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Old 10-22-2013, 09:07 PM   #1
kenlenard
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Default Bicarbonate...

My water numbers:

Ca 34
Mg 12
Na 13
Cl 21
SO4 27
Bicarb 138.

That bicarb is the only number that is out of whack for me and I get around it by diluting with distilled water. I'm not sure I have ever asked this question or asked it this way but here goes: Do the effects of high(er) bicarb only impact pH? In other words, if my mash pH was good, would it matter that my bicarb was that high for say... a pilsner? Or is pesky buffering and higher-than-desired mash pH only a part of the problem? I ask this because I typically dilute anywhere from 25% of the water for darker beers all the way up to about 90% for pale beers and I notice a much softer mouthfeel, smoother and clearer beer and head formation and stability that is MUCH better with the dilution in place. So I'm trying to figure out if the path I'm on is the best one or if there is some way for me to live with my high bicarb water but just making sure that the mash pH is okay. Thoughts? Thanks in advance.

EDIT: I should state for the record that all of my beers have been much, much better diluting with distilled and adding back CaCl and/or gypsum based on style.

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Old 10-23-2013, 01:47 AM   #2
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You do NOT need to dilute that water to reduce its alkalinity. That is an otherwise excellent water to serve as your starting point for brewing water. A simple dose of acid will correct the only problem you have with that water. Lactic or phosphoric acid are good choices in your case.

You really should consider using Bru'n Water to help guide your alkalinity adjustment for your brewing.

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Old 10-23-2013, 01:58 AM   #3
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Martin: Thank you for the reply. Can you tell me what you might do with that water if you were going to make a "delicate" beer like a pilsner, helles, blonde ale, etc? I have heard of "neutralizing" bicarb with acid but I'm wondering if there are other downsides of bicarb other than its ability to keep the mash pH high.

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Old 10-23-2013, 01:46 PM   #4
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Neutralizing a bicarbonate ion with an acid results in the formation of one water molecule and one carbon dioxide molecule. Its pretty innocuous. There isn't really a downside to bicarbonate excepting its buffering ability and the resulting impact on mash and wort pH. And since there isn't really a way around the buffering effect, you do have to neutralize the excess bicarbonate in brewing water for the outcome to be favorable.

The one thing to recognize with this neutralizing reaction is that there is an anion associated with the hydrogen proton that the acid provides. That anion could easily have a flavor impact in the beer if its at a high enough concentration. At 138 ppm bicarb, it appears that you could get away with using lactic acid without flavor impact. Phosphoric, sulfuric, and hydrochloric acids are also candidates.

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Old 10-23-2013, 02:28 PM   #5
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Martin: Again, thank you for the help.

So I could take my water (let's say 8 gallons) and treat all of it with some amount of lactic acid (I know that Bru'N'Water would tell me what amounts) and at that point all of my water numbers would be the same but my bicarbonate would be lower as a result of neutralizing it with acid. At that point I could still make CaCl and/or gypsum additions to raise Ca, Cl and SO4 and there would be no flavor impact, correct? Also, this character I'm getting from using distilled water... the 'softness' and 'smoothness' along with an ultra-soft and persistent head on the beer... would I still get that character now that I have neutralized the bicarb with acid? I will be heading to my local supplier in the next few days and I will be looking to see which acids they have available because it would appear that I would be using more acid if I took this approach. Do you have a suggestion for which acid to use to best neutralize the bicarb and impact the flavor profile the least? Again, I appreciate the help and understand that having access to your expertise is a big bonus. Cheers.

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Old 10-24-2013, 05:39 AM   #6
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Put some baking soda in a bit of water and taste it. Doesn't taste good, does it. Conclusion is that you do not want much bicarbonate in your beer. However, if you make a beer with carbonaceous water and control the pH of the process properly (i.e. set mash pH and allow pH to track from there) most of the bicarbonate is converted to carbonic acid which decomposes into CO2 (and water) and escapes. The main problem with bicarbonate is the buffering. It tends to hold pH high which not only makes the enzymes less effective but at higher pH less bicarbonate gets converted.

At the same time note that a reasonably carbonated beer (couple volumes) will have a pretty good bicarbonate ion concentration even at low beer pH.

Dilution is a fine way to reduce bicarbonate but note that it also reduces the concentration of every other ion by the same factor. Reduction by dilution does not introduce the anion of an acid. There is no simple answer here. It may be desirable to introduce the anion of an acid depending on what you want your stylistic ion profile to be or it may not be. Beyond that we could argue whether it is easier/cheaper to deal with the acid or with RO or other low mineral water.

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