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Old 07-02-2013, 06:13 PM   #1
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Default Introduction / guide to improving beer through adjusting water chemistry

Hello!

I know that some people go to the extreme of using RO or distilled water and building the mineral content up from scratch to match beer styles. I know that some people never think twice about it. I know that some people have something in the middle, a working outline that is based upon some information learnt and what materials are to hand. I'm wanting to move from the never thinking twice camp, into the brief working outline camp without having to turn myself off the topic by leaning too heavily into the building up from scratch camp. Does that make sense? Ha!

So I've checked a water report and my local water is CaCO3 is 144ppm with a pH of 7.7, this is apparently soft to moderately hard water with a non permeate bicarbonate hardness.

I'm guessing this means, that I should use either acid additions when making light beers, I've been using a little lactic acid solution during the mash and sparge, especially when batch sparging to keep tannin extraction low and not stress out too much when making dark beers? If making exceptionally light beers something like calcium hydroxide might be best to precipitate out the bicarbonate and drop the ph and soften the water at the same time?

Ah I don't know. I'm looking for guidance I guess, a sticky would be awesome but bear in mind I kind of like brewing and drinking beer more than learning all about my local water chemistry and the chemicals designed to alter it with pro's and con's for each choice and scenario. I have access to obvious stuff, salt, vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, less obvious citric acid, lactic acid, calcium hydroxide. Can buy some other stuff if needed though.

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Old 07-02-2013, 06:19 PM   #2
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Have you taken a read through this? http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f128/bre...primer-198460/

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Old 07-03-2013, 05:39 PM   #3
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You are really shooting in the dark unless you have more information about that water. You mention the 144ppm as CaCO3 which sounds like its the water's alkalinity (aka: temporary hardness). You do need an assessment of the other major ions since they may govern what you may or may not want to do with this water. Knowledge is power in this case.

The Water Chemistry Primer is an excellent guide if you elect to use RO or distilled water. I suggest that you read the Water Knowledge page on the Bru'n Water site if you want to better understand how to work with the tap water.

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Old 07-03-2013, 08:32 PM   #4
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I've got

CaCO3 144
Sulfate 28
Chloride 10
Sodium 21
Magnesium
Calcium

But I'm still waiting to see if they can supply magnesium and calcium content, it isn't on the report. Funnily enough I'm about 8-9 miles from Burton on Trent which is famous for the wet stuff.

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Old 07-04-2013, 01:47 AM   #5
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Quote:
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You mention the 144ppm as CaCO3 which sounds like its the water's alkalinity (aka: temporary hardness).
Only if the calcium plus magnesium exceed the alkalinity (on an equivalence basis). An extreme case would be where you dissolve 1 mmol of sodium bicarbonate in 1 L DI of water. The alkalinity will be (approximately) 0.98 mval (49 ppm as CaCO3) but the hardness (temporary and permanent) will be 0.

This is a confusing point which the Germans don't help one bit by referring to alkalinity as 'Karbonathärte' even though, as in the case of the sodium bicarbonate example, it can be appreciable even though there is no hardness present whatsoever.
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Old 07-04-2013, 01:18 PM   #6
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STZ, its interesting that you are close to Burton. My presentation at the AHA convention last week did cover Burton water quality and the misconceptions about its character in the brew house that have risen over the years. Your water quality helps show how local Burton's water quality is. Given the additional parameters you've cited, it looks like that water is probably suited for brewing as long as the alkalinity is neutralized.

AJ, you are correct that one can't say that alkalinity is equal to temporary hardness in all cases. The good thing is that it is extremely rare to find a potable water that is composed of primarily sodium and bicarbonate. Since sodium bicarbonate and sodium carbonate and relatively soluble and don't typically precipitate in the environment, there aren't many native deposits out there. Conversely, calcium carbonate easily precipitates in marine environments and its far more likely that our groundwater and surface water sources are going to be in contact with that mineral, leading to a high likelihood that alkalinity will be equal to temporary hardness in most waters.

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Old 07-04-2013, 03:48 PM   #7
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The good thing is that it is extremely rare to find a potable water that is composed of primarily sodium and bicarbonate.
For alkalinity and temporary hardness to be unequal it is not necessary that the water be composed primarily of sodium bicarbonate but only that the hardness be less than the alkalinity and this is quite common. It is found in the basement of any house with a water softener installed. When I advise people against the use of water from these devices I usually say something to the effect that they remove hardness (often the brewer's friend) while leaving alkalinity (often the brewer's enemy) untouched. If we imply that alkalinity and hardness (temporary) are the same thing then I don't think we are helping these folks to understand.

I don't think statements like this one from Wikipedia: "Carbonate hardness, or carbonate alkalinity is a measure of the alkalinity of water..." help and same goes for the Karbonathärte thing I mentioned in my earlier post.

Had you written "alkalinity, which is numerically equal to temporary hardness in most untreated surface and ground water" I wouldn't have felt it necessary to respond. But if you say "alkalinity (aka: temporary hardness)" then that says they are the same thing and they aren't (even if they be numerically equal).

Perhaps readers think this is too nit picky and perhaps I am a pedagogue at heart but I hope I have made it clear why I think the distinction is important.
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Old 07-09-2013, 10:36 AM   #8
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Got my reply, Magnesium levels for the postal area are between 30-40 mg/l. The Calcium levels are 122mg/l. Brewing a saison on Thursday so some reading to do before then.

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Old 07-11-2013, 10:01 AM   #9
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Ok, from what I've gathered my sulphite levels are really low but at least balanced with the chlorides to be 'slightly more bitter' than average. Not sure if I need to mess around with them as significant additions all seem to raise the calcium up over 150ppm. No idea how I'd get the >300ppm that I see bandied around as 'typical' for my area? No wonder they all drank beer instead of water.

From testing, I'm typically needing to drop the pH by 0.6-0.7 depending on the mash content so I'm going to use 3-6ml of lactic acid solution to treat the water depending on style and if going extra hoppy, substitute 1-2ml of lactic acid with 2g of gypsum to boost the sulphite. >2g bumps me up over 150ppm Ca so I'll avoid that. Pale beers I'll stick to the lactic acid or buy in some acid malt.

It would seem IPA is going to be a problem unless shooting Ca up over 150ppm isn't that bad after all?

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Old 07-11-2013, 04:36 PM   #10
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Ok, from what I've gathered my sulphite levels are really low
If you treat for chlorine/chloramine with Campden tablets you will be introducing metabisufite but as far as beer flavor is concerned we are interested in sulfate. Your reported sulfate level is right at the edge of where you can brew noble hops based beers (it would be better if it were half or less this value), way too low for some British ales (depending on personal taste) and just about right for other styles (again depending on taste). Chloride is low for most beers and you will want to supplement this. As you'll probably want to augment calcium as well calcium chloride is an obvious choice.

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...but at least balanced with the chlorides to be 'slightly more bitter' than average. Not sure if I need to mess around with them as significant additions all seem to raise the calcium up over 150ppm.
Malt/hops balance is influenced by the amount and variety of hops used and the schedule and the type and amounts of malts used. The notion that one can dial in malt hops balance by varying the ratio of sulfate to chloride is widely accepted by home brewers but doesn't really have much credibility behind it.

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No idea how I'd get the >300ppm that I see bandied around as 'typical' for my area? No wonder they all drank beer instead of water.
You are confusing calcium ion concentration with calcium hardness. If the phrase 'as calcium carbonate' appears next to a number it is referring to calcium hardness. If the number is labeled mg/L then the value is the calcium ion concentration. The number 50 which is bandied about as the minimum acceptable level of calcium in beer (there really is no minimum as lots of very good beers with much less) is in mg/L. It corresponds to a calcium hardness value of 50*(50/20) = 50*2.5 = 125 ppm as CaCO3.

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From testing, I'm typically needing to drop the pH by 0.6-0.7 depending on the mash content so I'm going to use 3-6ml of lactic acid solution to treat the water depending on style and if going extra hoppy, substitute 1-2ml of lactic acid with 2g of gypsum to boost the sulphite. >2g bumps me up over 150ppm Ca so I'll avoid that. Pale beers I'll stick to the lactic acid or buy in some acid malt.
Lactic acid and sauermalz will both work but in British brewing it is more traditional to use a mixture of hydrochloric and sulfuric acids. As you live in the UK you have access to CRS (a mixture of the two) sold by an outfit called 'Brewpaks'.Note that calcium is much less effective at reducing mash pH than acid

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It would seem IPA is going to be a problem unless shooting Ca up over 150ppm isn't that bad after all?
Not if mg/L and certainly not if ppm as CaCO3 in an IPA. The water can be positively crunchy (one of the reasons I don't particularly care for that style).
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