2 teaspoon water to the other half-beer. Blind taste test (mark the bottom of the glasses somehow) to keep from fooling yourself.


I'll probably try this myself. In fact it would be interesting if a lot of us tried this and then reported back. Anyone up for it? All you have to do is drink a beer and own a teaspoon measure...

08/06/08 11:43 AM  
Re: Belgian Water
Erik, I think I've heard Joris mention iron in connection with the pre-Vapeur beers at that same location in Pipaix (brewer Biset-Cuvelier).
08/06/08 11:43 AM  
Re: Belgian Water
I have been to Brasserie Vapeur and they had just switched over from cast iron fermenters to stainless steel. That was about 2001.
08/06/08 09:48 PM  
Re: Belgian Water
I just did the experiment. I used my Oud Bruin that has a bretty, musty, oakey flavor but is very low on cherry sourness. I labeled the glasses on the bottom 1-3. Number one is control, two has 1/3 tsp salt solution, and 3 has 2/3 tsp salt solution. Poured 1/3 into each and shuffled. I focused on the sourness and though it was very close, I picked the same one both times.

I picked number one.

I poured then all together and added a splash more of the salt solution and honestly, it's seems to subtly accentuate the brett if anything.

I really wonder if this is somewhat artificial and the results would be different under actual fermentation.

Did anyone else try it?

08/07/08 10:28 AM  
Re: Belgian Water
I tried it with a 5.5% ABV Belgian pale (no wild bugs).

I did a blind triangle test--three glasses (marked on the bottom) with one glass different from the other two. An experienced beer drinker I gave it to (without saying what had been done to the beers) was unable to tell which glass was different. So, the effect was not huge in this beer.

I then tested myself and, knowing what I was looking for, I was able to pick out the adulterated glass. The difference was subtle and mainly in the aftertaste. The original beer had a smooth bready finish, while the salted beer finished slightly sharper and almost sour. Didn't know which I liked more.

Just based on this first test I feel the salt probably does accentuate sourness and a bit more aggressive finish, which might be good in some beers and bad in others. I'll probably repeat with different beers to learn more.


As to whether the results would be different under actual fermentation--as far as I can tell neither Na nor Cl ion levels are specifically very important to yeast metabolim (as opposed to say Calcium or Zinc). So I think whatever you learn from this test is likely to still be pretty applicable to a beer where the salt is added at some other point in the process.

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