Author Topic: When you've adjusted your brewing water, what was the outcome?  (Read 1258 times)

Offline Joe_Beer

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When you've adjusted your brewing water, what was the outcome?
« on: February 12, 2021, 12:12:14 PM »
I sent in a water sample to Wardlab and got back the results below. I've plugged the numbers into the BF calculator (https://www.brewersfriend.com/water-chemistry/) but looks like my Na and HCO3 are just too high (https://imgur.com/a/CANYdv1) unless I play with the "Percent Dilution", which I'm assuming is distilled water and not Vodka.

I generally brew IPAs but selecting the "Light and Hoppy" target (for doing something like an NEIPA I guess?) seems to be pointless without using like 90% distilled water. For another $1.29 I might as well go with all distilled water and call it a day.

I've been home brewing for about 6 months now and not really getting the hop character I'm looking for. I've tried several varities of hops in various amounts in the boil (7oz), hop standing and dry hopping (6 oz) and the bitterness is about all that really changes. From what I'm seeing in BF, I suspect my water just isn't cut out for hoppy beers.  For ~$10 bucks of distilled water every batch I'm thinking of just installing a small <$100 Reverse Osmosis unit in the basement and let it make water when I'm not brewing (going to the store for RO water isn't an ideal option right now).

Am I being too picky or is this a pretty typical situation?
I'm really curious how y'all have made changes to your brewing water and what the outcome was in your beers. Significant? Hardly any?


pH                                     7.9
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) Est, ppm  397
Electrical Conductivity, mmho/cm       0.66
Cations / Anions, me/L/                6.9  7.2

Sodium, Na                 167
Potassium, K               < 1
Calcium, Ca                0.5
Magnesium, Mg              < 1
Total Hardness, CaCO3      3
Nitrate, NO3-N             1.3
Sulfate, SO4-S             4
Chloride, Cl               13
Carbonate, CO3             < 1.0
Bicarbonate, HCO3          369
Total Alkalinity, CaCO3    310
Total Phosphorus, P        < 0.01
Total Iron, Fe             < 0.01
« Last Edit: February 12, 2021, 12:17:38 PM by Joe_Beer »

Offline dmtaylor

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Re: When you've adjusted your brewing water, what was the outcome?
« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2021, 12:42:27 PM »
I'll be perfectly honest... I know a bit about water, I understand it, I've fiddled with salt and acid additions over the years, and........

I'm not sure I can taste anything different as far as quality or perceptions of hops, malt, whatever else.

I've not run side-by-side comparison experiments to know for sure what all this water chemistry stuff is doing, but I am inclined to conclude....

Water chemistry probably just doesn't matter all that much, to the average person in real life.  This is assuming you've get the basics down, like: you need to get rid of any chlorine, and you don't want to use terribly hard water, or water that tastes like iron or metal.

Not many people will agree with me... but their opinion doesn't matter.  *I* agree with me.  That's what matters.   8)

In your specific case above, yeah, your sodium and alkalinity are disturbingly high.  You'll want to dilute with distilled or RO water and adjust from there.  Or, just start from distilled or RO.  Or, just brew with it anyway, add some acid and/or dark roasted malts to counter the alkalinity, and hope for the best.  It will probably turn out okay honestly no matter what you do with it IMO.  It's not terrible water.  I've seen far worse.
« Last Edit: February 12, 2021, 12:46:55 PM by dmtaylor »
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Offline jeffy

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Re: When you've adjusted your brewing water, what was the outcome?
« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2021, 01:47:55 PM »
Also, the RO water from the machine in front of the grocery store is $1.35 per 5 gallons around here.  No need to pay so much for distilled.
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Offline hopfenundmalz

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Re: When you've adjusted your brewing water, what was the outcome?
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2021, 03:18:16 PM »
The combination of low Ca, but high Na and HCO3 says you sent in softened water. Is that correct?

Hardness is not a concern, you want CA and a little Mg. That big HCO3 number is not good for brewing lighter colored beers.

The HCO3 number is close to what I have for tap water. I gave up on it, and bought RO water, then bought and RO system to avoid hauling jugs of water. Some breweries in the area drop the HCO3 with phosphoric acid, that is one other solution.
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Offline goose

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Re: When you've adjusted your brewing water, what was the outcome?
« Reply #4 on: February 12, 2021, 03:25:22 PM »
The combination of low Ca, but high Na and HCO3 says you sent in softened water. Is that correct?

Hardness is not a concern, you want CA and a little Mg. That big HCO3 number is not good for brewing lighter colored beers.

The HCO3 number is close to what I have for tap water. I gave up on it, and bought RO water, then bought and RO system to avoid hauling jugs of water. Some breweries in the area drop the HCO3 with phosphoric acid, that is one other solution.

+1.  I was going to say the same thing that it might be softened water, Jeff.
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Offline Joe_Beer

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Re: When you've adjusted your brewing water, what was the outcome?
« Reply #5 on: February 12, 2021, 03:49:23 PM »
The combination of low Ca, but high Na and HCO3 says you sent in softened water. Is that correct?

I comes out of a whole-house carbon filter on the cold faucet.... but... when we bought the house a decade ago, I thought the water softener was only piped into the hot water heater. I've been trying to figure out why the dang sodium is so high on this report and you just made me realize I should probably take a closer look at how that water softener is plumbed! Good grief.

Hardness is not a concern, you want CA and a little Mg. That big HCO3 number is not good for brewing lighter colored beers.

The HCO3 number is close to what I have for tap water. I gave up on it, and bought RO water, then bought and RO system to avoid hauling jugs of water. Some breweries in the area drop the HCO3 with phosphoric acid, that is one other solution.

Thanks! I'll bring up the CA and Mg. I have plans to pick up something to address the pH. I've been using lemon juice a few times with those paper test strips that everyone tells me to get rid of (and yeah, they are hard to read and not sure how accurate they are) but not sure it's actually doing anything, because the strips suck... I just haven't gotten around to finding a bargain price on one of those pH meters yet. I'll double check the pH on the next batch, just for fun, to see how close the strip is.

PS: isn't the sulfate to chloride ratio important for hoppy IPAs? Both my SO4 and Cl are low according to the BF calcultator
« Last Edit: February 12, 2021, 03:53:18 PM by Joe_Beer »

Offline pete b

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Re: When you've adjusted your brewing water, what was the outcome?
« Reply #6 on: February 12, 2021, 04:54:30 PM »
I have a whole house water softener but it tests at 65ppm for Na.
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Offline rburrelli

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Re: When you've adjusted your brewing water, what was the outcome?
« Reply #7 on: February 12, 2021, 05:45:31 PM »
You can reduce the bicarbonate levels by pre-boiling. I think that would bring it down to by about half. It would also reduce calcium so more would be needed to be added back in.
« Last Edit: February 12, 2021, 06:54:45 PM by rburrelli »
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Offline kramerog

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Re: When you've adjusted your brewing water, what was the outcome?
« Reply #8 on: February 12, 2021, 07:00:21 PM »
I'm not convinced that the sodium level is a big deal. The bicarbonate level is way high except perhaps for the darkest beers and can be addressed with lactic or phosphoric acid. Calcium is way low for ales the recommended minimum is 50 mg/l.

The unsoftened water might be unusable.

Offline Silver_Is_Money

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Re: When you've adjusted your brewing water, what was the outcome?
« Reply #9 on: February 13, 2021, 11:56:51 AM »
Not that this is going to matter to anyone other than me, but Ward Labs quite sloppily got the mEq ratios of the Cations and Anions reversed on the report they gave to you.

Na+ is a Cation with a molecular weight (MW) of ~23.  167/23 = 7.26 mEq/L

The HCO3+ Bicarbonate Anion has a MW of ~61, and 369/61 = 6.05 mEq/L
The Cl- Anion has a MW of ~35.45, and 13/35.45 = 0.37 mEq/L
Your SO4-- Anion is actually 3 x SO4-S, so it is 12 mg/L
The SO4-- Anion has a MW of 96, and a valence of 2, so its EQW = 96/2 = 48.  12/48 = 0.25 mEq/L
Your NO3- Anion is actually 4.4 x NO3-N, so it is ~5.7 mg/L
NO3- has a MW of 62, and 5.7/62 = 0.09 mEq/L

Summing up these Anions gives us:  6.05 + 0.37 + 0.25 + 0.09 = 6.76 mEq/l

Additionally, in the real world Cations must precisely equal Anions.  That they do not indicates the margin of error in their report.

I agree that this is a report of resin bed softened water.
« Last Edit: February 13, 2021, 12:02:37 PM by Silver_Is_Money »

Offline hopfenundmalz

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Re: When you've adjusted your brewing water, what was the outcome?
« Reply #10 on: February 13, 2021, 04:15:35 PM »
You can reduce the bicarbonate levels by pre-boiling. I think that would bring it down to by about half. It would also reduce calcium so more would be needed to be added back in.

Almost no CA to precipitate the HCO3 as CaCO3 when boiled and cooled.
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Offline Robert Klinger

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Re: When you've adjusted your brewing water, what was the outcome?
« Reply #11 on: February 16, 2021, 11:07:16 PM »
I don't understand why this topic keeps coming up. Get Martin Brungard's Bru'n water, pay him for it. Learn how to use it,install an R.O. system, listen to Brulosophy, and then make some great beer. What is the big problem.

Offline dIPA2

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Re: When you've adjusted your brewing water, what was the outcome?
« Reply #12 on: February 16, 2021, 11:10:56 PM »
I'll just chime in to say that, with my tap water it made a huge difference. I had an off-smell/off-flavor in every beer I brewed for almost a year (was using a carbon filter in a new house) until I got a water test kit from Lowe's. My tap water was ~100 times higher than the recommended range for copper and iron. I switched to RO water and problem solved. Obviously, this is not the case for everyone, but water is important. I doubt there is a brewery in the world that doesn't pay attention to water chemistry, and if there is, they either got lucky with their water or their beer is not as good as it could be.

Offline Joe_Beer

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Re: When you've adjusted your brewing water, what was the outcome?
« Reply #13 on: February 17, 2021, 12:47:29 PM »
I don't understand why this topic keeps coming up. Get Martin Brungard's Bru'n water, pay him for it. Learn how to use it,install an R.O. system, listen to Brulosophy, and then make some great beer. What is the big problem.

I'm finding that the homebrew process is constantly evolving. From secondary practice, to hop utilization, to fermentation, stuff that waa figured out 15 years ago is not the same any more. Being able to ask questions here is priceless. Especially since joining a homebrewer's club right now is kinda hard to do. Search engines can only get you so much. There isn't enough time in the day (especially raising kids) to go through millions of hits on "home brew water recommendation". So, I glean what I can from it and when something is contradictory, or confusing, I ask it here and everyone's been patient and helpful (I do try the search engine here first before posting but it's a bit limited too).

Martin's spreadsheet is awesome. I have donated to it, even though I haven't used it yet, because it does come highly recommended by folks up here and I'm sure once I unpack this whole water thing, It will be super userful to me.

I looked into RO systems for a bit but first I need to address why my water seems to have come out of the softener. I don't know if the issue is related to the mixing valve on the laundry room faucet (looks like it could be from the 80s yet), or if this is due to the plumbing somewhere. I'm not so sure the household should be drinking softened water 24/7 for and extended period of time. I have a test kit ordered and going to see what the sodium level is from different places in the house.

So, the big problem is that we don't have a perfect system where one can filter what they see, and another can't know everything that's already been asked ;)

Offline Joe_Beer

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Re: When you've adjusted your brewing water, what was the outcome?
« Reply #14 on: February 17, 2021, 12:52:49 PM »
I'll just chime in to say that, with my tap water it made a huge difference. I had an off-smell/off-flavor in every beer I brewed for almost a year (was using a carbon filter in a new house) until I got a water test kit from Lowe's.

This is good to know! I'm hopeful changing up my water some will improve things. My beers come out enojoyable, but man, I had a can of Toppling Goliath's Mosaic IPA last weekend and was like WOW! I want my hops to come through like that!

I have a test batch in the fermenter right now that I substituted two gallons of my salty water with distilled. The BF spreadsheet suggests it should improve things so we'll see.