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So I've been doing all grain for quite some time now, but I've always "winged it" in regards to my water chemistry. I've been using a mix of Reverse Osmosis and Spring water, which gives good results for pale beers (hefe, lagers, blondes), but my darker beers and IPAs have sometimes come out a little astringent. I suspect my mash pH isn't being controlled properly and so I want to figure out how to monitor and control my mash pH.

So what kinds of tools do you guys use to (a) measure your mash pH, and (b) correct pH when needed?

How reliable are those little pH strips vs a "real" pH meter? If I need a real meter, can I get one of the $20-30 ones, or are those a waste? The meters get pretty expensive pretty quick and I have no idea which one I need.

Are pretty much all mashes supposed to be around 5.2 pH? I'd love it if someone could chime in with the appropriate pH range, and what they do to correct their pH if its over or under their target?

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3 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I used strips for years before I got a meter. They can work well, but I recommend only using the colorPhast strips, which are pretty expensive. The cheaper ones just aren't accurate I've found. I now use pH meter. Don't get a cheapo meter...you'll just be wasting your money. Your pH should be 5.2-5.4 measured at room temp (around 70F). I use lactic or phospohoric acid, gypsum, CaCl2, CaCO3 and pickling lime mainly to adjust the pH. You shouldn't mess with pH or water treatments, though, without getting a water analysis to know what your starting point is. I recommend www.wardlab.com for water testing. Get test W-6 which runs about $16. If you email them and tell them you're a homebrewer they have special instructions and info available. I also recommend you download the free spreadsheet at https://sites.google.com/site/brunwater/ . Not only does it help you calculate your water additions, there's a greta section of water info included with it.

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Out of curiosity, why do most advanced homebrewers NOT start with RO water? It would give a baseline to all the additions after that and make replicating recipes much, much easier. No more need for individual water tests. –  Graham Jul 9 '11 at 17:13
    
For me, it's just too much hassle to go buy a bunch of water every time I brew. Also, I tend to go with the classical theory of brewing what my water is right for. That's why you have pils in Bohemia and stout from Dublin. That's not to say t hat I don't occasionally cut my water with RO to brew other styles, but in general it isn't necessary for me. –  Denny Conn Jul 11 '11 at 15:49
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At our school we have 3 Flinn pocket pH meters and 4 Hanna pocket pH meters. All four Hanna meters work fine, but none I repeat none of the Flinn meters work - they just give off random numbers.

We also have a newish Flinn spectrophotometer, one newish Thermo, two 40 year old Baush and Lombs, and an old Sequoia-Turner. All give roughly the same absorbance values from machine to machine - except the Flinn, which returns random numbers.

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Flinn Scientific is a great and inexpensive source for pocket pH meters that are used in high school and college chemistry classes. Flinn is a low profit company (started by a former high school teacher who was tired of being overcharged by the main chemical supply companies) and provides excellent equipment at the lowest prices. I use one of these and as pocket pH meters go, it is very accurate, good resolution (2 decimal places) and easy to maintain. Here is a link:

http://www.flinnsci.com/store/scripts/prodView.asp?idproduct=17142

Key is to make certain that your solution is right at 70-72 F when measuring the pH.

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