Water Testing Equipment
Well, now I've followed Bobby M's advice and I've sent my water out for testing. So, I'm thinking, how cool is this, I'll be able to change my water to fit the style of beer I'll be making... cool but: how will I know if my small salt additions will get me to my target? Is close good enough? So, with this thinking I realized, duh, I'm in the swimming pool industry (IT for a large distributor) and we sell LaMotte products - www.lamotte.com ...
If you go to their page check out the beverage link and you can see they sell this wicked computer thing that sucks in a sample of beer and can tell you everything from color to alcohol % way more than I wanted to test but wow.. another dream to have along with conicals etc etc... and I was just interested in minerals...
I called them and they put together a package for me that could measure everything except Sodium ions. I was bummed about that but it seems if you knew everything else you could come close to estimating the sodium.. anyhow the point is I could test my changes and see if I hit the mark.
The kicker: I would have to pay $300 bucks to be able to do 50 tests! Seems like a lot to pay but I suppose if you could test 25 batches, assuming you ran 2 tests while you adjusted the water it would cost 12 bucks a batch ;p .. So that seems a bit expensive :) On the other hand, I just sent 16.50 away to test my water. A brew club could buy the kit and be able to test 50 water samples for 6 bucks each. Certainly if anyone is interested let me know but I realize this is expensive... (edit - I now realized that this price includes the pH tester so subtract 85 for just the water tests - so 215 for 50 tests...)
Sigh... well so the next thing I checked into was a pocket pH tester. This thing will give you a pH reading down to the 100th and ranges from 0 to 14. It remembers the last 14 readings.. The only thing is you have to be under 150F for accurate pH. It also measure temp up to 190F. I guess you could grab some mash, put it in a saucer and cool it down a bit and then pH it...
Anyhow if anyone thinks they might want a very accurate handheld pH meter I can get you one for $85 plus UPS... The LaMotte pH Tracer.
Display Multifunction LCD with Bar graph
Operating Conditions 32 to 122°F (0 to 50°C) and < 80% RH
pH Range & Accuracy 0.01 to 14.00/±0.01 pH typical
Temperature Comp. Automatic from 32 to 194°F (0 to 90°C)
Temperature Range 23 to 194°F (–5 to 90°C)
Temperature Resolution 0.1° up to 99.9 the 1° thereafter
Temperature Accuracy ±1.8°F/1°C [from 23 to 122°F (–5 to 50°C)]
±5.4°F/3°C [from 122 to 194°F (50 to 90°C)]
Measurement storage 15 tagged (numbered) readings
Power Four CR2032 button batteries (see Page 6)
Low battery indication ‘BAT’ appears on the LCD
Auto power off After 10 minutes of inactivity
Dimensions 1.4 x 6.8 x 1.6” (35.6 x 172.7 x 40.6 mm),
3.85 oz (110g)
I am intrigued by the test equipment that you referenced, so I did so more looking online. The folks at Hach have a spectrometer as well; model DR-500, which can be programmed for testing homebrew; but has a $7k price tag. The LaMott's system is cheaper at $1000, but does not mention a beer testing program.
So it looks like someone would need to program the Lamott's system to do the different measurements and then post the programs somewhere out homebrewers could get to it.
So I like the fact that the testing equipment is getting cheaper, but I am going to wait a while longer till it gets down to the price of an i-Pod, so can get one without getting into trouble.
Well, actually - I'm getting a free sample from LaMotte today of the 'kit' which tests everything but Sodium. I still think that knowing everthing else and a bit of basic chemistry you can come very close to estimating the sodium but that's for another discussion.
The entire kit w/out the pH meter would cost about $200. So you could do 50 water tests for 200. At 4 bucks a test it beats sending stuff to Kansas for 16.50... And like I said once you know your water and you tweak it how in the world do you know if you've hit your target w/out being able to test it?
Yes, LaMotte doesn't have a 'beer kit' per se... but I'm a very large customer of theirs in the swimming pool industry and they want to design one for me to sell. When I get it I'll take pics and post the specs here so everyone can see what it can do. I'm going to sit down with their chemist over the next few months and see what I can come up with for Sodium. (they have a sodium test but it is part of a much more elaborate expensive test kit and they don't sell it as a single test) They want to put this beer kit in a box and I will private label it something like 'Russ's Brew H20 Test Kit'...
I mean at 4 bucks a test even if a home brewer didn't want to buy the kit, his local HBS should have it. If you could go into your home brew store and test all your relevant minerals for even $6 (they gotta make a profit :) ) it would still save you $10 bucks and postage.
This is a really interesting possibility. Will you tell us what the precision, accuracy and repeatability are for the water tester? Also does it need calibration frequently or is it stable once calibrated? Does it need a big sample or a little one? Could one test beer for minerals with it, or is it only for water? Exactly what ions are covered by your comment, "everything but sodium"? It sounds like the testing is done with solutions and a colorimeter of some sort, otherwise why would one only get 50 tests per kit?
Sorry about so many questions, but I am very interested in learning more about this.
Wow I'm on board too. I'd love to be able to test my water.
Hardness tests which when performed gives me Ca, Mg and CaCo3
So Cl, SO4, Ca, Mg, and Total Alk as CaCo3 - everything for TH's spreadsheet - EZ Water Adjustment spreadsheet except Na...
How accurate, well these are commercial/professional Agriculture kits used by inspectors and labs. They are titration based kits in that you mix a reagent in a very small tube (like 2mls) and then fill a titrator (which in this case is a small syringe with ppm markings on it) with your sample (again very small about 1ml)... You then begin adding your sample to the titration tube and when you get a color change you look at the plunger in the syringe and get a direct reading on the compound/ion you are testing. The accuracy is w/in 2ppm... No calibration on any of these mineral tests is required, just titrations with included reagents. These reagents run out so that is the limit on the amount of tests.
Now as for the pH meter which I already posted the specs, that puppy is amazing, you calibrate it, they give you dpd tabs whereby you use them and distilled water to make up a calibration solution nearest your desired range. You calibrate and then you're off to the races. You can test the pH of any part of the process, your water, the wort, etc... just make sure you get the temp w/in range of the unit. No limit to the amount of tests and you can save your last 15 tests if you want. It displays to the 100th place, so pH 5.xx and I listed the specs in a post below.
As I unpack this stuff I see they sent me a separate Alkalinity test kit BUT the Hardness kit gives me CaCO3 also so I think it is redundant. This means the price goes down.
I'm hoping to brew this weekend and I will blog it and try to take pics and even copy the instructions in a thread here so show the procedure's and stuff... The sulfate test kit I received had a broken test tube in it so this test will depend on whether they can get me a new tube by the weekend... but the others I will try out.
I rec'd my report back from Ward so the first thing I will test is how close my LaMotte tests get me to the Ward tests. That should answer the reliablitiy question and I will repeat the tests and that will test the repeatability question but as I already mentioned these are commercial test kits and I'm sure they are worthy. All said it needs to be mentioned that all kits with any liquid reagents have possible expiration dates on the reagents. I'll find out from LaMotte what the shelf life on the kit is also...
Sodium analysis is usually done by ICP (Inductively Coupled Plasma) or AAS (Atomic Absorbtion Spectroscopy)- not within reach of the homebrewer. Much less pricey, but still not what most would be willing to invest in, is a sodium ISE (Ion Specific Electrode). This is very much like a pH electrode (sodium is an interference for pH at measurement in very alkaline solutions). In use it is connected to a pH meter which has millivolt input and, as with the pH function, calibrated with 2 standards whose sodium concentration should span the expected sodium concentration of the sample. The main problem with them is that they take forever to come to equilibrium at low sodium levels and the meters have no ATC for this function so one has to control temperature of both standards and sample.
Depending on how long it has been since you sent the sample to Ward's, your water may have changed. I went to my local water supplier's web site and plotted out the monthly reports for the last 45 months (since January, 2007) and found a lot of variation in some of the minerals.
Any further information on this testing? I'd still like to test my own water.
There are lots of ways to skin this cat. I'd suggest starting out with hardness and alkalinity tests as these are both done with simple titrations and there are lots of kits made by several manufacturers which implement them. I'm particularly impressed with the Hach Digital Titrator as it permits accurate determinations for waters of various ion content. The titrator is a device into which a cartridge of titrant of strength chosen for the water is placed. The cartridge is a syringe without needle or plunger handle. The needle is replaced by a dip tube and the plunger is driven by a threaded rod connected to a counter. The sample and indicator are placed in a flask, the counter zeroed and the dip tube placed in the sample. A knurled knob turns the screw moving the plunger and dispensing titrant. When the end point is reached the number of digits on the counter is proportional to the amount of ion being tested for or some integer multiple. The titrator is a bit over $100 (IIRC) but that is spread over alkalinity, magnesium hardness, and calcium hardness and the device will also do other tests. Chloride comes to mind and chloride is probably the next thing to check for. Sulfate would probably be next. Unfortunately, accurate determination of sulfate is a little tricky as the test depends on formation of a precipitate (of barium sulfate) which is quantified by comparing its turbidity to standards. This is not a titration and so cannot be done with the digital (or any other) titrator.
The next step up is colorimetry using photometer or spectrophotometer and of course these are great because you can do tests for chloride, chlorine, chloramine, zinc, copper, nitrate, nitrite, iron, manganese, phosphate, potassium, silica,aluminum, flouride, hardness and the list goes on with them plus beer color, FAN, diacetyl and (if its a UV equipped spec) beer bitterness etc. A UV spectrophotometer is a pretty expensive proposition but there have to be refurbished units out there. Some of the photometer solutions are more reasonably priced but, of course, not as versatile.
As noted in a previous post, sodium is the hard one. Under the assumption that a brewer undertaking water analysis would have a pH meter, we hope he'd have one with external electrode and mV capability so that an ISE could be connected. That's really the only feasible method (that I know of) for a homebrewer and the ISE's are pretty expensive. It is possible to calculate sodium if you have measured everything else that is present in appreciable quantity (this can include things like nitrate and potassium). You must also know the pH.
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