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Old 01-19-2013, 03:28 AM   #1
kenlenard
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Default My water, beer & Ward Labs experiment

First, I get bulk RO water from my local grocery store for 49¢ a gallon. I had no idea what was in it (I was using it to dilute bicarbonate in my tap water) so I sent a sample to Ward Labs. I doubt this will help many people because I assume all of these machines are different from each other and even from themselves depending on the filters, etc. But I was concerned that I might use 50% or even 75% of the water for a batch from this RO machine and not know what was in it... I wanted to know. While I was at it, I also sent Ward Labs a bottle of Pilsner Urquell. Why? To see if they could tell me what the water ion concentrations were. We always hear that the water is so low on ions & I thought it would be an interesting experiment to find out. The guys at Ward said, "No Problem". Here we go:


First, my bulk RO water that I get at the grocery store for 49¢ a gallon:

pH: 7.7
Calcium: 10
Magnesium: 4
Sodium: 5
Chloride: 7
Sulfate: <1
Bicarb/HCO3: 50
Total Alkalinity: 41
Total Hardness: 42

All of this seems good except that the bicarb number is higher than I would like for diluting. If I'm diluting 138ppm bicarb water with 50ppm bicarb water, it's not much of a bargain so it appears that for that reason alone, I should discontinue using this water and go with distilled which I know is zero across the board.

Next up, a sample of Pilsner Urquell that I hope the fine people at Ward Labs drank when they were done.

pH: 4.5
Calcium: 21
Magnesium: 94
Sodium: 14
Chloride: 192
Sulfate: 69
Bicarb/HCO3: 85
Total Alkalinity: 70
Total Hardness: 444

This sample was an unopened bottle of Pilsner Urquell, btw. I find some of the numbers surprising but what can we learn from this, anything? Check out that magnesium number. Also, I thought it was unusual (and not ordinarily associated with a water report) but this also shows a potassium level of 438ppm and a sulphur level of 69ppm. Are some of these numbers skewed somehow because they come from a sample of BEER and not WATER? Hops, yeast, the presense of alcohol, the grains, etc. I did this with the hope of learning something. Are these numbers telling us the the fine people of Plzen are making some good-sized additions to their soft water? Are the numbers meaningless because they came from finished beer? If I made a beer and knew what was in the water (as far as Ca, Mg, Na, SO4, Cl, HCO3 are concerned), would my numbers look similar to my original numbers after the beer was brewed, fermented, etc? Anyone care to comment? Cheers Beerheads.

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Old 01-19-2013, 05:44 AM   #2
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I would think the presence of other things (alcohol, hop oils, yeast) would invalidate your results. You aren't measuring 100% water but rather 94% water and 6% other "stuff". You should post this in the Brewing Science part of HBT......a couple of very smart "water guys" hang out there.

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Old 01-19-2013, 02:34 PM   #3
kenlenard
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Martin saw this thread over on Northern Brewer which is good. He reminded me that the SO4 number should actually be 207 because it's stated as SO4-S and should be multiplied by 3. So now some pointed questions. Do the brewers add sulfate, chloride and magnesium to the brewing water in amounts that would make those levels as high as they are in the report? Are the number inaccurate because they're coming from a sample of fermented beer? I would expect the bicarb level to be much lower. Do they add something like calcium carbonate? Sounds completely backwards since we know that sulfates and bicarb numbers in this beer styles are supposed to be low.

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Old 01-19-2013, 03:01 PM   #4
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Fascinating. I really like this experiment. An additional control you could add to your data set would be to send a sample of a US beer with published water chemistry and compare that to the Wards report. It might give a hint at what minerals are added by the brewing process. I can't pull a brewery off the top of my head, but I know some give their base water profile for Can You Brew It.

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Old 01-20-2013, 03:11 AM   #5
ajdelange
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kenlenard View Post

pH: 7.7
Calcium: 10
Magnesium: 4
Sodium: 5
Chloride: 7
Sulfate: <1
Bicarb/HCO3: 50
Total Alkalinity: 41
Total Hardness: 42

All of this seems good except that the bicarb number is higher than I would like for diluting.
There are a couple of explanations:
1. The water feeding the machine is really, really alkaline.
2. The machine is poorly maintained and the membranes need replacing.
3. The merchant adds some salts back into the RO water (this is common pactice in juice and soda bottling plants that use RO as a water source) so that the water won't taste 'flat'.
4. Combinations of one or more of the above.


Quote:
Originally Posted by kenlenard View Post
pH: 4.5
Calcium: 21
Magnesium: 94
Sodium: 14
Chloride: 192
Sulfate: 69
Bicarb/HCO3: 85
Total Alkalinity: 70
Total Hardness: 444

This sample was an unopened bottle of Pilsner Urquell, btw. I find some of the numbers surprising but what can we learn from this, anything? Check out that magnesium number.
Malt contains lots of magnesium.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kenlenard View Post
Also, I thought it was unusual (and not ordinarily associated with a water report) but this also shows a potassium level of 438ppm and a sulphur level of 69ppm. Are some of these numbers skewed somehow because they come from a sample of BEER and not WATER? Hops, yeast, the presense of alcohol, the grains, etc.
Plants also take a lot of potassium from the soil. Malt amino acids contain sulfur but note that while 69 is the sulfur content it is the sulfur content in sulfate presuming that they are measuring sulfate by precipitation of barium sulfate. Of course this sulfur came from the malt as Pilsen water contains little sulfate.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kenlenard View Post
Are these numbers telling us the the fine people of Plzen are making some good-sized additions to their soft water? Are the numbers meaningless because they came from finished beer? If I made a beer and knew what was in the water (as far as Ca, Mg, Na, SO4, Cl, HCO3 are concerned), would my numbers look similar to my original numbers after the beer was brewed, fermented, etc.
No, no and yes. The only thing that looks funny to me is the chloride. I guess I've really never paid attention to anion content of barley. I know it does take up chloride but I don't know if this number is explainable by that or not.

The other interesting thing here is that they reported pH of 4.5 and alkalinity of 70. I guess that tells us that they are not using pH 4.5 as the end point of their alkalinity titration but a lot here would have to do with how much CO2 they allowed to escape before actually doing the titration. I wouldn't put a lot of faith in the alkalinity or bicarbonate numbers.
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