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Old 06-19-2013, 11:55 PM   #1
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Default Soft, acidic, well water questions

Sorry this is posted elsewhere...wasn't sure how to delete the one.
A beginner here getting ready to attempt my first brew. I posted this same topic in the beginner section with no luck (likely due to my lack of info), so i figured i clarify a little and add it here. Anyway, I have well water that is naturally very soft. My total alkalinity (as CaCO3)and Calcium Hardness is less than 10 ppm. I am guessing that my pH is around 6 (based on what i know about the groundwater quality of the area). I realize this is not much to go off, but I do not have a complete chemical analysis.

I am going to start off using a kit, which comes with all the ingredients to brew a pale ale (malt extract, hops, yeast, crushed grain). So should I further test my water before beginning? Or should I just bump up the hardness to start? Or just go with it and see how it turns out.

Any help would be greatly appreciated

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Old 06-20-2013, 12:03 AM   #2
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Without knowing the makeup of the water, specifically calcium, magnesium, sodium, chloride, and sulfate, it'd be just a guess to give any advice. But if you have soft water with low alkalinity, you can make a couple of assumptions about the water.

Alkalinity is a "bad guy" in brewing, so if you know you have low alkalinity (low carbonate/bicarbonate), that's actually a very good thing. I use RO water for most of my brewing, and add a teaspoon of calcium chloride to my brewing water. That may be all you need, but you can check the "water primer" sticky in this forum for more help and insight.

For brewing extract beers, your tap water should be fine. You want to make sure the water isn't full of iron and things like that (mine is).

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Old 06-20-2013, 02:01 AM   #3
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That water should be OK as long as there is no metallic taste and the water doesn't stain the plumbing fixtures.

For an extract batch, the low alkalinity water should be ideal. I do recommend getting the water tested to help you understand what is and isn't in the water. Do get a test that includes iron (and possibly manganese) if there is staining or metallic taste.

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Old 06-20-2013, 05:50 PM   #4
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Thanks for the replies!! I think I won't concern myself with the water on the first batch and focus instead on getting everything else right. Maybe after I get my feet wet, I'll have my water analyzed.

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Old 09-18-2013, 04:47 AM   #5
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i don't think water is the big deal people make it. as long as your PH is around 7 it will work. it's just a matter of taste. anything else and you're just tailoring the water to a beer style. a lot of brewing regions were defined because of their local water.

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Old 09-18-2013, 12:33 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by RonPopeil View Post
i don't think water is the big deal people make it. as long as your PH is around 7 it will work. it's just a matter of taste. anything else and you're just tailoring the water to a beer style. a lot of brewing regions were defined because of their local water.
It's not a huge deal, if your water is low in alkalinity. But, for example, my alkalinity from my well is 214. Unless I were to brew something like a RIS, water would be a big deal with that water. Plus, re: pH of 7, it's the alkalinity that matters most, not the pH. And, also, if we didn't care about making the best beer possible, why would we be in the Brewing Science forum?
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Old 09-18-2013, 01:15 PM   #7
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You are fortunate indeed to have such water as your supplier has, in effect, provided you with water that many of us invest hundreds of dollars in RO equipment to obtain. Being so low in hardness and alkalinity it is unlikely that it is high in other minerals unless it is leaching iron or copper from plumbing (I assume you are on a well). If that's the case and it is at problem levels you would be able to sense a metallic taste in the water. If you do just run the water for 10 minutes or so and taste again. If the metals are being leached from plumbing that will take care of it. If you have iron bacteria in your well then running the water for 10 min. won't take care if the problem and we need to have another discussion.

For extract brewing the water is not so important as one of the two reasons for monitoring water chemistry, control of mash pH, is not a factor. The flavor effects of brewing salts are still, however, in play. I would suggest that you brew the beer with the water as is and taste the finished produce. Then taste it again with additions of bits of calcium chloride, then calcium sulfate and then both to see if you find these additions improve the taste of the beer. If they do scale the tasting additions to the full length of the brew and add these salts to the water.

pH of the water, especially a water low in alkalinity, has very little effect on the beer made with it. Low pH from a well is not at all uncommon and is caused by CO2 respired by bacteria. Once the water is out of the bladder tank the CO2 will start to leave the water and its pH will rise. IOW your water isn't really acidic. It fact it is alkaline with respect to mash/beer pH though not by much which is good news. This may conflict with what you have been taught about pH in high school chem but in brewing 'acidity' (proton surfeit) refers to the amount of base that must be added in order to raise pH to mash pH and alkalinity (proton deficit) means the amount of acid which must be added to lower pH to mash pH.

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Old 09-18-2013, 02:08 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by afr0byte View Post
It's not a huge deal, if your water is low in alkalinity. But, for example, my alkalinity from my well is 214. Unless I were to brew something like a RIS, water would be a big deal with that water. Plus, re: pH of 7, it's the alkalinity that matters most, not the pH. And, also, if we didn't care about making the best beer possible, why would we be in the Brewing Science forum?
Well said.

The success of brewers around the globe have been because they learned how to treat their water and manipulate their brewing process to produce great beers. The adage that 'if a water tastes good, it will make good beer' is only part of the story. Bad tasting beer will probably always make bad beer, but you aren't guaranteed brewing success with good tasting water. In almost all cases, brewers have learned to control and reduce alkalinity to produce quality beer. Putting water and malt together does not always work the way we hope when that water has high alkalinity. For the fortunate few that have rainwater quality coming out of their tap, it might work. For the rest of us, treatment is a requirement.

AJ, your comment minimizing the concern over water quality for extract brewing may be short-sighted. There are plenty of brewers with mineralized and alkaline tap water that produce poor extract brews even though they do nothing with their water. I recommend that appropriate water quality is still a valid concern when extract brewing. High mineralization and/or high alkalinity can wreck an extract brew too!
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Old 09-18-2013, 08:55 PM   #9
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I'm still quite inexperienced and find ajdelange's contributions here very valuable. In my case, the first few extract brews were not great.
My house water is 350 hardness and 325 alkinity with a Ph of 8.1. This would require extreme chemical additions that aren't worth it.
I went to RO water adding Cal choride and the results were amazing.

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Old 09-18-2013, 09:15 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mabrungard View Post
AJ, your comment minimizing the concern over water quality for extract brewing may be short-sighted. There are plenty of brewers with mineralized and alkaline tap water that produce poor extract brews even though they do nothing with their water. I recommend that appropriate water quality is still a valid concern when extract brewing. High mineralization and/or high alkalinity can wreck an extract brew too!
I don't disagree with that. I pointed out that one of the two major concerns, mash pH, was not at issue but that flavor related effects were still in play. If the alkalinity is high it is most likely to be calcium carbonate that is responsible though some sources may contain a lot of sodium. Calcium can lend a minerally flavor but is pretty neutral in general. As for the alkalinity itself ruining extract beer? Perhaps. The yeast tend to control pH to where they want it but, of course, really excess alkalinity would make that job tougher for them.
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