As a sequel to the Ward Labs Mineral Analysis of Tree House Julius, I recently had Suarez Family Brewery Palatine Pils and Qualify Pils analyzed by Ward Labs!
After spending much of 2019 researching New England IPA, I shifted my focus to Pilsner for 2020. Despite never brewing a Pilsner and only brewing one Lager (way back in 2012), these days I find myself craving more and more Pilsner for its nuance, subtly and drinkability.
On my latest trip back east, I celebrated my birthday visiting several Hudson Valley breweries, including Suarez. After drinking Palatine Pils, Qualify Pils, State Pils, Hecto, Ms. Frank, Look No Further and Backroads on draft, I snagged cans of Palatine and Qualify to go. Currently, Palatine is ranked #2 and Qualify is ranked #4 on Beer Advocate’s German Pilsner list.
At the time of tasting the Suarez beers, I already had a working recipe of Mountain Pilsner in mind. At this point, I am adding the finishing touches to the recipe and like most recipes, I often end my quest with water chemistry. Traditional Pilsner brewing water is notoriously soft (fewer than 20 ppm of each mineral) and there is no shortage of recommend water profiles:
Sample Pilsner Brewing Water Profiles
|Mineral||Very Soft¹||Pilsner¹||Pilsen²||PseudoBohPils²||Yellow Dry²||American Lager²|
|Calcium (Ca), ppm||22||59||7||20||50||13|
|Magnesium (Mg), ppm||8||8||2||0||10||6|
|Sodium (Na), ppm||0||0||2||8||5||8|
|Sulfate (SO4), ppm||31||89||8||15||105||37|
|Chloride (Cl), ppm||39||63||6||35||45||13|
|Bicarbonate (HCO3), ppm||0||0||16||0||0||20|
|Alkalinity (CaCO3), ppm||0||0||13||0||0||17|
|Residual Alkalinity (CaCO3), ppm||-20||-47||7||-14||-42||4|
After tasting the incredibly soft mouthfeel of Palatine and Qualify, I thought Dan Suarez may be doing something out-of-the-ordinary with his brewing water. Eager to investigate, I shipped one can of each to Ward Labs for water/beer mineral analyses. The results can be found below:
Ward Labs W-501 Brewer’s Test for Suarez Palatine Pils and Qualify Pils
Palatine Pils canned on 12/11/2019 and Qualify Pils canned on 11/12/2019. Purchased on 1/11/2020. Shipped to Ward Labs on 1/15/2020. Analyzed by Ward Labs on 1/17/2020.
|Mineral||Palatine Pils||Qualify Pils|
|Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) Est, ppm||1511||1607|
|Electrical Conductivity, mmho/cm||2.52||2.68|
|Cations / Anions, me/L||34.2 / 11.4||39.5 / 13.0|
|Sodium (Na), ppm||27||26|
|Potassium (K), ppm||767||929|
|Calcium (Ca), ppm||80.5||86.1|
|Magnesium (Mg), ppm||112||123|
|Total Hardness (CaCO3), ppm||669||728|
|Nitrate (NO3-N), ppm||4.0||10.4|
|*Sulfate (SO4), ppm||72||69|
|Chloride (Cl), ppm||307||318|
|Carbonate (CO3), ppm||< 1.0||< 1.0|
|Bicarbonate (HCO3), ppm||51||106|
|Total Alkalinity (CaCO3), ppm||42||87|
|Total Phosphorus (P), ppm||299.50||302.00|
|Total Iron (Fe), ppm||0.02||< 0.01|
*Converted Ward Labs measured SO4-S to SO4 by multiplying by 3
Since the Ward Lab W-501 Brewer’s Test analyzes a lot of things, I trimmed the results down to the most pertinent brewing information and included the Tree House Julius results from 2019 as a reference.
Various Beers Analyzed By Ward Lab
|Mineral||Palatine Pils||Qualify Pils||Julius|
|Calcium (Ca), ppm||80.5||86.1||64|
|Magnesium (Mg), ppm||112||123||185|
|Sodium (Na), ppm||27||26||32|
|Sulfate (SO4), ppm||72||69||474|
|Chloride (Cl), ppm||307||318||299|
|Bicarbonate (HCO3), ppm||51||106||172|
|Total Hardness (CaCO3), ppm||669||728||931|
|Total Alkalinity (CaCO3), ppm||42||87||141|
Ignoring Julius for the moment, I was not too surprised to see the Palatine and Qualify results nearly identical. In fact, bicarbonate and total alkalinity were the only results with > 10% difference between the two beers. Bicarbonate is the main source of alkalinity in beer (total alkalinity is a calculation based on measured test results) and together they help raise the pH of the mash/beer. So why the large difference in bicarbonate/alkalinity between the Suarez beers? It may be due to a difference in grain bills (i.e wheat malt is less acidic than barley malt and therefore may require less sodium bicarbonate or calcium carbonate to target the appropriate mash pH.
Compared to Julius, the Suarez beers had higher levels of calcium and chloride. Calcium promotes protein coagulation and yeast flocculation while chloride enhances maltiness and a fuller mouthfeel in beer. Mike Tonsmeire‘s 2017 Brew Your Own experiment verified calcium levels decrease (36%) during the brewing process. We can expect the Palatine/Qualify brewing water calcium levels to be between 80 and 160 ppm (Tonsmeire’s brewing water). Surprisingly, the Suarez Pilsners had calcium levels higher than Julius, a prominent New England IPA! It is no coincidence that Suarez takes after Shaun Hill and his soft, pillowy beers – he worked closely with Hill at Hill Farmstead Brewery until 2013.
I can say with certainty that the Palatine and Qualify brewing water is much higher in calcium and chloride than the previously mentioned sample brewing water profiles. Despite the difference of ingredients and process used among Tonsmeire’s Cryo Lupulin NEIPA and Suarez Palatine and Qualify Pils, I thought it would be interesting to scale the finished beer profiles using the percent change found in the Tonsmeire experiment. Below is a possible brewing water profile for a Suarez-like beer:
|Mineral||Palatine Pils||% Change||Water|
|Calcium (Ca), ppm||80.5||+ 36||126|
|Magnesium (Mg), ppm||112||– 3075||4|
|Sodium (Na), ppm||27||– 221||8|
|Sulfate (SO4), ppm||72||– 253||20|
|Chloride (Cl), ppm||307||– 71||180|
It would be interesting to have similar analysis for American mixed-ferm saisons; Side Project, Hill Farmstead, Casey, De Garde or Sante Adairius comes to mind. The first two producers are tight-lipped on the subject, the next two profess to favor low mineral levels and the last one reputably brews with ridiculously mineralic water.
My guess is that they’re likely using water profiles pretty similar to NEIPA profiles (favoring chloride, but not neglecting sulfate), if perhaps somewhat scaled back, or start off with water in that general range and leverage the “well water” story for marketing purposes.
Eventually I am going to explore saison water chemistry with some of the commercial examples you mentioned.
As for Dan Suarez, he worked with Shaun Hill for a number of years so my guess is their brewing water profiles are very very similar. And with the results of the water analysis, you might be right – it could be the same/similar profile used for their NEIPAs.
At Sante Adairius they pre-boil, decant, and filter, but don’t otherwise treat their water. Looking at water reports from the area and how those levels would be affected by this treatment they should start out with a profile somewhere around Ca 20, Mg 50, Na 45, Cl 35, SO4 60. Maybe somewhat higher if their water is notably worse than average for Capitola. Aside from the high Magnesium that’s pretty normal, even restrained. Sodium around 40-50 ppm is not uncommon either I think; Afterthough Brewing does the same for their saisons but inverts the Cl:SO4 ratio.
Many Belgian breweries reportedly use water softeners, which could similarly result in higher sodium levels.
Thank you for this awesome research and resource!
Thank you much for sharing this, very helpful and will inform my next pilsner batch.
Let me know how it goes! I’m brewing Mountain Pilsner #2 this weekend!
How are you using the info to create recipes? That much chloride and magnesium is considered harmful in most water calculators. Thanks