Brewing Water Quality

Brewing the Perfect Beer: Monitoring for Perfection

The microbrew industry has exploded over the last several years. Across the United States and indeed the world, brewmasters are crafting up truly delicious and amazing beers. For those who enjoy a good beer after a long work day or while out with friends and family, it’s a great time to imbibe.

Crafting an excellent brew, however, is a difficult balancing act. Beer brewing is the process of regulating interactions between water, starch, yeast, and other additives to control alcohol content, flavor, color, and other characteristics.

Balancing so many components is difficult, and requires constant and accurate monitoring.

A (Very) Basic Overview of the Beer Brewing Process

  1. First, starches must be obtained and malted (which is a specific drying process).
  2. Next, the malted grains are added to water and a specific amount of heat is applied. This spurs natural enzymes in the grain to convert the starch into fermentable sugars.
  3. The mash is lautered, which means filtered to remove solids.
  4. The liquid is then boiled. Hops are generally added at this stage, sometimes at the beginning, sometimes at the end. This produces wort.
  5. The wort is filtered and then cooled to a specified temperature.
  6. Now, yeast is added to begin the fermentation process. Different vessels may be used, sometimes the wort is conditioned, and sometimes a second fermentation process follows.
  7. Now you have beer.

This outline represents a simplification of a complex and delicate process. Anyone who has tried to brew beer has likely discovered that it’s tricky and if anything is mishandled, the entire batch could be ruined.

Fortunately, there are a variety of tools you can use to monitor your brew batch throughout the entire process. Should you discover that something is amiss, you may be able to react and save the batch.

Let’s look at some important considerations and how you can use various sensors to monitor your brew.

pH Levels & Beer Brewing

pH levels have a big impact on beer throughout the entire process. From the way enzymes function, to hop extraction, and also yeast vitality, pH levels must be closely monitored. Generally speaking, the optimal pH level for enzymes is 5.2 to 5.5, while yeast usually ferments at about 5.5. During the wort process, pH levels need to drop in order to kill off bacteria.

Again, this is a simplification, but throughout the entire process, monitoring pH levels is vital. With pH levels needing to fluctuate, you can’t test once and hope for the best. Instead, pH levels must be closely monitored at every step.

Fortunately, online pH probes can be used to monitor pH levels. These probes can be installed in a variety of ways, including by submerging them into a tank. Online pH sensors can monitor pH continuously. However, some maintenance is required. To reduce the amount of pH sensor maintenance, we recommend selecting a flat surface pH probe, which requires infrequent cleaning to maintain accuracy.

Monitoring for Dissolved Solids

With beer, high mineral content in the initial water can affect the final product. Meanwhile, corrosive water could damage the brewing equipment. Throughout the brewing process, a variety of solids will be added to the brew, including hops and yeasts. Total dissolved solids (TDS) is a measure of the ion concentration in water. This can be an indicator of incoming water quality as well as concentrations of various ingredients throughout the process.

Total dissolved solids can be measured with a conductivity sensor. TDS meters convert the conductivity measurement to a TDS measurement. Many online conductivity sensors are constructed with stainless steel electrodes, which provide high accuracy measurements and withstand high temperatures. For TDS monitoring in lower temperature applications (below 60°C or 140°F), a conductivity sensor with graphite electrodes and a polymer (CPVC) body can provide a more cost effective option.

Dissolved Oxygen Sensors

Optimal oxygen levels will vary depending on what stage the beer is in. For example, during the initial boiling process to extract hops, much of the oxygen will be driven out of the water. When it comes time to ferment the wort, oxygen is needed to spur the growth and function of the yeast. Oxygen must often be added in a controlled manner. After the fermentation process is completed, the beer itself must be protected from oxygen. Some of the final components of a beer are vulnerable to oxidation.

Throughout the brewing process, oxygen levels should be closely monitored, and if needed, adjusted. DO1200 Dissolved Oxygen Sensors provide an economical, industrial grade solution for monitoring oxygen.