Understanding The pH Of Beer

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Beer brewing relies on pH levels to determine the acidity – of which many are acidic, with an average of 4.0-4.4. Beer should be slightly acidic, as a high pH can lead to harsh flavors and incomplete enzymatic conversion of the mash. During beer production, measuring the pH is important at every stage of the brewing process, from the initial water added to create the mash, to the finished beer product.

Did you know that the concept of pH was first invented by Danish chemist S.P.L Sorensen by experimenting with beer at the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen in 1909… That’s right, all thanks to brewing beer, the pH scale was born!

The potential of hydrogen (pH), is an essential water quality measurement that runs on a scale from 0 to 14. If a solution like beer has a pH value below 7.0, it is acidic and a pH greater than 7.0, it is alkaline or basic. 

Whether you are a beer enthusiast who spends your free time as a home brewer, or you are a worker in a large beer-producing company, knowing the importance of pH in beer production is fundamental. 

In this article, we will cover why pH plays a key role in beer and how you can measure and control it. 

Is beer acidic or alkaline?

The pH level of beer indicates the alkalinity or acidity of the product. While most food and drinks we consume daily have a neutral pH level of 7.0, beer pH levels can go as low as 3.0!

But, the pH scale is not just a number… 

Measuring the pH of beer tells you the concentration of hydrogen ions. To put it into perspective, if the hydrogen ion concentration increases inside the beer, the beer will be more acidic. Whereas, if the number of ions decreases, the beer will be more alkaline, or caustic. 

The pH of beer also affects the following:

  • The beer’s appearance
  • The taste (hop bitterness)
  • Beer foam stability
  • Extract potential
  • Hot-break formation
  • Hop oil extraction

The average pH value of beer is usually around 4.0, which means that it is essential to control levels when storing your beer, as low pH levels can increase bacterial growth, and you don’t want people to get sick from your product!

Despite 4.0 being the ‘typical’ pH value of beer, the pH value of your finished product will depend on the type of beer you’re brewing. For example, if you are brewing ale, then it is more likely to have a higher pH level than stout or lager. 

Below are the different pH levels for different beers, listed from most acidic to least acidic:

  • Sour Beer: ~3.0
  • Porter: 3.5-5.5
  • Stout: 4.0-4.3
  • Ale: 4.0-4.5
  • Wheat Beer: 4.1-4.5
  • Pilsner: 4.1-4.9
  • Lager: 4.3-4.6
  • Blonde Ale: 5.1-5.4
  • Brown Ale: 5.2-5.6
  • Pale Ale: 5.3-5.4
  • Indian Pale Ale: 5.3-5.5

Measuring The pH Of Beer

To accurately measure the pH of beer, a pH test kit or pH sensor is used. For basic in-home testing, a litmus paper Old School pH Test Kit will do the trick, but if brewing beer is a common occurrence, purchasing a pH probe is well worth the investment. 

A pH sensor is highly accurate and reliable, often with a 2-point or 3-point calibration system for testing before use. The general rule of thumb is to calibrate the pH meter before every use. However, calibration depends on factors like the type of sample being tested, the performance of the electrodes inside the pH probe, how frequently the pH meter is used, and the accuracy required. 

The Importance Of pH In The Beer Brewing Process

Knowing the pH of the finished beer is essential, but you need to start monitoring the pH level from the start of the brewing process. This means starting with mash.

For any newbie beer brewers, when we talk about mash, we are referring to the initial stage of the beer brewing process where crushed grains are mixed with water to form a porridge-like or mash-like mixture, hence the name mash! 

The pH level of the mash is the same despite which type of beer you are brewing. The pH range should be between 5.2 and 5.6 when you mix the water and grains, but you want to aim for the lower end of this range to produce good-quality mash. 

The pH of beer at this stage is critical so that the wort will quickly convert to beer later on. But, sometimes things do not go our way, and there may be times when you will need to alter the pH of your beer during the mash process.

Lowering The pH Of Beer

  • Add calcium sulfate or calcium chloride that contains a high number of calcium ions – 2 tsp per 5 gallons of beer is recommended
  • Add organic acids like lactic acid or phosphoric acid to lower the mash
  • Minimize the number of carbonates by boiling the water and allowing it to precipitate
  • Adding distilled water – distilled water has had most of the impurities removed from the water

Increasing The pH Of Beer

  • Add a calcium carbonate buffer like chalk or soda ash
  • Add a sodium bicarbonate buffer like baking soda

The Importance Of Boiling & pH In Beer Production

Once your beer has passed the mash stage, it is time to boil the kettle and complete the wort process. The wort process is just as important as mashing because it can later affect the end pH value of the beer. By boiling the beer, any remaining enzyme activity is ceased and the carbohydrate composition of the beer wort is fixed. 

During the boil, the pH of the beer decreases as calcium phosphate is precipitated. The pH should be between 5.0 and 5.2 in the post-boil wort. Maintaining this pH range means the extraction from your hops should be successful. 

When hop extracts are produced, the pH level is initially very high because of the isomerization reaction. This reaction of converting alpha acids into iso-alpha acids during the wort process is influenced by pH – for example, the conversion can reach 90% when the pH level is between 8.0 and 10.0. However, these high boil pH values are not always a good thing… 

Boiling at a high pH may extract bitterness from the beer hops, but it can cause pH-related issues in the end, such as coarse bitterness. 

Another factor we should mention is the optimal pH for break formation – which is 5.2 on the pH scale. The break formation is vital for breaking complex proteins and polyphenols during the boiling process. You want to look for large fluffy bits breaking in the wort. If you witness this, that’s visual confirmation that you have successfully completed the boiling stage and that the pH is in the correct range. 

If the pH is slightly too high, you can lower it by adding a bit of calcium chloride – ¼ – ½ of calcium chloride for every 5 gallons of wort are the guidelines. 

Beer Fermentation & pH Levels

The final chemical stage of brewing beer is fermentation. 

At the end of the process, beer usually has a lower pH than it had during the mash and hop and boil process because of the fermentation process. Fermentation drives the pH lower because the yeast cells engulf ammonium ions to produce an organic acid. 

Interesting Fact: The type/strain of yeast you add to your beer will determine the beer’s final pH. 

During fermentation, the beer will start to lighten in color as many molecules lose their coloration when pH reduces. 

If you finish the beer brewing process with the correct pH, your beer will age and mature much faster, which means drinking it sooner. Bottling beer with the correct pH also improves biological stability, liquid clarity, and a taste that will leave the whole city talking about your beer!

Common Beer Brewing FAQs

Q: How long does it take to brew beer from start to finish?

A: The initial brewing process takes 6-10 hours, but you shouldn’t drink the beer for another 2-4 months. 

Q: Does temperature affect the pH of beer?

A: During the fermentation process, the temperature ranges from 41 °F to 60.8 °F. An increase in temperature increases yeast activity and decreases the pH, resulting in a bitter taste. 

Summary

Beer is a popular beverage to consume and make at home. There are many different kinds of beer that have different pH values. It is the pH value that gives beer different distinct tastes, and although most beers have acidic pH levels, the optimal pH of a refined beer is usually 4.4.

If you have questions regarding pH measurements, or which pH meter will best suit your beer brewing needs, do not hesitate to contact our world-class team at Atlas Scientific

pH Probes & Sensors

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