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Old 12-20-2011, 05:57 PM   #1
Mk010101
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Default Confused and need handholding here

A little background: started brewing in 2006 and went from the Mr. Beer, to extract, to partial mashes and now all-grain. Never said I would do all-grain, but that is beside the point. Love how that always happens.

I digress. in 2007 I brewed up my first PM oatmeal stout. I also happened to dip a pH strip into the mash midway through and it came out purple. Thus, the pH was too high, but I had nothing to fix it and so just went with it. The beer turned out great...for 2 weeks. Then the harshness of the hops came through and made it undrinkable. First (and only...whew) batch we had to dump. I attributed it to the high pH and the hardness of my water. From what I understood then was that high bicarbonates will make hops very bitter and harsh.

Ever since then, I would get my water for darker beers from the mountains 70mi away. The water was not hard at all and it came from a spring. Mountain spring water...can't get any better, right? Turns out, any and all dark beers I make with this turn out beautifully. Now if only I could get a pipeline installed. My kids are getting tired of being tied to the top of the van so that I have room to haul the water home. Only kidding, so don't call the police.

Recently, I decided to go from just making beer to trying to understand the process a bit more and tweak everything a bit to try to improve my results. I would also not like to have to store the mountain water as it takes up a lot of space. I sent in my water last week to Ward and below are the results:

pH : 7.7
TDS : 553

Na : 25
K : 1
Ca : 117
Mg : 37
Total Hardness : CaCO3 : 447
Nitrate : 1.0
Sulfate : 83
Chloride : 32
Carbonate : CO3 : <1
BiCarbonate : HCO3 : 259
Total Alkalinity, CaCO3 : 213

From this I calculated Residual Alkalinity as 107 and Cloride / Sulfate ratio as 0.13 --- DID I DO THESE RIGHT??

Anyway, here is where the confusion comes in. Nothing in my water surprises me but years ago I was under the impression that my water, dilured 50% with RO water is best suited for light beers and not diluted it is suited for nothing.

But, after reading and re-reading sticky's, Kai's website, etc. it seems my water (not diluted) is suited for dark beers and perhaps would need a little lactic acid in the mash to bring down the pH. AM I READING THIS CORRECT?

I messed with EZ-water 3 spreadsheet and I punched in the recipe I did in 2007 and it calculated a pH near 5.5, so that seemed good, but in reality the pH was too high based on the pH strips and the outcome. Was it pH that made my beer turn harsh? Was it Bicarbonates? Am I asking the same thing?!?

Unfortunately, I am more confused than ever now. So, anyone willing to hold my hand here to give me a clue as to where to turn now (and answer my questions above) I will be grateful.

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Old 12-20-2011, 06:02 PM   #2
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You are right about the high carbonates being suitable for darker beers (traditionally). The idea is that the acidity in the roasted grains brings down the pH more, and the alkalinity helps buffer this.

Dublin is known for Guinness because the high carbonate water there makes it a good match for stouts, according to the BJCP at least.


In terms of your previous experience, there is no telling what could have been going on. Your water four years ago could have been completely different, maybe with different treatment. Or, maybe there was something else going on entirely, like maybe you got an infection which would also explain why the flavor changed in the bottle like that.

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Old 12-20-2011, 06:34 PM   #3
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You got the residual alkalinity about right but the chloride to sulfate ratio is 0.38 (not that this matters).

The high residual alkalinity is enough to potentially pull mash pH up by as much as 0.18 pH relative to distilled water mash pH. What actually happens will depend on how you mash in. If you heat the water in an HLT prior to dough in it is likely that some of the calcium and much of the bicarbonate will precipitate out. If you separate the water from the precipitate its alkalinity will be lower than in the report and you will not get pH pulled so high. If OTOH, you put the water directly into the mash and heat or heat to a beta glucan or protein rest temperature and then mash much of the alkalinity will make it into the mash tun and pH will go high.

It is a common misconception that dark beers never come to a mash pH which is too high because of the acid in the dark malts. While it is true that a beer lacking dark malts will seldom if ever go to too low a pH the converse isn't true. Dark beers do need acid additions some time. Not as badly as light beers do but they do need them on occasion.

The bottom line is that this water isn't great for brewing much of anything. You are likely to have better luck with dark beers than light certainly but the high levels of both hardness and alkalinity make the outcome a bit uncertain.

Dilution with RO is certainly a step in the right direction but I'd go well past a 1:1 dilution. 9:1 would cut alkalinity to 21.3 and hardness to 44 but leave calcium at a low 11.7. The alkalinity is really the biggest evil so were I you I would do the 9:1 and then supplement the calcium. There are other ways to deal with this water as by, for example, decarbonation with lime or heat, but they are, relative to simple dilution with RO, much more complicated and I don't recommend them any more unless you are fundamentally interested in learning a lot more about brewing water chemistry than most brewers are.

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Old 12-20-2011, 07:11 PM   #4
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At a dilution rate of 9:1 it seems to be better just to go with RO water and build up?

If I do a 9:1 dilution, what calcium do I use to build it up?

Thanks for all the replies.

EDIT: maybe I answered my own question. I played with it a bit on EZ water and it seems I would have to do a mixture of Epson Salt, Calcium Chloride and possibly some slaked lime. At least to get the minerals in line with Palmer's recommendations.

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Old 12-20-2011, 07:42 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mk010101 View Post
At a dilution rate of 9:1 it seems to be better just to go with RO water and build up?
Yes, it would seem so. But some (including me) will keep 10% of the tap water for "trace minerals". It's silly because the malt generally contains a sufficiency (except, perhaps, for zinc) and if you install an RO unit (seems like a very good idea for your situation) it will pass a few percent of all the ions in the water.

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If I do a 9:1 dilution, what calcium do I use to build it up?
The general guidelines are spelled out in the Primer in the Stickies section at the top of this topic.

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Originally Posted by Mk010101 View Post
EDIT: maybe I answered my own question. I played with it a bit on EZ water and it seems I would have to do a mixture of Epson Salt, Calcium Chloride and possibly some slaked lime. At least to get the minerals in line with Palmer's recommendations.
Most skip the Epsom salts as magnesium contributes a sour bitterness to beer (though it is supposedly great for your heart). Calcium chloride is the first choice dependent on your preferences towards assertively hoppy beers. If you like those then calcium sulfate (gypsum) would be the first choice (though some chloride nearly always improves beer by sweetening and mellowing it). You can use slaked lime to decarbonate/soften your water but you would rarely add it to mash water or mash tun as it is highly alkaline and you have plenty of alkalinity.
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