Author Topic: At a crossroads for adjusting my brewing water....  (Read 1272 times)

Offline Steve L

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At a crossroads for adjusting my brewing water....
« on: August 07, 2014, 06:07:16 PM »
I've been using Walmart spring water for a couple of years to brew with. It was fairly modest in its cations and anions and had an alkalinity of 170. It was pretty easy to dilute to get the alkalinity I was looking for. Now my local walmart has switched vendors. This is the new water report:

Alkalinity: 22
Bicarbonate: 27
Calcium: 16
Chloride: 1
Sulfate: 2.8
Magnesium 1.8
Sodium: 2.3
PH 7.3

apart from a bit of hardness and a wee bit of Calcium, This stuff is darn near RO water. I think It's time for me to just start building from RO and not worry about it. With my previous water I never had to worry about adding Chalk, Pickling lime or baking soda. I was curious as to everyones opinions on their favorite. I feel the Chalk is out due to the trouble getting it to dissolve. Between Lime and Baking soda, Which is preferable?

Thanks!
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Re: At a crossroads for adjusting my brewing water....
« Reply #1 on: August 07, 2014, 06:17:44 PM »
Pickling lime is somewhat more dangerous in terms of safe handling, but Denny swears by it for his darker roastier beers.  Use them both (trying separate batches) and decide what works best for you!  I have only used the baking soda, but that is because it was what I had on hand when I made my last batch of heavy roast...I will have to follow my own advice here and brew an oatmeal stout soon!
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Offline HoosierBrew

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Re: At a crossroads for adjusting my brewing water....
« Reply #2 on: August 07, 2014, 06:37:19 PM »
I've been using baking soda with good results lately for dark beers. Martin says to be sure to keep Na levels under 50ppm, but if you use RO water, it's not hard to do that even on a dark beer.
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Offline Steve L

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Re: At a crossroads for adjusting my brewing water....
« Reply #3 on: August 07, 2014, 07:04:35 PM »
Cool. The nice thing is that both lime and baking soda are cheap.
2 other questions:

1. If lime is used and added after the mash, will it precipitate out any calcium?

2. Would it be possible to just mash any grains that require conversion which may require a lower alkalinity and then add in roasted/dark grains that do not require conversion but just steeping. Essentially doing a base malt mash with lower alkalinity water, kinda like Gordon outlines in his book? Could you do this with all beer styles?

« Last Edit: August 07, 2014, 07:15:40 PM by swlusk »
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Offline beersk

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Re: At a crossroads for adjusting my brewing water....
« Reply #4 on: August 07, 2014, 07:15:55 PM »
I've been using baking soda with good results lately for dark beers. Martin says to be sure to keep Na levels under 50ppm, but if you use RO water, it's not hard to do that even on a dark beer.
Agreed. I don't understand all the hate for baking soda. You don't have to use that much and it raises the pH and alkalinity enough with small doses. And it's cheaper and safer to handle than pickling lime...

I'm planning to start using distilled water because you can never really trust the water to even be RO on those machines. You just don't know how much they pay attention to keeping the filters up-to-date.
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Offline mchrispen

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Re: At a crossroads for adjusting my brewing water....
« Reply #5 on: August 07, 2014, 07:20:35 PM »
1. Martin recommends the additions in the heating strike water on his Facebook page. I have been using this technique to good effect. That said - I know some highly awarded brewers that mix the minerals into the grist before mash in.


2. Yes, Gordon recommends this for roastier/acrid malts, but I have found good results with them in the full mash period. If you have any alkalinity to speak of - use them to our advantage. Be aware that even late mash additions MAY drive your boil pH lower than intended, which can mute some flavors you may wish to highlight. I prefer to deal with everything in the mash, and not afraid to use a little pickling lime or baking soda in the mash... however only when my mash pH estimate is at least 0.1 pH unit below my desired target.


My suggestion is to experiment to decide for yourself...
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Offline HoosierBrew

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Re: At a crossroads for adjusting my brewing water....
« Reply #6 on: August 07, 2014, 07:23:15 PM »
I've been using baking soda with good results lately for dark beers. Martin says to be sure to keep Na levels under 50ppm, but if you use RO water, it's not hard to do that even on a dark beer.
Agreed. I don't understand all the hate for baking soda. You don't have to use that much and it raises the pH and alkalinity enough with small doses. And it's cheaper and safer to handle than pickling lime...

I'm planning to start using distilled water because you can never really trust the water to even be RO on those machines. You just don't know how much they pay attention to keeping the filters up-to-date.

Yeah, I think if somebody were using their tap water which already had some sodium and then using baking soda for a dark beer, you could end up with overly high levels of Na. But with RO or distilled , I don't see it happening. I brewed a stout last winter where I mashed all the malts together, and the baking soda it took to get me to 5.5 pH gave me ~ 47ppm Na. Beer came out great - maybe the best stout I've made. As for the RO filter issue, I agree - so I bought a $20 TDS meter from Amazon to test the RO water from the store each time. Now I can buy RO water with confidence.
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Offline Steve L

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Re: At a crossroads for adjusting my brewing water....
« Reply #7 on: August 07, 2014, 07:50:32 PM »
For me, The baking soda sounds a better way to go. I think I will try it on my next brew. Worst case scenario, I try it and don't like the resultant flavor from the added sodium and I move to lime. Although, I can see the benefits of lime in really dark stouts. Just happy to have a game plan! :)
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Offline beersk

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Re: At a crossroads for adjusting my brewing water....
« Reply #8 on: August 07, 2014, 08:20:48 PM »
I've been using baking soda with good results lately for dark beers. Martin says to be sure to keep Na levels under 50ppm, but if you use RO water, it's not hard to do that even on a dark beer.
Agreed. I don't understand all the hate for baking soda. You don't have to use that much and it raises the pH and alkalinity enough with small doses. And it's cheaper and safer to handle than pickling lime...

I'm planning to start using distilled water because you can never really trust the water to even be RO on those machines. You just don't know how much they pay attention to keeping the filters up-to-date.

Yeah, I think if somebody were using their tap water which already had some sodium and then using baking soda for a dark beer, you could end up with overly high levels of Na. But with RO or distilled , I don't see it happening. I brewed a stout last winter where I mashed all the malts together, and the baking soda it took to get me to 5.5 pH gave me ~ 47ppm Na. Beer came out great - maybe the best stout I've made. As for the RO filter issue, I agree - so I bought a $20 TDS meter from Amazon to test the RO water from the store each time. Now I can buy RO water with confidence.
I should get one of those meters... I just might. I want to try using distilled once, see how I like it. I probably won't notice a difference, but who knows. Sucky thing about distilled is you have to buy the jugs and can't fill a 5 gallon deal like I do with RO. But then again, I walk to the store to get my water, so carrying all that water just isn't practical, which is why I've been using tap water lately. My tap water is decent, but I'd prefer to start from a blank slate and not have to worry about seasonal variations.
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Offline mabrungard

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Re: At a crossroads for adjusting my brewing water....
« Reply #9 on: August 07, 2014, 08:27:21 PM »
To the OP, I'm assuming that your tap water is not ideal for brewing. But what are the actual problems? If it's a question of overmineralization and high alkalinity, then maybe your solution to the overly low alkalinity in that new Walmart water is blending? That is the first place I would seek my alkalinity.

The second option would be to use baking soda, since its readily available. As Jon pointed out, it is important to keep the sodium level modest in most cases. The thing he didn't point out is that if you are adding sparging water to the mash, then the baking soda free sparging water addition will dilute that high sodium content that may exist in the mash. The resulting sodium content in the kettle can be much lower than that required in the mash due to the baking soda use. The supporter's version of Bru'n Water includes this dilution feature, so that you know what your ending sodium content is in the kettle and you can safely add extra baking soda to the mash to meet your pH target. The next supporter's version will be even better. Be aware that the free version is probably never going to be updated. There are good reasons to become a supporter.

By the way, you really have to push the sodium level well above 100 ppm to have any significant taste effects and they only rear their head when you also have a lot of sulfate in the water. Don't be too afraid of sodium. That 50 ppm level is safe.   

Yes, Pickling Lime does have to be added directly to the mash or you will cause calcium in your existing water to precipitate out. But in most cases, you are starting out with a water like RO or DI and you don't really need to worry about precipitating calcium out. I still add my lime directly to the mash.  PS: All the rest of your mineral and acid additions should be added to the water BEFORE you add the grains. This helps assure that you get all the additions completely mixed and dissolved in the water and EVENLY distributed in your mash. DON'T add minerals to the mash and expect to be able to mix everything well. Matt already proved that it is very difficult to get the additions mixed in the mash.

Gordon's method is good in Dry Stouts and in beers where you DON'T want the roasty flavors in your finished beer. But it is generally a poor substitute for getting the water chemistry correct in the first place and mashing the dark grains in the main mash. In addition, the recipe is likely to need to be modified with much higher dark grain content to account for the poorer color and roast flavor extraction that Gordon's method produces. It is not a panacea. BETTER CHEMISTRY = BETTER BEER
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Offline Steve L

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Re: At a crossroads for adjusting my brewing water....
« Reply #10 on: August 08, 2014, 12:34:22 AM »
To the OP, I'm assuming that your tap water is not ideal for brewing. But what are the actual problems? If it's a question of overmineralization and high alkalinity, then maybe your solution to the overly low alkalinity in that new Walmart water is blending? That is the first place I would seek my alkalinity.

The main reason I had to start using bottled water was that our area is chock full of red dirt and the well water is high in iron and routinely leaves a reddish stain. Also, we have a neighborhood well system that routinely gets flushed and treated by the water company. I have no idea what they use but it makes for a VERY inconsistent water profile. I just don't trust it. It's drinkable, but still an unknown from week to week. I called my water company for a water report and all they would provide was a list of testing for contaminants. They were less than helpful.
I'm not sure I understand blending. Is this pretty much the same as dilution?
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Offline tutsbrew

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Re: At a crossroads for adjusting my brewing water....
« Reply #11 on: August 28, 2014, 01:52:36 AM »
Here's what I've managed to build that makes a GREAT amber, IMHO:

http://www.brewersfriend.com/mash-chemistry-and-brewing-water-calculator/?id=XNXVX8Y
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