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General Category => Ingredients => Topic started by: Philbrew on November 20, 2014, 06:01:36 PM

Title: brewing with well water
Post by: Philbrew on November 20, 2014, 06:01:36 PM
Newbie here, Hermiston, Oregon.  I want to start home brewing (5-6 gal batches) ales and lagers using extracts.  I'm too lazy to boil 6 gal. of well water (from softener) to sterilize.  I read that 1/4-1/2 of a campden tablet will kill bacteria in that amount of water.  Will that affect yeast?  Our well water tastes good(after softener) but can sometimes get a funky odor in our water in the summer.
Title: Re: brewing with well water
Post by: a10t2 on November 20, 2014, 06:16:55 PM
Sulfiting at the recommended dosage (one tablet per gallon, BTW) will definitely inhibit yeast; that's what it's for. What effect it will have at <10% of that dosage, I'm not sure.

But softened water isn't appropriate for brewing anyway. Too much sodium, and it won't do anything about alkalinity, which is likely also too high when dealing with hard water. For extract brewing, that doesn't matter too much, so I'd start with your un-softened water and mix in some distilled or RO water if you have flavor issues.

As far as sanitizing, I'm assuming you're going to start with partial boils. The water used in the wort will be sanitized by boiling, and you can freeze the top-off water a couple days ahead of time to both sanitize it and get a head start on chilling.
Title: Re: brewing with well water
Post by: jimmykx250 on November 20, 2014, 06:17:15 PM
I'm on a well and have the same issues as you. I have just been buying 5 gal jugs of Hinckley and Schmidt and the bal is from the softener and I have no problems. 
Title: Re: brewing with well water
Post by: dmtaylor on November 20, 2014, 06:46:43 PM
It sounds like you want to do no-boil with extract.  I've never tried this before, but I think it could work, if you pay extra special attention to sanitation and yeast health, and don't take any shortcuts.

Like you were thinking, you'll need to pre-treat all of your water with Campden.  The right dose I believe is 1-2 tablets per gallon, crushed, and you'll want to add it to all of your water in bulk about 2-3 days ahead of time.  Otherwise if you don't wait for days, the Campden will kill your beer yeast in addition to everything else.

Softener water is okay, but like a10t2 said, it might end up tasting salty from the sodium.  You could counter this by adding RO or distilled water, perhaps at a 50/50 ratio.  I would not use your raw well water, which I would guess is relatively hard and nasty.  Soft water is a must for extract beers.

Sanitation of your fermenter and stirring spoon and all equipment will be of the utmost importance.  Use a good quality sanitizer such as StarSan to sanitize everything in accordance with manufacturer's instructions.

Yeast is another factor.  You'll need to pitch sufficient healthy yeast.  You can use the calculator at mrmalty.com to ensure you're using enough yeast.  If you use liquid yeast, a yeast starter is absolutely essential -- not optional.  If you use dry yeast, you'll need to pitch enough packs of it per the calculator.  Don't skimp on the yeast.

Let us know how it turns out.  I'm curious to learn more about no-boil brewing, if that is indeed what you are trying.

I would also encourage you to reconsider not wanting to boil.  There are lots of advantages of heating and boiling, including hop bitterness, ability to steep specialty grains or mini-mash, beer clarity... the list goes on.

Also consider whether you might be a good candidate to boil half your recipe (e.g., just 3-4 gallons) then top up with another 3 gallons clean sanitary water after the boil.  Then you receive most of the advantages of both methods.
Title: Re: brewing with well water
Post by: Philbrew on November 20, 2014, 10:18:49 PM
Thanks (to all) for the good info.

 No, I'm going to boil a couple gal. of brew water to dissolve the extract and do the hops.  I just didn't want to boil (and cool) the whole d*mn 5-1/2 gallons.  Sounds like the smart way might be to boil 2-3 gal. of softened well water for the malt and hops and make up the rest with RO water from Wallymart.  I assume the water I see folks buying at Walmart is RO.
Title: Re: brewing with well water
Post by: HoosierBrew on November 20, 2014, 10:28:03 PM
I vote to use all RO water, to avoid both softened or straight well water (as you describe yours). You'll make better, more consistent beer.  My $0.02
Title: Re: brewing with well water
Post by: Philbrew on November 21, 2014, 04:56:49 AM
Yeah, your 0.02$ could be worth $$$ in end results.  I just checked the price of RO water at Wallymart and it's only 0.37$ /gal..  Much cheaper than extra yeast!  And, yes, consistency rules!  Well, after sanitizing.
Title: Re: brewing with well water
Post by: klickitat jim on November 21, 2014, 05:04:22 AM
Greetings from a little west of you.
Title: Re: brewing with well water
Post by: mabrungard on November 21, 2014, 03:15:14 PM
The common (and typically correct) perception of ion-exchange softened water, is that it is not suited for brewing. It often has a high sodium or potassium content and elevated alkalinity. However, not all users have a water softener to remove excess calcium or magnesium. Some users have an ion-exchange softener to remove iron and manganese and their water is otherwise soft.

If the OP's water in Hermiston is full of iron or manganese, then the softened water may not have that much sodium or potassium in the treated water and it may be suited for brewing use. In that brewer's case, I suggest that the softened water be sent off for lab testing to see if it is usable for brewing. If the sodium content is less than about 50 ppm, it could be used with little ill-effect.
Title: Re: brewing with well water
Post by: pete b on November 21, 2014, 03:35:58 PM
I have a water softener and my sodium is only 65ppm. For the beers I make that's fine, I usually just need to add gypsum to boost the calcium and sulfate. If I was making a light lager I would probably dilute with ro or distilled.
Title: Re: brewing with well water
Post by: Philbrew on November 21, 2014, 05:51:46 PM
mabrungard, thanks MUCH for your input and especially the link to Bru'n Water.  This page (https://sites.google.com/site/brunwater/water-knowledge ) was very helpful.