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Old 03-26-2011, 12:48 PM   #1
brewtoomuch
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Default Brewing with softened water?

I just put a water softener in my house and then realized it will affect my beer. Anyone know if I should bypass the water softener when I am brewing. I have really hard water. Will it make any difference?

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Old 03-26-2011, 01:07 PM   #2
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Yes, it'll make a difference. Many beer,s to brew to style, require soft water. Having said that, I personnaly would rather brew with soft water than very hard water.

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Old 03-26-2011, 01:49 PM   #3
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The job of a water softener is to remove calcium and magnesium from water which contains them and replace them with sodium. Bicarbonate (the source of alkalinity) is not effected. Bicarbonate raises the pH of your mash which is detrimental in several ways. Calcium and magnesium react with phosphate in the malt to offset, to some extent, the evil influence of bicarbonate.

When you try to brew with softened water (or certainly water run through a home softener) you shoot yourself in both feet. First (left foot) beneficial calcium is removed thus resulting in high pH, poor conversion and weak fermentation (calcium is good for yeast too). Second (right foot) you wind up with at best worthless sodium in place of useful calcium. If the hardness is modest the amount of sodium in the treated water won't be that great but if the water is really hard, the treated water will taste salty and so will the beer.

The only use for a water softener in the brewery is to feed an RO unit (and it often isn't required for that).

Some beers definitely want what many people call "soft" water and in fact the proper water for those beers is soft because it is low in calcium and magnesium but they are also low in everything else. We should say "low mineral content" or something like that rather than soft. Water from a home softener is soft but it is not low mineral.

So yes, you should definitely bypass the softener. What you should do with the untreated water is another matter. You might find the Primer in the Stickies helpful.

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Old 03-26-2011, 02:37 PM   #4
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I just installed a softener as well, I wont go without one again! Anyhows, all being said, I was worried about the effects of the missing minerals and the new sodium added. I had medium hard water before so my salt content shouldn't be that high now. A quick search here seems to favor most like brewing with soft-water. I figured I would just make up a batch and see if I can tell a difference. I have an AHS all grain Irish Red just finishing fermenting now. So far I can tell zero difference in the process to this point.

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Old 03-26-2011, 02:57 PM   #5
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I'm thinking people are misinterpreting the meaning of "soft" water here. If one wants to use "soft" water for brewing say a pilsner, what you really want is water that has lower levels of certain minerals (calcium, sulfates, magnesium, etc). AJ noted in the previous post that a home softener does remove these minerals, but replaces them with Sodium. I would like to note that he also mentioned it is important that if using a home softener for brewing, that the softened water be fed to an RO unit which will remove pretty much all the minerals (sodium included) through filtering and that water would be OK for brewing if you add minerals back using brewing salts. Just because your water is softened with a unit at home does not mean it will be the "soft" water that you want to use for brewing - all it will take is one batch of salty brew to convince you that you've made a mistake. Don't test it on a large batch if you don't believe AJ or me, or you'll be severely disappointed. If you have a softener, install an RO unit and you'll be happy you did as it allows you to build your water from scratch so you can make any style of beer you want.

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Old 03-26-2011, 03:01 PM   #6
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Get soft water out of the brewing vernacular.

hardness-good, alkalinity-bad, hardness-good, alkalinity-bad, hardness-good, alkalinity-bad, hardness-good, alkalinity-bad, hardness-good, alkalinity-bad, hardness-good, alkalinity-bad, hardness-good, alkalinity-bad, hardness-good, alkalinity-bad, hardness-good, alkalinity-bad, hardness-good, alkalinity-bad...

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Old 03-26-2011, 04:15 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffB View Post
I just installed a softener as well, I wont go without one again! Anyhows, all being said, I was worried about the effects of the missing minerals and the new sodium added. I had medium hard water before so my salt content shouldn't be that high now. A quick search here seems to favor most like brewing with soft-water. I figured I would just make up a batch and see if I can tell a difference. I have an AHS all grain Irish Red just finishing fermenting now. So far I can tell zero difference in the process to this point.
Lest there be any confusion on this point "soft" in the context of brewing "soft water beers" means low in all minerals. I am as guilty as any in using that terminology and shouldn't. Someone came up with the phrase "primer water" from the Primer here and maybe that's a candidate. I am also a big advocate of brewing with "primer water" and make a lot of noise about it but my advocacy has a lot to do with the fact that the beers I brew seem to benefit from it. It is not accepted that all beers are improved by brewing with primer water. I can't imagine an Export or Burton ale being very much like their authentic precursors. Now either or both might be better beers with low mineral (less potential for confusion with that description) water but then they wouldn't be Exports or Burton ales.

If you are going to brew with water from a softener you should supplement the calcium at least. That's also going to supplement chloride or sulfate - another reason to avoid softened water but you really need some calcium and softeners are really efficient at getting it out.
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Old 03-27-2011, 05:26 AM   #8
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My water tastes just fine out of my softener, I do have an RO unit for the sink and fridge but the taste difference between it and the soft water is not one based on salt. Maybe my situation is one where Im not using much salt. We shall see. There is no misunderstanding here, the OP made his question clear, I dont have an answer yet as it relates to my water but Im in the process of figuring it out.

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Old 03-27-2011, 01:06 PM   #9
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Given that the one (soft water) is full of salts and the other (RO) isn't one has to wonder what the taste differences are caused by if not salts. Is this a well with lots of geosmin or something of the sort which the carbon filter in the RO unit is taking out?

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Old 03-27-2011, 03:35 PM   #10
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I think in my case its because to RO unit pretty much strips everything out of the water and maybe theres not much to begin with, I dont know for sure. My pre RO water is OK to begin with but after the RO its just different, I wouldn't say too much better or worse.

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