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Old 07-22-2011, 12:47 AM   #1
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Default Very hard water - worth using?

I got a new water source and sent a sample to ward labs to see how it compared to my old one. I was pretty shocked when I saw this:

pH 7.5

Sodium, Na 11
Calcium, Ca 81
Magnesium, Mg 26
Total Hardness, CaCO3 311
Sulfate, SO4-S 5
Chloride, Cl 22
Bicarbonate, HCO3 360
Total Alkalinity, CaCO3 295

My old water wasn't nearly this hard and actually spot on for bitters/darker colored beers, which are the styles I most commonly brew. Should I even bother brewing with this water or just go buy a RO system? I've never really messed with water chemistry since I didn't have to and needless to say I don't quite understand it all. This water report has me worried. Any suggestions on what to do?

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Old 07-22-2011, 01:03 AM   #2
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That's pretty crappy. If you're in NYC, the municipal water should be pretty soft and pristine....

My water has gotten all hard and chalky recently -- the city must have switched sources -- so my RO unit purchase appears to have been well-timed. Here's the one I got. I've only brewed with it once though, and that batch just got kegged.

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Old 07-22-2011, 01:34 AM   #3
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Hardness is not really a problem, but the alkalinity definitely is. This water is easily softened and decarbonated (alkalinity reduced) through either boiling and decanting or softening with lime. The magnesium is only slightly higher than desirable, but not terribly so.

AJ is going to say that the best solution is dilution with RO or DI water, but that may not be an expense you want to incur. Lime softening is very inexpensive and effective. That is a very good alternative for this water. The calcium will fall to around 30 ppm and the magnesium will fall to about 10 ppm. That is good water.

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Old 07-22-2011, 02:50 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mabrungard View Post
Lime softening is very inexpensive and effective. That is a very good alternative for this water. The calcium will fall to around 30 ppm and the magnesium will fall to about 10 ppm. That is good water.
That's good news. I'd rather not have to drop a few notes on a RO system or use more fuel to preboil, so I'll definitely look into lime softening. Is this achieved through a mash/sparge addition of something like pickling lime? Also, what effect if any would this have on my PH - would I still need to add an acid to get it down far enough? Appreciate the help.
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Old 07-22-2011, 03:18 AM   #5
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I guess the biggest advantages of RO dilution are its utter simplicity and that it is entirely predictable. Lime softening can be used to great effect but it takes some experimentation to get the lime addition set just right and the only way to know when you have been successful at that is to measure at least alkalinity and that requires a test kit which, for a decent one, will run a few bucks. It's better if you also have a hardness kit that will do both total and either calcium or magnesium hardness and again a decent one is a few $. The process is also aided if you have a pH meter (though this is an application where strips would probably be good enough). Do a search on Hubert Hanghoffer for a detailed description of the process at the home brewing scale or see DeClerck. Several homebrewers use lime softening successfully but are often, as is the case with Hubert, experienced water chemists.

Boiling is certainly simpler and about as effective as lime softening but it does take energy and time and there is the safety aspect as well. Of course we all handle boiling wort and ought to be able to handle boiling water equally safely.

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Old 07-22-2011, 03:26 AM   #6
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Just did a bit of browsing on lime softening. Looks too complicated for my uses, I brew too much and would prefer something that would require a bit less preparation. If I were to go the dilution/RO route, would I be looking at using all RO water and salts or could I adequately dilute my water with RO to get a decent water profile? Like 1/2 RO to my water? Sorry for the noob questions, I'm not very competent with these water software programs...

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Old 07-22-2011, 11:29 AM   #7
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You can do either or both. The simplicity I referred to in #5 goes like this: If you dilute 1 + 1 (1 part tap water to 1 part RO water) everything in your tap water report gets divided by 2. If you dilute 1 + 2 everything gets divided by 3 and so on. Often you can get a decent water simply by dilution to the point where the numbers look appropriate for the beer you want to brew. Doing 1 + 2 on your water would bring the alkalinity down to about 100 which is still highish but controllable (WRT mash pH) with acid. But it also brings your calcium down to 81/3 = 27 which is fine for some styles but low for others (the general rule of thumb is 50 mg/L calcium as a minimum). Your tap water sulfate is at 5 mg/L as sulfur. That's 15 mg/L as SO4-- and would drop to 5 mg/L as sulfate with the 1 + 2 dilution. Again, that is fine for some beers but low for others. Assuming you are brewing one of those you would supplement the calcium and the sulfate by adding gypsum. Any of the spreadsheets should allow you to specify dilution water and/or salt additions required to approach a given profile. You don't have infinite flexibility in what you can do with salt additions (because, for example, the sodium and chloride in sodium chloride are in fixed proportion) and the water you are diluting has whatever it has in it in the proportions they are in. Even so, you can duplicate (very closely) any realizable ion profile using salt additions and dilution but being able to do the calculations requires spreadsheets with a bit more sophistication than the ones home brewers commonly used and even those require the use of the Solver (or some other optimization scheme). In addition, you must emulate nature and use carbonic acid (dissolved CO2) and that is another PITA.

Given the above some feel that it is easier to start with a "blank sheeet of paper", i.e. ion free water (RO is, in most cases, low enough in ion content that it can be considered ion free) and add in the salts required for a particular style. Others feel that you should always include some percentage of tap water for "trace minerals". I really think this is a little silly - but I do it.

Have a look at the Primer in the stickies. This may be a good way to get started making decent beer. The next step would be to insert the Primer suggestions into one of the spreadsheets in order to see what the consequences of those suggestions are with the step after that being to tweak the recommendations studying the effect that the spreadsheet indicates for various adjustments.

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Old 07-22-2011, 02:11 PM   #8
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Is softening with lime a different process than adding pickling lime to the mash? My goal is to increase my mash pH in order to brew dark beers.

Edit: Poorly worded on my part - "keep my mash pH from falling too much" is better.

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Old 07-22-2011, 02:14 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bierhaus15 View Post
Just did a bit of browsing on lime softening. Looks too complicated for my uses, I brew too much and would prefer something that would require a bit less preparation.
Did you see this http://outofkey.com/beer/brewing/usi...er-alkalinity/ ? It only involves a bit of work the night before you intend on brewing.
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Old 07-22-2011, 04:20 PM   #10
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Lime softening is indeed different from adding lime to the mash to increase mash pH. It will, done right, actually effect a reduction in mash pH and that is why it is done.

You do not want to increase mash pH to brew dark beers or for any other reason. The reason for using lime or chalk in a dark beer is to keep the mash pH from going too low but it is still about the same as for any other beer.

The referenced article over-simplifies the lime softening process As I noted in #5 it takes a bit more effort than the article referenced in #9 suggests. As an example, DeClerck recommends calculating the required lime and then treating 3 volumes of test water at the calculated level and at 2 other levels one below the calculated and one above. The treatment that gives the best decarbonation, as measured by an alkalinity test is then scaled to the full volume.

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