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Help with brewing water in SW Florida

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kifkroker

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I'm a new AG brewer in SW Florida and would like some advice on brewing water. I'm on a well with hard water (smells bad if untreated) that gets run through a water softener and removes the minerals but leaves high salt levels (which I read in the water primer thread is bad for brewing). I also have a RO system under the kitchen sink which I'm guessing removes most of the salt and is what I used for brewing my 1st & 2nd all-grain brews (APA & IPA) along with calcium chloride and gypsum additions per water primer thread and calcs in EZ Water 3.0. Both brews went smooth and according to recipe but came out with some astringency in the aftertaste. I didn't have Colorphast pH strips to check the pH (which I just ordered) or lactic acid to bring the pH down more if needed either.

I'd like to brew the best tasting beer that I can so here are my questions for anyone that would be kind enough to give advice:

1. Should I continue to use my RO water for brewing and work on making sure my pH levels are in the 5.4 - 5.5 range or should I start using bottled water which from what I've read is municipal water that also needs treating? Switch to distilled water?

2. If continuing to use my RO, should I send a sample to Ward Labs to make sure that my RO system is working properly and all minerals including high salt levels from the water softener are being stripped out?

3. Should I give up brewing since my water sucks and just stock up on SN Torpedo when it goes on sale? ;)

Thanks for any advice you can provide!
 

ajdelange

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Stick with the RO and try reducing the sulfate.

For about what a Ward Labs test costs you should be able to by a cheap TDS water tester. If the TDS reads below 10 your RO system is fine.
 
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kifkroker

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Stick with the RO and try reducing the sulfate.

For about what a Ward Labs test costs you should be able to by a cheap TDS water tester. If the TDS reads below 10 your RO system is fine.
Great, thanks for your input AJ, I'll do as suggested on my next brew. Also, thanks for all of the information in the water primer thread, I learn something new about water adjustments each time I refer to it. Awesome guide!
 

mabrungard

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Definitely don't move to bottled water. You won't have any idea what you're dealing with then. The RO should be good. As AJ says, a TDS meter is an important quality control check for anyone using RO water. That includes brewers that buy their water from a machine. A TDS reading of 10 ppm is great, but I would not worry about it until the reading is exceeding 25 ppm. At that point, its time to get a new membrane. As long as the meter reading is low, there is little need for a water report on the RO. Those ion levels are low enough to be disregarded. If you need an idea of what the water profile is from a RO unit, Bru'n Water has a typical RO profile in it for your reference. As long as your RO unit is operating properly, your water does not suck.

If you were adding only the minor amount of gypsum recommended in the Primer, there is no need to reduce the sulfate content. That is more likely to make beers like PA's and IPA's less flavorful. I'd say the source of astringency is something else. I'd be looking at oversparging and overbittering as first choices.

If the gravity was a little lower than target, you may have oversparged. If you are using a brewing program to calculate your hop additions, using the Tinseth calculation method tends to overbitter a beer in comparison to Rager calcs. Since a lot of brewers use Rager and post recipes in that form, if you calculate a new recipe using Tinseth, the bittering may be higher. I've made these mistakes.
 
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kifkroker

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Martin, thanks for elaborating on acceptable TDS readings and the troubleshooting information. I'll stick with my RO and get a TDS meter to verify that my readings are <25ppm and eventually get a pH meter too when I find a non-lab model that gets decent reviews.

I reviewed my notes from the last brew and the anticipated pH was 5.6 in EZ Water based on the additions that I did. I hadn't realized to shoot for 5.4 and also didn't have lactic acid on hand to bring it down further. I'll use Bru'n Water for my salt additions in December as I plan to brew a SN Celebration clone. It will be helpful to have the RO profile to use as a starting point as well.

As far as oversparging, that may be the case since I ended up under the anticipated OG and with additional wort in the kettle. I purchased Beersmith after I brewed last time to help with getting my volumes figured out properly and have been using it to set up my equipment and prepare my SN Celebration clone that I'm brewing next.

Thanks for your advice and information, I really appreciate it!
 
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kifkroker

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I tested my RO with my new TDS meter and it is at 119 TDS... Time to change my RO membrane after I determine how many GPD system it is. Also checked the tap water which is run through a water softener system and it was registering 994 TDS.

Won't brew again with my RO until I change the membrane---
 

ajdelange

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You have tough water. Your rejection now is 88%. Even with 99% rejection you will have TDS of 10. With 98% rejection you would have 20. Naturally your first step should be to get the current system up to snuff. Even with only 95% rejection you would be at 50 mg/L TDS at the output and that should be low enough for almost anything you wanted to brew. And there really isn't much you could do about it anyway except connect a second RO or ion exchange system in tandem.
 

grathan

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I've been shopping RO systems. Sometimes well water pressures are low. It seems they require at least 35psi and they seem to operate more efficiently with even more water pressure. You can add a pump with a pressure switch to get the psi up. (requires electric)

Or perhaps when the storage tank nears full, the backpressure from the bladder onto the membrane causes an increase in tds getting by. This could be alleviated by a permeate pump.
 

ajdelange

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A feed pump will increase permeate throughput and thus recovery but should have little effect on rejection. Similarly whether you discharge to an atmospheric tank or bladder tank should have little effect on rejection. Thus a permeate pump won't help. The only reason to have a permeate pump is if you have an atmospheric tank followed by a bladder tank. If you don't a feed pump increase permeate flow and allow a bladder tank to become pressurized to a higher level but it won't improve rejection. Anything more elaborate than the usual simple bladder tank/mains feed arrangement with pressure tank operated shutoff requires controls of some sort.
 
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kifkroker

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My RO system is an 8 year old, 3-stage Watershield RO System. It has a pre carbon filter, post carbon filter, RO membrane, 100 psi permeate pump and 3 gal holding tank with bladder.

Should I purchase a new RO system or just replace the membrane on my current 8 year old system? I change the filters on schedule but haven't changed the membrane for about 3 years so I know the high TDS is my fault.

Also, any benefit from adding a whole house filter to filter the water before it comes into the house? Will that ease the burden on the RO system?

Thanks again for the help---
 

ajdelange

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My RO system is an 8 year old, 3-stage Watershield RO System. It has a pre carbon filter, post carbon filter, RO membrane, 100 psi permeate pump and 3 gal holding tank with bladder.
Are you sure the pump isn't before the membrane i.e. on the feed side? There wouldn't be much point in having it on the permeate side.

Should I purchase a new RO system or just replace the membrane on my current 8 year old system? I change the filters on schedule but haven't changed the membrane for about 3 years so I know the high TDS is my fault.
I don't see any reason to not stay with what you have unless you find it hard to obtain a cartridge for the old system.

Also, any benefit from adding a whole house filter to filter the water before it comes into the house? Will that ease the burden on the RO system?
If the water is stinky (and you say it is) then a whole house filter will help get rid of that making the job of the pre-filter on the RO unit a bit easier and those cartridges will last longer.
 

grathan

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membrane, unless the new one gives you under a year before starting to clog. Then I would way the cost of just buying membranes vs. adding more filters or perhaps changing the size of the pre-filter. Most of the new systems I looked at had either a 1 micron or a .5 micron filter or a series of 5 micron and then a 1 micron before the membrane.
 
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kifkroker

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Ok... It has been a couple weeks since I replaced both pre & post filters (5 micron KX Matrikx CTO/2) and also the membrane (GE Osmonics Desal TFM-36 GPD). Over the last week, I have checked the TDS periodically and it has ranged from 96 to 134. At this point, should I continue troubleshooting my RO & water softener system or just accept that my water is too hard for RO to filter to a tolerable range to brew with?

Again... any help or suggestions are greatly appreciated. Thanks!
 

ajdelange

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With a feed TDS of about 1000 a permeate TDS of about 100 suggests only 90% average rejection. I'd expect better of a new membrane so I suspect there may be leakage around it. Check the O-rings in the system following the manufacturer's instructions.

If, OTOH, the surge in output TDS is related to a surge in feed TDS then, yes, you will have to accept the fact that you have real problem water. A solution, used in places in the world where they brew with sea or brackish water, is to use two RO systems in tandem. If each is only capable of average rejection of 95% (50 ppm out for 1000 ppm in) the pair will give better than 99% rejection (2.5 ppm out of the second system if the first has 1000 coming in). You will need to figure out some way to interconnect the two such that the pressure into the second is high enough to operate it.
 
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