The Best Water Profile for Milk Stouts (Starting Water & Minerals)

Just how important is water profile for milk stouts? What makes the best water profile?

The best water profile for milk stouts is one that has a good balance of minerals in it with a tested pH level of around 5.2, which is much lower than is typical for other beers like pale ales. Use RO (reverse osmosis) water and add ingredients to the mash to give the beer more accurate amounts of the properties it lost after dilution.

If you’re wondering exactly what the ideal water profile for milk stouts is, the best source of water for brewing, and what makes a good milk stout, continue reading.

What is the ideal water profile for milk stouts?

Have you ever had a milk stout from a local brewery and thought to yourself: “Wow, that is the smoothest beer I’ve ever had?” Well, chances are, the brewers at that brewery have taken into strong consideration the many, many factors for the ideal water profile for that stout.

The best water profile for milk stouts can become a very technical topic. Some say one thing, while others say another. 

The pH level for your source water for milk stouts will be lower than what’s used for brewing something like a pale ale. The water used for stouts typically requires some water treatment to add some necessary minerals and reduce its acidity. The ideal pH level of mash for milk stouts is 5.2. 

If your calculations and amounts for pH and minerals don’t quite add up perfectly, don’t worry. You can adjust the amounts yourself. Here’s what you’re looking for:

ChemicalAmount (PPM)
Calcium70-100
Magnesium6.5
Sulfate33 (or a higher PPM for more bitterness)
Sodium52
Chloride90
HCO3150-250

How do you find your water profile?

If you’re wondering how to find your source water’s pH and mineral profile, it’s usually as easy as contacting your local water department and posing the same question. They will have a report available for you to look at. If you’re not on public water, you can test it yourself or get it professionally tested.

You can take a sample of your water straight out of your tap and send it to a professional like Ward Labs. The company will send you a test kit with simple directions. In about a week or so, they’ll get back to you with a report on your water profile.

Lastly, you can test it yourself. There are many test kits on the market. I like Varify’s test kit with its easy-to-follow directions promising accurate results.

How important is the water profile in brewing?

Water profile isn’t the most important thing in your beer, or is it?

Since beer is composed of about 90% water, the quality of your final product can be contingent on the profile of the water used. Too high of a pH level or too much of a chemical in your water can leave your beer tasting thin or too bitter.

Water profile is something to strongly consider before you start brewing, and the ideal profile can vary depending on the type of beer you’re brewing.

How do you adjust your brew water profile?

Your mash’s pH is the best guide for knowing if you need to add anything or if you’re ready to brew.

To increase pH levels, add gypsum or calcium chloride. For example, in a five-gallon batch, about a teaspoon and a half will suffice in increasing the pH levels. To decrease pH levels,  add organic acids, such as lactic acid.

Add these straight to your mash to adjust pH levels and prep your water profile for brewing.

What is the best water to start with for milk stouts?

In general, a home filtration system is good enough for home brewing. However, if you want to go above and beyond and win your local beer festival’s brewing competition with a killer milk stout, adjusting your water profile is a good start.

In some cases, like with hard water, it’s easier to use an RO system or distilled water, dilute it, and then add whatever minerals to your water from there. Also, hard water has high alkalinity, which is good for stouts. For soft water, adding distilled water can solve some issues.

As I mentioned earlier, the high alkaline levels in hard water are good for stouts and more bitter beers. Lower levels of alkaline, like those in soft water, will give you difficulties in crafting that perfectly rich and smooth stout.

Overall, hard water is good for stouts, ambers, and double to triple IPAs. Soft water is best for pale ales and light lagers, like pilsners.

What to add to RO or distilled water to make a milk stout

So, you started with RO or distilled water for your milk stout? Perfect. Do you need to add anything to it?

For a 5-gallon batch of milk stout, I recommend adding about 3 grams of baking soda to your mash. This will raise your pH to stout levels and will assure that you get the best mouthfeel and taste in your final product.

Another possible addition to your mash is gypsum. Try adding just 1 teaspoon per 5 gallons to give your beer what it needs and get its dryness just right.

What makes a good milk stout?

Your beer preference is all about personal taste. However, specific styles require specific characteristics. Let’s talk about what makes a good milk stout.

Minerals and pH levels aside, let’s get into the physical characteristics of a good stout. Milk stouts are unique in that they’re very dark, but can range in bitterness and sweetness, as well as mouthfeel. A good milk stout is going to be thicker with a bit of sweetness that pairs well with the bitterness; not enough that it’s overly sweet, but just the right amount to balance it out.

Milk stouts are not dry like dry stouts are. Guinness, for example, is a dry stout. Milk stouts, on the other hand, have an off-white colored head that isn’t extremely thick but isn’t as thin as other stouts’ heads. This can also contribute to their creamy mouthfeel.

The best hops used in milk stouts will balance out the sweetness and give the drink a more bitter taste. Some of these hops include East Kent Golding and Columbia.

Another ingredient in the best milk stouts is the proper strain of yeast, one with attenuation below 80. The best yeast strain for milk stouts is SafAle yeast.

The style of malt used is equally important to the other ingredients when crafting the perfect milk stout. The best malt to use for milk stouts is a toss-up between black malt and roasted barley malt.