# How much difference can 91 ppm of bicarbonate matter?

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#### Michael Dicken

##### Member
I'm brewing a German Pils and going for a crisp hoppy finish, so I am trying to match the "Yellow Dry" profile in Beersmith, Ca 50, Mg 10, Na 5, SO4 105, Cl 45, HCO3 0.
However, my home water is pretty far off from this: Ca 35, Mg 9 Na 69, SO4 22, Cl 83, HCO3 91.
With salt additions of gypsum and epsom salt I can get closer: Ca 55, Mg 17, Na 69, SO4 103, Cl 83, HCO3 91
This gives me a sulfate/chloride ratio of 1.2 as opposed to the 2.3 of the target
Obviously, I will never get down to zero bicarbonate unless I replace my water with distilled. My question is will there be a perceptible difference between an S/C ratio of 1.2 vs 2.3? Is it worth me shlepping to store and spending the money on distilled water?

#### VikeMan

##### It ain't all burritos and strippers, my friend.
IMO, that profile looks okay for a German Pils (though I personally wouldn't bump the Mg up).

#### cire

##### Well-Known Member
A controlled acid addition will reduce your water's alkalinity, potentially to zero bicarbonate.

OP
M

#### Michael Dicken

##### Member
A controlled acid addition will reduce your water's alkalinity, potentially to zero bicarbonate.
Sounds interesting. How do you do that exactly?

#### Silver_Is_Money

##### Larry Sayre, Developer of 'Mash Made Easy'
Sounds interesting. How do you do that exactly?
First you need to know how many mEq's (milliequivalents) of Alkalinity you actually have within any given volume of your water that you intend to use, and second, you need to know how many mEq's of this Alkalinity you will actually need to remove whereby to hit a desired target pH, and third, you need to know how many mEq's of acid (the antidote to Alkalinity) each mL (milliliter) of the acid of your choosing possesses at specifically the target pH you are attempting to achieve (since 'weak' acids "strengths" [I.E., their ability to liberate specific quantities of H+ ions] are not fixed in value, but rather they are variable in value with respect to target pH). Then, fourth, it is reduced to a matter of:

mEq Alkalinity / mEq/mL Acid = mL Acid

By this means you will know how many mL of the acid of your choice to add to said given volume of your water whereby to achieve your desired target pH.

KEY: Always remember that in order to get where you want to go you must first know where you are.

Hint: To hit "Zero Bicarbonate" requires that you hit ~4.3 pH. This is not generally considered to be a viable (or desirable) pH target.

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#### Silver_Is_Money

##### Larry Sayre, Developer of 'Mash Made Easy'
Let's assume that you will be using 9 gallons of water, and you want it to be reduced in Alkalinity whereby to hit a target pH of 5.4 to 5.5 (call it 5.45 pH), and your Bicarbonate is initially at 91 mg/L (ppm).

First you must convert HCO3- (Bicarbonate) into Alkalinity (as CaCO3).

MW HCO3- = 61.01684
Charge HCO3- = -1
Eq Wt. HCO3- = 61.01684

MW CaCO3 = 100.0869
Charge Ca++ = 2
Eq Wt. CaCO3 = 100.0869/2 = 50.04345

Next, convert gallons to Liters:
9 gallons x 3.7854 Liters/Gallon = 34.069 Liters (L)

Next determine how many mEq/L of Alkalinity your water has:
50.04345/61.01684 x 91 = 74.6344 mg/L (ppm) of Alkalinity
74.6344 mg/L / 50.04345 mg/mEq = 1.4914 mEq/L of Alkalinity

Next determine how many mEq's of Alkalinity you have in total:
1.4914 mEq/L x 34.069L =50.81 mEq's of Alkalinity

To hit pH 4.3 requires that you remove 50.81 mEq's of alkalinity, but to hit ~5.45 pH requires that you remove ~90% of this, so:
50.81 x 0.90 = 45.73 mEq's of Alkalinity are to be removed

Let's say you choose to do this via adding 88% Lactic Acid.
The acid strength of 88% Lactic Acid relative to a target pH of 5.45 is 11.487 mEq/mL

Therefore:
45.73 mEq / 11.487 mEq/mL = 3.98 mL of 88% Lactic Acid to be added (call it 4 mL)

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#### VikeMan

##### It ain't all burritos and strippers, my friend.
Sounds interesting. How do you do that exactly?
I don't know why you'd want to do that. You shouldn't be chasing an alkalinity number per se. You should be targeting a mash pH, which is affected by the water's total alkalinity, the salts added, acids (or bases) added, and the grain bill.

If you did take your water and titrate it to some particular endpoint with acid first, you'd generally still need to adjust the actual mash pH up/down to hit your target. You'd have gained nothing, and added an unnecessary step.

There is nothing special about 0 total alkalinity. I usually start with distilled water, which has 0 alkalinity. I still have to adjust each mash to hit its target pH (and the Ca/Cl/SO4 ion levels I want).

#### Silver_Is_Money

##### Larry Sayre, Developer of 'Mash Made Easy'
I don't know why you'd want to do that. You shouldn't be chasing an alkalinity number per se. You should be targeting a mash pH, which is affected by the water's total alkalinity, the salts added, acids (or bases) added, and the grain bill.

If you did take your water and titrate it to some particular endpoint with acid first, you'd generally still need to adjust the actual mash pH up/down to hit your target. You'd have gained nothing, and added an unnecessary step.

There is nothing special about 0 total alkalinity. I usually start with distilled water, which has 0 alkalinity. I still have to adjust each mash to hit its target pH (and the Ca/Cl/SO4 ion levels I want).
Correct to a degree, but certainly not to the degree of having accomplished nothing! @ajdelange determined that once alkalinity is addressed it 'generally' takes a huge pH adjusting variable off the table and thereby removes a burden from the plate of the software. One less variable for it to juggle. He called it the "The 0 Effective Alkalinity Method". He even garnered a "sticky" for it within this very forum. Here's the link:

The 0 Effective Alkalinity Method

It's not the entire solution just as you mentioned, but if a brewer is just learning to walk, it at least places them upright and on generally firm ground. And if their homebrew beer has been awful due to mashing at perhaps 0.3-0.4 pH points above target, and sparging with Alkaline water, addressing Alkalinity will assuredly help.

I'll admit that something along the lines of a Stout Porter or a Russian Imperial Stout would likely benefit from leaving the Alkalinity alone, but for pale colored beers it is a step in the right direction, and for mid colored beers it is likely to be the only adjustment required. It accomplishes a lot. Not everything, but well more than nothing.

Where we agree is that if you have a good grasp of software that addresses mash pH adjustments it is not necessary for the mash water, as thee software adjusts both grist and water to the pH target simultaneously. But it is still a major requirement to account for and adjust alkalinity for sparge water, albeit that once again decent software can do the work for you.

The bottom line though is that this is the science forum, and saying "just use software" is not contributing much to the science end of it. Give a man a fish and he has food for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will have food for a lifetime. He/She may even choose to develop his/her own software.

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#### Silver_Is_Money

##### Larry Sayre, Developer of 'Mash Made Easy'
As to chasing Alkalinity numbers, that seems to be far and away the 'homebrew' method used in the UK. They categorize "styles" as to ballpark mg/L (ppm) Alkalinity need, and adjust specifically via chasing Alkalinity by style. They rarely seem to bother with either software or pH meters. And they make good beer.

Rather than multiply by 90% whereby to hit ~pH 5.4 to pH 5.5 as I have done above, they subtract the target Alkalinity from the initial Alkalinity whereby to determine the Alkalinity to be removed (or added). This being for mash water only. The need to address alkalinity in sparge water is not changed by this approach.

Applying it to this case of 91 ppm Bicarb, (which for generally normal pH water is ~74.6 ppm Alkalinity), we may see the UK logic play out something akin to this:

Lager or Pilsner: Remove all but 10 ppm Alkalinity
Bitter: Remove all but 30 ppm Alkalinity
ESB or Brown: Remove all but 50 ppm Alkalinity
Dry Stout: Remove all but 70 ppm Alkalinity
Robust Stout or Porter: Add base whereby to hit 90 to 120 ppm Alkalinity
Russian Imperial Stout: Add base whereby to hit 120 to 200 ppm Alkalinity (depending upon deep roast robustness)

I'm not an advocate for this 'ballpark' method, but I'm merely stating that it seems to be highly popular in the UK. I'm sure that my guessed at alkalinity targets as seen immediately above can be improved upon and refined by a brewer in the UK. And more styles can be added by same...

The same math as I outlined above whereby to determine an acid addition still applies. And the 90% removal of Alkalinity still applies to sparge water.

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#### cire

##### Well-Known Member
I don't know why you'd want to do that. You shouldn't be chasing an alkalinity number per se. You should be targeting a mash pH, which is affected by the water's total alkalinity, the salts added, acids (or bases) added, and the grain bill.

If you did take your water and titrate it to some particular endpoint with acid first, you'd generally still need to adjust the actual mash pH up/down to hit your target. You'd have gained nothing, and added an unnecessary step.

There is nothing special about 0 total alkalinity. I usually start with distilled water, which has 0 alkalinity. I still have to adjust each mash to hit its target pH (and the Ca/Cl/SO4 ion levels I want).d result in an un
Except that it would be obvious to any experienced brewer that making a German Pils with either 35 ppm calcium and 9 ppm magnesium or 55 ppm calcium and 17 ppm magnesium when combined with 91 ppm bicarbonate would result in an unacceptably high pH when mashing. Why start there?

In 1880 in UK, the so-called "Mash Tun Act" in 1880, moved beer tax from malt to the output of the mash tun, water treatment was allowed because it was no longer seen as a means to avoid tax. Normal UK procedure was and still is to treat water before mashing.

#### VikeMan

##### It ain't all burritos and strippers, my friend.
Except that it would be obvious to any experienced brewer that making a German Pils with either 35 ppm calcium and 9 ppm magnesium or 55 ppm calcium and 17 ppm magnesium when combined with 91 ppm bicarbonate would result in an unacceptably high pH when mashing. Why start there?
If you know of any brewery that neutralizes all alkalinity with acid and then treats again, separately, for mash pH, please cite them.

In 1880 in UK, the so-called "Mash Tun Act" in 1880, moved beer tax from malt to the output of the mash tun, water treatment was allowed because it was no longer seen as a means to avoid tax. Normal UK procedure was and still is to treat water before mashing.
They may be treating water before the mash starts (most people do), but I guarantee they are not treating it twice (unless something goes wrong) and they are not simply starting with neutralizing all of the total alkalinity. No way.

#### chumpsteak

##### Well-Known Member
Sounds interesting. How do you do that exactly?
My water is like yours and I use phosphoric acid to set the brewing water to a desired pH before mashing. For pils I effectively eliminate the bicarbonate by adding acid to achieve a water pH of 5.5. For pale ales or IPA I set the water closer to 6pH. I used to dilute with or use straight RO, but I've found this acid method much easier to deal with and it provides great results.

#### VikeMan

##### It ain't all burritos and strippers, my friend.
For pils I effectively eliminate the bicarbonate by adding acid to achieve a water pH of 5.5. For pale ales or IPA I set the water closer to 6pH.
FWIW, you're more than offsetting the bicarbonate.

ETA: I assume that with your water, reducing the water's pH to these values gets you in a good mash pH range for the styles you mention, which is nice. But for others reading this thread, "not all 5.5 water pH is created equal." i.e. it's the buffering capacity that matters, and simply taking any random water's pH down to 5.5 (or whatever) isn't going to (usually) result in a good mash pH.

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#### Silver_Is_Money

##### Larry Sayre, Developer of 'Mash Made Easy'
I'm actually beginning to lean in the direction that if one carefully adjusts their Wort pH to a room temperature measured 5.2 pH downstream of the mash, and leading into fermentation, either pre-boil or sometime during the boil, that this is far more critical than mashing at the proverbial room temperature measured 5.4 pH (the precise target value of which I have also disputed in a few of my threads via using a multitude of industry level peer reviewed brewing documents, whereby I've concluded that 5.4 is for industry level brewers targeted at mash pH). But to get back on subject, in the book titled "Brew Like A Monk", on page 159 (plus also in at least one other place in the book) it is stated that the Rochefort Trappist Monastery intentionally mashes at 5.8 to 5.9 pH due to a combination of the characteristics of their grist and their waters relatively high Alkalinity, and only "mineral acid" adjusts (most likely with Phosphoric Acid) later on in the kettle (either pre or actually during the boil) such that 5.2 pH is achieved leading into fermentation. And Rochefort are nigh on indisputably ranked as producing some of the worlds absolutely best (albeit expensive) beers. Clearly mashing at 5.9 pH is not hurting their product.

#### Brooothru

##### Well-Known Member
IMO, that profile looks okay for a German Pils (though I personally wouldn't bump the Mg up).
That water profile, with regards to MG and alkalinity are almost identical to my well water. Although I usually use distilled or 50/50 distilled and house water for German lagers (except Dortmunder), I'm of the opinion that HCO3 is the least concerning water factor. It can be fairly easy to adjust with acid malt or simple lactic. But the only way for me to eliminate it entirely from my brew water is to start with distilled.

I've got a Helles recipe that calls for zero HCO3. I've brewed it with straight house water (HCO = 93 ppm) and the beer tasted fine.

Brooo Brother

#### cire

##### Well-Known Member
If you know of any brewery that neutralizes all alkalinity with acid and then treats again, separately, for mash pH, please cite them.
Please note the word "potentially" in my reply. Alkalinity in the OP's proposed profile was zero, not my chosen alkalinity.

I don't know of any renown British brewery that would add acid to a mash. Some add a preprepared quantity of salts to the grains or the mash, but alkalinity has by tradition been adjusted before mashing.

They may be treating water before the mash starts (most people do), but I guarantee they are not treating it twice (unless something goes wrong) and they are not simply starting with neutralizing all of the total alkalinity. No way.
Sorry, but I think we were at cross purposes.

#### cire

##### Well-Known Member
I'm brewing a German Pils and going for a crisp hoppy finish, so I am trying to match the "Yellow Dry" profile in Beersmith, Ca 50, Mg 10, Na 5, SO4 105, Cl 45, HCO3 0.
However, my home water is pretty far off from this: Ca 35, Mg 9 Na 69, SO4 22, Cl 83, HCO3 91.
With salt additions of gypsum and epsom salt I can get closer: Ca 55, Mg 17, Na 69, SO4 103, Cl 83, HCO3 91
This gives me a sulfate/chloride ratio of 1.2 as opposed to the 2.3 of the target
Obviously, I will never get down to zero bicarbonate unless I replace my water with distilled. My question is will there be a perceptible difference between an S/C ratio of 1.2 vs 2.3? Is it worth me shlepping to store and spending the money on distilled water?
My opinion is that 91 ppm bicarbonate has the potential to just tip the balance on a good liquor profile, but the outcome wouldn't be a disaster.

Your potential profile has 55 ppm calcium with 91 ppm HCO3 which, put in equivalent terms, has in one litre ( any influence of magnesium is ignored) 2.75 mEq from calcium and 1.49 mEq from alkalinity. Now alkalinity will raise pH three and a half times as much calcium will lower it, meaning its alkalinity has almost double the power to raise pH than calcium's ability to lower it. Therefore, whatever mash pH your grains would produce in purely distilled water, mash pH would be higher in the proposed profile.

Judicious use of acid will neutralize alkalinity and potentially negate the reason to use distilled water. Here in UK we will frequently use hydrochloric acid to reduce alkalinity and at the same time increasing chloride ions, or similarly use sulfuric acid and increase sulfate ions. By combining both acids, the sulfate/chloride ratio can also be varied. As already advised by @Silver_Is_Money, lactic and other acids are readily available and more commonly used outside of UK, but reducing alkalinity with any acid will reduce that liquor's ability to raise pH.

The data is for grains I currently use, but shouldn't be vastly different to many other malts. 100% of this malt mashed in distilled water should produce pH between 5.9 and 6.1 as in the link, but higher using your profile with 91 ppm HCO3. Reducing HCO3 by half, would balance the pH lowering power of calcium, so when mash pH should be similar to that in distilled water. If alkalinity was further reduce, mash pH should be lower than with distilled water.

I would not advise mashing a Pils between pH 5.8 and 5.9 and I doubt Rochefort do. The two are very different beers of course, with Rochefort the more forgiving, but Stan Hieronymus's book contains several statements different to other accounts in which I have more confidence.

By including a proportion of this malt would reduce pH, although it might not be desirable, but with its lower natural mash pH, it is something to consider.