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Old 01-14-2012, 03:06 PM   #1
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Default Water Softners and Beer

I have never once bothered worrying about my water profile. I figured that since I have been using water in a house that uses a water softener my beers requiring soft water would be fine if I use HOT water. If I need hard water, just go cold.

Chemistry is not my forte. Biology is.

So if someone can tell me the flaw in my usage, please be nice.

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Old 01-14-2012, 03:55 PM   #2
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I have never once bothered worrying about my water profile. I figured that since I have been using water in a house that uses a water softener my beers requiring soft water would be fine if I use HOT water. If I need hard water, just go cold.
I don't quite follow the reasoning here. Though protection of the heater is one of the main reasons for installing a water heater in most houses the output of the water softener feeds both the cold water side of the plumbing and the water heater. Thus the water out of the hot and cold taps is equally soft but the hot water may well contain more dissolved metals as it typically is used in a mode in which the hot water stands in contact with metal parts/plumbing for extended periods (overnight or longer if you don't run the dish washer or clothes washer evey day). In general one should not use water from the water heater for cooking or brewing for this reason.

Now on to softening. When brewers say Pilsner beer is made with soft water they really mean that it is made with water of low mineral content. As that includes (or rather, excludes) the ions that cause hardness (calcium and magnesium) the water is indeed soft but it is also low in bicarbonate, sodium, sulfate, chloride, iron, strontium, fluoride, potassium... In the typical home water softener calcium, magnesium, iron and strontium are removed but they are replaced with sodium ions. Bicarbonate, chloride, sulfate, fluoride... are not touched. The water is, thus, completely unsuited to the brewing of Pilsner (or any other) beer.

In beers made with harder water the calcium is often relied upon to lower the pH of the mash. If it has been replaced by sodium it obviously can't do that. This is why softened water is unsuited to brewing, for example, a typical British ale. The pH reducing calcium is gone but the pH increasing bicarbonate is still there.
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Old 01-14-2012, 04:22 PM   #3
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Not necessarily so. In THIS very house, ONLY the hot water passes through the water softener. The cold water is UNsoftened.

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Old 01-14-2012, 04:56 PM   #4
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...in most houses the output of the water softener feeds both the cold water side of the plumbing and the water heater.
(emphasis added)

In my own brewery the softener only feeds the boiler but this is not usual. AFAIK in most houses it feeds the whole house. What is relevant here is the situation in OP's house. Actually it isn't as he should not be brewing with either water from the hot water heater or softened water.
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Old 01-14-2012, 05:00 PM   #5
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Not necessarily so. In THIS very house, ONLY the hot water passes through the water softener. The cold water is UNsoftened.

glenn514
this is true in most houses built with the intentions of installing a softener. Sometimes they will run a line of un-softened water to the kitchen exclusively and others they will just soften the water going to the water heater.
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Old 01-14-2012, 05:19 PM   #6
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this is true in most houses built with the intentions of installing a softener. Sometimes they will run a line of un-softened water to the kitchen exclusively and others they will just soften the water going to the water heater.
This. In fact, most houses run soft water everywhere EXCEPT the kitchen cold tap and the outside spigot. They do this because softened water tastes like sh!t and is bad for your lawn. Personally, right or wrong, I never use soft water for brewing.
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Old 01-14-2012, 05:47 PM   #7
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Unfortunately, there is wide variation in how water softeners are used and plumbed in residential applications. My house was plumbed with the softener feeding all interior fixtures. I revised that so that it fed only the hot water heater since the HWH is the ONLY piece of equipment that really needs the softener in many areas. Some places have more than calcium and magnesium hardness to deal with and they have to use softening for everything. Softeners take out iron and manganese and that's the reason why a homeowner might have to do that.

I just gave a presentation to the wastewater professional group in Indiana a couple of months ago on the problems presented by ion-exchange softening and the high chloride wastewater they produce. EPA is cracking down on high chloride discharge from wastewater plants across the country. Indiana is currently revising their rule to comply with EPA's goals. High chloride kills the freshwater critters in our streams. The other problem is that the high sodium that we might consume out of those softeners does us no good either.

So, if you can stand the little extra hard water deposits on your cold water fixtures, you really are better off having the softener plumbed to the hot water heater. If your softener is one of the new 'smart' softeners, it will save you salt too.

As AJ said, softened water has NO place in brewing. Moderately hard to hard water is what we WANT for our brewing water. And unless you are decoction brewing a Boh Pils, you HAVE to have a decent calcium content in your brewing water to get good yeast and fermentation performance. Decoction helps release calcium that is bound in the malt grist into the wort.

My advice, use the hard water and possibly dilute with RO as desired for your particular brew. And the most important thing is to make sure the water alkalinity is in line with your mash needs. Acidification or dilution are your best solutions for that requirement.

Enjoy!

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Old 01-14-2012, 08:20 PM   #8
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When I brew, I almost always start with cold water, which does NOT run through the softener in my house. The previous owner installed the softener so that ONLY the hot water heater water was softened. Because I understand that those "hardness" minerals are important to beer, and the added sodium is not desired, I use cold water to begin the brew.

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Old 01-14-2012, 08:43 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 3PegBrew View Post
I have never once bothered worrying about my water profile. I figured that since I have been using water in a house that uses a water softener my beers requiring soft water would be fine if I use HOT water. If I need hard water, just go cold.

Chemistry is not my forte. Biology is.

So if someone can tell me the flaw in my usage, please be nice.
Soft water, as in the water that most store bought spring water contains, is perfect for brewing, as it is a clean slate that you can build any water profile you want by adding the proper proportions of anions by the use of water salts. Soft water from a home water softener is not desirable under any circumstances because it replaces the magnesium and calcium with large amounts of sodium. Yuck!!!

NEVER, EVER use water from the hot water tap in your house for consuming, cooking or anything else but showering and cleaning! Every water heater has a sacrificial anode in it to prevent the steel tank from corroding. Some anodes are magnesium, and some are aluminum. These minerals, as well as other junk (lead), are leached into, and absorbed much more readily by hot water than cold water.
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Old 01-14-2012, 08:52 PM   #10
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...run soft water everywhere EXCEPT the kitchen cold tap and the outside spigot. They do this because softened water tastes like sh!t and is bad for your lawn.
I'll certainly attest to the fact that it tastes pretty bad. Just mix up a little baking soda in a glass of water - that's what comes out of a softener - and if that doesn't convince one that he shouldn't brew with it I don't know what it would take. I learned this in spades last fall when we moved into our place up north. The water is quite hard and the house has a softener (plumbed to the whole house, unfortunately). I couldn't drink the water and went looking for an RO unit. But my family couldn't find a problem with it. Nor could the place from whom I tried to buy and RO unit (I don't speak French and they don't speak water chemistry).

But there is another side to it. Softened water is, where the hardness is appreciable, loaded with sodium and is thus not very healthy. In this crazy world someone who had a heart attack could probably sue a plumber or builder who wired the softener to the kitchen sink (at least in a blue state). So I wonder if there might not be a trend away from this in more modern houses.
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