Beer tastes salty - using RO water and brewing salts

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luckybeagle

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I brew on a 3 vessel eHERMS setup, but in the interest of time and simplicity I've been doing single infusion, no sparge batches using the entire volume of brewing water in the mash.

I use a 4 stage RO unit now and have been attempting to reconstitute my brewing water to a balanced profile. I use brewersfriend and set my source minerals to ZERO (as if the water is 100% pure).

Since I started on this track, my beers have tasted salty. Many of the other off flavors I had with using tap water before are now gone (yay) but the saltiness is perceptible in each beer. I've brewed a hefeweizen, a Kveik Golden Strong, and a dry irish stout, all with that underlying saltiness despite building the profile of the entire volume of the water used in the batch as follows:

Screen Shot 2021-05-15 at 10.32.54 PM.png



Am I doing something wrong? I don't have a TDS meter, but assuming the levels are low and where they should be, what do you think could be causing this saltiness?
 

Jim R

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Of course, the obvious first suggestion is to get a TDS meter so at least you know that you are starting with a blank slate. There is no reason to spend money on a RO system and not have a TDS meter. They are cheap and they can help tell you when you need to change filters. Maybe your starting minerals aren't at zero at all.
 

day_trippr

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100% agree with having a TDS meter if one has an RO system - I can't see how one knows for sure it's working properly without a meter.
I got mine off Amazon for $7 with respectable specs.

Anyway, allowing the assumption the OPs system is actually working, one would have to finger the Baking Soda for any "salty" character because there's nothing in that sheet otherwise. Which then begs the question: why is baking soda being used?

I have literally never used baking soda - even for my rather huge (1.106) sweet stouts - and all my brews use 100% RO water with a tds under 10...

Cheers!
 

Spundit

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That is odd... those are reasonable amounts and I dont think that amount of salts should result in saltiness. This isnt a tsp vs.tbsp mix up is it? I only ask because I have done it. i guess using the "waste" water instead of the filtered water from the RO unit could do it....

For the vast majority of beers I only add calcium chloride and/or gypsum. Ussually less than 5g each to RO water. I believe all the Mg you need will come from the malt so no need for epsom. baking soda adds sodium and increases the ph.. i dont think either of those are desireable in these lighter beer styles (few dark malts).

If you think its too salty I wouldnt hesitate to eliminate the epsom and baking soda and use half the others (but i think something else is going on)
 
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luckybeagle

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That is odd... those are reasonable amounts and I dont think that amount of salts should result in saltiness. This isnt a tsp vs.tbsp mix up is it? I only ask because I have done it. i guess using the "waste" water instead of the filtered water from the RO unit could do it....

For the vast majority of beers I only add calcium chloride and/or gypsum. Ussually less than 5g each to RO water. I believe all the Mg you need will come from the malt so no need for epsom. baking soda adds sodium and increases the ph.. i dont think either of those are desireable in these lighter beer styles (few dark malts).

If you think its too salty I wouldnt hesitate to eliminate the epsom and baking soda and use half the others (but i think something else is going on)

Thanks to everyone for the quick responses! Spundit, I measure all of these with a "drug scale" (haha) that gets me down to 1/100 of a gram--no measuring spoons used, but I can see how that could screw some people up!

I haven't bought a TDS meter because I can't help but see it as a "check engine light" -- it doesn't really tell you what's high, just that there's a problem, right? Please correct me if I'm totally misunderstanding.

That is good to know about the baking soda. I don't have a great understanding of water (I have a copy of Palmer's book, but it's been collecting dust on my nightstand as it just.... intimidates me, lol), but I thought baking soda was useful in preventing the pH from dropping too much during mashing by adding buffer capacity through higher bicarbonate levels.

So if I attempt to create a "balanced" water profile with just gypsum and calcium chloride, this is as close as I can get to it:

Screen Shot 2021-06-19 at 8.17.10 PM.png



Most of my beers are low SRM and German or Belgian (wheats, blondes, tripels, kolsch). Would this be a better water profile to brew with, potentially? Should I brew a smash beer with just these two additions and see if the saltiness goes away?
 

DuncB

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Is there anything else that could cause this, an unknown unknown?

Cleaning and washing regime?
Sure you are using the correct water outlet from RO device? Have you tasted the water from the RO would give a good indic if problem there.
What are you doing about pH ? are you adjusting it?
If so what acid are you using? are you sure it's correct? Recent thread on here where the phosphoric acid was 100% not 10% caused total failure, your results don't suggest this of course but worth checking not a different concentration.
How has your efficiency been? since changing?
Have you changed salts and are you sure the right salts are in the right packets. CaCl is chunky and gypsum is fine powder, is that sodium bicarb sodium bicarb or salt?
Agreed no point pushing on with the bicarb anyway but you should check it , not baking powder is it? That has tartaric acid in it as well as bicarb.
Check the pH of your beers you have made as well.
 

Spundit

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The tds meter will give you confidence your ro filter is working. I get less than 10ppm on my RO water. As the filter starts to fail that will creep up and tell me its time for a membrane change.

At less than 10ppm you can basically consider your water pure and disregard watever is left in there when making your water profile.

IMO soft water makes good beer (RO water with 3g CaCl). Increasing sulfates or chloride can make a good beer better but it is dependant on style. For a Kolsh I would only add 3g of CaCl. For a Blonde ale: 3g cacl 3g gypsum.
 

Jim R

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I haven't bought a TDS meter because I can't help but see it as a "check engine light" -- it doesn't really tell you what's high, just that there's a problem, right? Please correct me if I'm totally misunderstanding.
That doesn't make sense to me. You need to occasionally check your RO water to make sure that the TDS meter reads low which tells you that your RO system is working. It isn't designed to specifically diagnose a RO problem (time to replace filters, etc.), it is designed to confirm that the RO system is working well. And you get this valuable information for only $10-15.

I bet that if your beer tastes salty, your RO system isn't working.
 

DuncB

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I bet that if your beer tastes salty, your RO system isn't working.
I'll bet if the water tastes salty you'll know the RO not working correctly ( and you can do that without a TDS meter ) and why the beer is salty but I'd check the other things I mentioned if the water is good.
 
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Our advice is that you need a minimum of two "tools" if you have a residential-scale RO system: a pressure gauge that reads after the prefilters, and a TDS meter.

[PREFILTER=any filter you tap water goes through before it reaches the membrane]

TDS meters measure Total Dissolved Solids. They actually measure conductivity, and through an algorithm, convert that measurement to ppm TDS. There are two general types of meters: handheld, or inline. Both will provide the same information. The inline models are more convenient, so we find people are more likely to actually use the inline TDS monitors. We have two inline TDS monitors that home brewers typically select:
The DM1 DM1 Dual Inline TDS Meter - Buckeye Hydro , and
The DM2 DM2 Dual Inline TDS Meter - Buckeye Hydro

I can talk some about the difference between the two if people are interested.

We also have a number of different handheld TDS meters: Digital Water Meter | Digital Electronic Meter | Handheld - Buckeye Hydro

Another point about TDS meters. Unlike some meters you may have experience with (e.g., pH meters), TDS meters/monitors are rugged and reliable and not a PITA. They don't constantly need to be calibrated.

Russ
 

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Looking at your list of beers they are mostly light colored except for the Stout. Baking soda along with acid are used to correct ph in the mash. Baking soda only in dark beers and acid in light color beers. Do not think of these as ingredients and never use both in the same beer. If you are not checking ph then you really don't know how much to use.
There is enough magnesium in the malt itself so unless you just want to add sulfate without the calcium there is no need for Epsom salts. [magnesium sulfate] I just use calcium chloride, gypsum [calcium sulfate] and a acid in light beers and baking soda [ sodium bicarbonate] in dark beers. A word of caution, a little goes a long way with acid and bicarb and only use them in the lightest and darkest beers accordingly.
 
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luckybeagle

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I've ordererd a TDS meter and will receive it tomorrow--I'll post the results and understand the importance of using it as an indicator of whether or not the system is working, needs a filter change, etc. That all makes sense.

Definitely not using the wastewater line 🤪 I have that line going into a 20 gallon rubbermaid that I have to empty twice in order to get ~8 gallons out of the other line. The taste of the pure RO is not salty (it tastes like nothing--kind of bizarre actually since our unfiltered tap water has a slight taste and light chlorine-y smell that I only notice after sipping RO). I kept my salts in the bags labeled by the LHBS, so no mixups going on there.

My efficiency is in the 70s if I mash for 1 hour. If I mash for several hours/overnight (I recirculate through a herms coil and brew on an electric setup, so temperature is constant), I get around 82%. I haven't noticed a change since switching to RO and have brewed with both standard and long mashes on RO.

I'll post the results of the TDS meter tomorrow afternoon. Thanks everyone for the insight and discussion :mug:
 

Holden Caulfield

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One last wild card and a highly unlikely mistake but just thought I'd raise it for others that are learning about water - is your RO filter actually a water softener? They do not do the same thing. Water softeners replace the hardness (Ca and Mg) with Na.
 
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luckybeagle

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One last wild card and a highly unlikely mistake but just thought I'd raise it for others that are learning about water - is your RO filter actually a water softener? They do not do the same thing. Water softeners replace the hardness (Ca and Mg) with Na.
This is what I bought:
Screen Shot 2021-06-20 at 10.17.25 AM.png
 
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Well... Hmm. You bought an RODI. That particular model will have a high cost of operation because every time you need a new filter, you'll also have to replace the filters housing.
The filters on that unit have exceptionally low capacities:
  • Sediment & Carbon every 3-6 months or 650 gallons of filtered water
  • Membrane every 12-24 months or when reduced flow is noticed
  • DI Resin when the media inside the cartridge changes to a solid tan color. One cartridge can absorb approximately 1,300 TDS from the water.

Additionally, you do not need an RODI - just RO. If you have chloramine in your water, the single carbon stage may not be sufficient.
Russ
 
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luckybeagle

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Thanks, I have TDS numbers now:

Water from our tap: 89ppm
Water from our refrigerator (filtered): 52ppm
Water from waste side of RO unit: 128
Water from the RO/DI unit: 0.00
 

Spundit

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Thats good water.

I wonder if there is some bias involved here. "I think this is happening so I taste this." Bias is a real thing and to some extent out of our control. In fact, I was thinking about this thread and drinking an imperial stout HB and was thinking, " this tastes a little salty..."

Try tasting your homebrew side by side with a comercial version of the style. Or have a friend try it and give you feedback (but dont start by asking "does this taste salty you?").

Whenever you figure it out, let us know. Its an interesting problem. 🤔
 

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I just had a thought! I got some beers from a guy a couple of years ago who had a bit of an off-flavor. The beers were really good, but they did have an usual salt flavor to it, but not really salty. We went over and over his process, water, ingredients, process, yeast strains, etc. Finally I wondered to him about yeast health, and he said, "Oh, I'm sure it's fine- I add a teaspoon of yeast nutrient to every fermentation!". Ding, Ding, Ding. He left it out the next batch, and his beer has been awesome ever since.

So........is there ANY thing that has changed? Different brand of yeast, different gypsum, different anything at all?
 
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luckybeagle

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I just had a thought! I got some beers from a guy a couple of years ago who had a bit of an off-flavor. The beers were really good, but they did have an usual salt flavor to it, but not really salty. We went over and over his process, water, ingredients, process, yeast strains, etc. Finally I wondered to him about yeast health, and he said, "Oh, I'm sure it's fine- I add a teaspoon of yeast nutrient to every fermentation!". Ding, Ding, Ding. He left it out the next batch, and his beer has been awesome ever since.

So........is there ANY thing that has changed? Different brand of yeast, different gypsum, different anything at all?
Interesting! Maybe I will start omitting the yeast nutrient. I use Wyeast Beer Nutrient at 10 minutes typically, but I'm pretty lazy about measuring it--usually about a half a blue capful or a bit less. Maybe I'll leave it out of that one, too. I can also omit baking soda and epsom salts on this next go around, too, if you all think the water profile I posted above with just Gypsum and Calcium Chloride is acceptable for a "balanced" profile?

Nothing else is new about my process or ingredients. I do not recall my beers tasting salty when I used tap water and campden tablets, which does lead me to believe it is the baking soda rather than the beer nutrient. Who knows, though?
 
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luckybeagle

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Try tasting your homebrew side by side with a comercial version of the style. Or have a friend try it and give you feedback (but dont start by asking "does this taste salty you?").
Good advice on both counts. I actually had a Weihenstephan Helles the other day and thought it had that familiar salty taste. I don't have a Helles of my own on tap, but I noticed that same (more intense) saltiness in my kveik beer that I had right after. Maybe I'm just extra sensitive to it. I'll omit baking soda on the next one and report back.
 

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I can also omit baking soda and epsom salts on this next go around, too, if you all think the water profile I posted above with just Gypsum and Calcium Chloride is acceptable for a "balanced" profile?
The amount of sodium provided is really nothing, and the bicarbonate affects the mash pH- so if the mash pH without is is 5.3-5.4 or so, by all means leave it out. There is no target for bicarbonate, only the amount of alkalinity you need to get a proper mash pH. So the profile itself is faulty there.

Yeast nutrient is interesting- that's what the other guy had that caused some flavors that were salt-like but not exactly. How long have you been using that?
 
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luckybeagle

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Yeast nutrient is interesting- that's what the other guy had that caused some flavors that were salt-like but not exactly. How long have you been using that?
I haven't brewed without using it over ~200 batches. That's also why I'm a bit skeptical. Maybe I had a heavy hand over the last few.
 
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