Author Topic: RO vs. Tap Water?  (Read 987 times)

Offline mdbrew

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RO vs. Tap Water?
« on: November 21, 2013, 10:48:59 PM »
I have been brewing for about 9 months now and have just started doing all-grain batches (I've done 3 so far).  The beer has come out well and I really enjoy the process and learning more about how to make excellent beer.  Up to this point, I've been using 50% tap water and 50% RO water from the store.  I have been checking the mash pH and it has been around 5.6/5.7 each time.  I've been using the paper testers, which I know aren't super accurate, but at least I think I'm in the ballpark.  I finally decided to get my water tested and just got the results back from Ward Labs.  Here is a brief overview of the results:
pH = 7.4
Na = 29 ppm
Ca = 31 ppm
Mg = 8 ppm
HCO3 = 117 ppm
SO4 = 2 ppm
Cl = 38 ppm
Total Hardness (CaCO3) = 111 ppm
Total Alkalinity (CaCO3) = 96 ppm

So, is there any advantage to working with my tap water to get the right ion balance and mash pH level or would I be better off starting with a clean slate (i.e., RO water) and building from there?  I just started reading Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers by Palmer and Kaminski, so it's possible I may find an answer in there.  However, I thought I'd check to see what other people think.  Any suggestions or additional information would be greatly appreciated - thanks!
Primary: n/a
Secondary: English Bitter
Bottled: Rogue Dead Guy Clone, Honey Bee Ale, Cream Ale, Octoberfest
Next up: Doppelbock

Offline singletrack brewer

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Re: RO vs. Tap Water?
« Reply #1 on: November 22, 2013, 05:04:13 AM »
Your water isn't too far off from what we have at our brewery.  Not surprising though since you are also in Maryland.  Anyway, I don't see any issues using your water as is and adjusting from there.  Two great tools to use are Bru'n Water and a calculator from Brewer's Friend.  Here are the links:

https://sites.google.com/site/brunwater/
http://www.brewersfriend.com/mash-chemistry-and-brewing-water-calculator/

Both are pretty user friendly, I think, and should assist you in nailing your mash pH and your chloride to sulfate ratios to achieve specific flavor profiles. The book about water is also great and should greatly assist you.  However, we are always available to help when you need it. 

Just something to keep in mind when tackling water, and this is my approach so it's definitely not gospel.  I mainly adjust my water for yeast health and flavor contributions.  Meaning I don't get too wrapped around the axle about Residual Alkalinity or how close I am to certain historic water profiles.  I find that my beers never turn out tasting like someone just dumped a bunch of minerals in it or like alka seltzer.

I'd also suggest obtaining a pH meter and there are several discussions here on the forum about that. You don't need to spend a ton of money on one but my suggestion would be to get one that is easily calibrated and has a replaceable electrode. 

Hope all this has helped some and I know that there will be other brewers that will also chime in to help fill in some of the gaps. 
Chris
Brewer, Push Brewing Co

Online mabrungard

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Re: RO vs. Tap Water?
« Reply #2 on: November 22, 2013, 06:44:08 AM »
That is great water excepting for the alkalinity level. None of the flavor ions are at significant levels, so they generally won't get in the way. You should boost the calcium and can boost some of those flavor ions as you see fit. Just a bit of acid in the mash and sparging water will make a HUGE difference in the outcome of your beers.  Bru'n Water has the calculators needed to allow you to confidently define those acid additions. 
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Offline mdbrew

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Re: RO vs. Tap Water?
« Reply #3 on: November 22, 2013, 05:15:38 PM »
Thank you both for the advice!  Based on your feedback, I think I'll stick with my tap water and use the RO water for sparging.  I have already played around with the calculator on Brewer's Friend and just downloaded the Bru'n Water spreadsheet, so I'll play around with it as well and see what I can come up with.  I also agree about the pH meter; I've had in on my list of things to get, so maybe for Christmas this year?  I'll definitely look through the previous discussions and see what the general consensus is.  I really appreciate the comments and advice!
Primary: n/a
Secondary: English Bitter
Bottled: Rogue Dead Guy Clone, Honey Bee Ale, Cream Ale, Octoberfest
Next up: Doppelbock

Offline punatic

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Re: RO vs. Tap Water?
« Reply #4 on: November 22, 2013, 11:42:10 PM »
If your tap water comes from a municipal system it will have chlorine in it.  If that is the case, be sure to dechlorinate your water.
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