Author Topic: Bear with me on a water topic...  (Read 1093 times)

Offline Village Taphouse

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Bear with me on a water topic...
« on: May 13, 2021, 11:47:47 PM »
Hello kids and welcome to another installment of WHAT THE #%@! IS KEN TALKING ABOUT. 

The topic is bicarbonate.  I know that I can "neutralize" it with lactic acid so I can reach a proper pH but adding lactic acid does not REMOVE bicarbonate, right?  If the answer is no and the level of bicarb is still as it was when the water was filtered from the source (140ppm for me) then the next question is:  Does bicarbonate contribute negatively to overall beer flavor?  Does bicarbonate contribute negatively to any other aspects of beer (mouthfeel, head formation and stability, clarity, etc)?  I made a helles a few weeks ago and used 25% distilled water which I had done a few times in the past with [what I concluded was] minimal effect.  That beer is now cold, carbed and kegged but I have not tried it.  I'm just curious about whether people with high levels of bicarb always dilute with distilled/RO, etc.  Thanks and Cheers Beerheads. 
Ken from Chicago. 
A day without beer is like... just kidding, I have no idea.

Offline HopDen

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Re: Bear with me on a water topic...
« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2021, 12:45:37 AM »
A few questions if I may,
How far down the rabbit hole are you with brewing? Is this just a weekend obsession or do you find yourself thinking about brewing often? I certainly don't know what your water profile is and it may be great water for brewing certain styles BUT, what about putting in a RO system and build all of your brewing water from there?

Offline Village Taphouse

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Re: Bear with me on a water topic...
« Reply #2 on: May 14, 2021, 01:09:05 AM »
I've been brewing since 1999.  Is it a weekend obsession or do I find myself thinking of brewing often?  Yes.  :D  Negative on the in-house RO system.  Too much waste and maintenance and I can get cheap distilled water which I know is ZERO ions.  My source water has modest numbers except for bicarb:  Ca 34, Mg 13, Na 12, Cl 21, CaSO4-S 27, bicarb 140.  I do make a lot of lagers... many of them gold (helles, pilsner, american lager, etc) and I'm curious about what people do with too much bicarb.  140 is not drastically high.  I have seen 350-400 for some brewers.  Cheers.
Ken from Chicago. 
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Offline HopDen

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Re: Bear with me on a water topic...
« Reply #3 on: May 14, 2021, 01:21:45 AM »
I've been brewing since 1999.  Is it a weekend obsession or do I find myself thinking of brewing often?  Yes.  :D  Negative on the in-house RO system.  Too much waste and maintenance and I can get cheap distilled water which I know is ZERO ions.  My source water has modest numbers except for bicarb:  Ca 34, Mg 13, Na 12, Cl 21, CaSO4-S 27, bicarb 140.  I do make a lot of lagers... many of them gold (helles, pilsner, american lager, etc) and I'm curious about what people do with too much bicarb.  140 is not drastically high.  I have seen 350-400 for some brewers.  Cheers.

Fair enough. Thats actually a nice profile. Very similar water profiles. I have high alkalinity in the 450 range and that is the reason I put in the RO system. For me it is the easiest route for water and I use roughly 29 gallons per brew day between mash and sparge so Im not lugging water.  Our city water is from 300' deep aquifers and besides the high alkalinity its great water.

Cheers Brew Brother!

Online RC

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Re: Bear with me on a water topic...
« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2021, 01:23:40 AM »
Yes, the lactic acid--any acid actually--removes the bicarbonate. When bicarbonate reacts with an acid, it gets converted into CO2 gas and water. It's like when you add vinegar (acetic acid) to baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). It fizzes and foams. That's CO2 gas being created.


Offline narcout

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Re: Bear with me on a water topic...
« Reply #5 on: May 14, 2021, 02:09:25 AM »
Does bicarbonate contribute negatively to overall beer flavor?

I asked Gordon Strong this question back in 2013 (here on this forum in the Ask the Experts section), and he replied, "Personally, I detest the flavor of (bi)carbonates in my water and my beer, so I try to avoid them."  Take it for what it's worth.

If you want to see his whole response, it is reply #35 here: https://www.homebrewersassociation.org/forum/index.php?topic=17065.30
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Offline majorvices

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Re: Bear with me on a water topic...
« Reply #6 on: May 14, 2021, 02:21:36 AM »
If you are using straight tap water you should try to brew in the color range your water is "meant for". There's some leeway there. For instance, you can use acids to adjust the pH down to a degree but if you add too much you will be able to taste the acid -- especially in the case with lactic acid. Adding minerals is fairly easy but taking them out is pretty challenging. If your water is very high in bicarbonate it's going to be best to dilute with RO or distilled water. There are ways to get around temporary hardness but they probably aren't cost effective.

My filtered tap water is perfect for amber colored beers with little or no adjustments. I'm lucky that I can made good pale beers with acid adjustments and good dark beers with mineral adjustments. Brewing commercially forced me to use those methods to brew a wider range of beers than what my water is suited for. Now that I'm homebrewing again I usually purchase RO or distilled and either cut my water or build from scratch for pale beers.

« Last Edit: May 14, 2021, 02:42:49 AM by majorvices »

Offline Joe Sr.

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Re: Bear with me on a water topic...
« Reply #7 on: May 14, 2021, 02:42:23 AM »
Yes. I have adjusted with lactic to the point you can taste it. Didn’t like that.


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Offline Village Taphouse

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Re: Bear with me on a water topic...
« Reply #8 on: May 14, 2021, 02:45:43 AM »
Yes, the lactic acid--any acid actually--removes the bicarbonate. When bicarbonate reacts with an acid, it gets converted into CO2 gas and water. It's like when you add vinegar (acetic acid) to baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). It fizzes and foams. That's CO2 gas being created.
This is interesting especially in light of the next post about Gordon Strong's response.  If I add lactic acid to my strike water (seems like 4ml is about the standard to get the mash pH into the 5.4 range at room temp) then I have either "neutralized" the bicarb or at least lowered it, correct?  This is what I'm after because if I have just lowered the bicarb's ability to buffer pH but the bicarb itself is still there... then my other questions would apply.  You can tell my science is not strong.
Ken from Chicago. 
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Offline Village Taphouse

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Re: Bear with me on a water topic...
« Reply #9 on: May 14, 2021, 02:46:25 AM »
Does bicarbonate contribute negatively to overall beer flavor?

I asked Gordon Strong this question back in 2013 (here on this forum in the Ask the Experts section), and he replied, "Personally, I detest the flavor of (bi)carbonates in my water and my beer, so I try to avoid them."  Take it for what it's worth.

If you want to see his whole response, it is reply #35 here: https://www.homebrewersassociation.org/forum/index.php?topic=17065.30
I plan to read this.  Thank you for the reply. 
Ken from Chicago. 
A day without beer is like... just kidding, I have no idea.

Offline dmtaylor

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Re: Bear with me on a water topic...
« Reply #10 on: May 14, 2021, 10:50:53 AM »
Yes, the lactic acid--any acid actually--removes the bicarbonate. When bicarbonate reacts with an acid, it gets converted into CO2 gas and water. It's like when you add vinegar (acetic acid) to baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). It fizzes and foams. That's CO2 gas being created.

^^ This. Bicarbonate contributes to alkalinity, raising pH. Any acid will neutralize it, turning it to CO2. As your brewing process travels through the various steps, mash, boil, fermentation, at each step along the way the pH is dropping all by itself as CO2 is released, whether the off-gassing is perceptible as it is during fermentation, or not.

I don’t give any thought to bicarbonate in the starting water. Focus instead on mash pH, that is where your tweaking might make a little difference, at least up front with respect to the mash process, if not later during boil and fermentation.
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Offline Silver_Is_Money

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Re: Bear with me on a water topic...
« Reply #11 on: May 14, 2021, 01:16:52 PM »
Yes, you are merely reducing the bicarbonate via acidifying.  To completely eliminate the bicarbonate ion species altogether requires that you acidify your water to pH 4.3, but most people choose to acidify their water to only around 5.4 - 5.7 pH.  At ~5.4 pH nearly 10% of initial bicarbonate still remains.

Offline Village Taphouse

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Re: Bear with me on a water topic...
« Reply #12 on: May 14, 2021, 01:32:43 PM »
Guys, thank you.  Let me change the angle a little bit and ask this:  Who here makes pale beers like helles, pilsner, American Lager with source water that has a decent amount (150-300ppm) of bicarbonate in it?  Have you realized that you need to dilute or do anything specific because of the bicarb?  I should say that I have made many good pale beers but I do wonder if the proper way to make better beers is to use source water that is softer.  I have a very pale beer coming up tomorrow (a sort of Caribbean Lager) and I plan to use two gallons (out of 7.5) of distilled just to soften the character.  Cheers & thanks again. 
Ken from Chicago. 
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Offline majorvices

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Re: Bear with me on a water topic...
« Reply #13 on: May 14, 2021, 02:13:00 PM »
Guys, thank you.  Let me change the angle a little bit and ask this:  Who here makes pale beers like helles, pilsner, American Lager with source water that has a decent amount (150-300ppm) of bicarbonate in it?  Have you realized that you need to dilute or do anything specific because of the bicarb?  I should say that I have made many good pale beers but I do wonder if the proper way to make better beers is to use source water that is softer.  I have a very pale beer coming up tomorrow (a sort of Caribbean Lager) and I plan to use two gallons (out of 7.5) of distilled just to soften the character.  Cheers & thanks again.

As I mentioned above I definitely have. Close to 150 ppm. At home I either cut my water or build it from scratch. Running a production brewery made it impossible to treat water to remove hardness so I used lactic acid to lower the pH down to about 5.4 in the mash. I then either used calcium chloride or gypsum depending on the beer I was brewing.

I was able to lower the pH without significant flavor issues. Our kölsch won a few gold and silver medals in competition. Our Tripel scored extremely high many times and came in 7th best out of 36 tripels ranked. of course you can get away with a harder water profile on that style but still, it's a pale beer all pilsner and sugar and a touch of rye. I also produced a canned Helles every year that is pretty popular.

While you certainly can adjust the pH and add acids to brew a pale beer with higher bicarbonates it is probably just easier to cut or build your water from scratch. Anything too much higher than 150 ppm and you should cut at least in half. anything approaching 300 ppm and you should probably just build it from scratch
« Last Edit: May 14, 2021, 02:17:30 PM by majorvices »

Offline Village Taphouse

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Re: Bear with me on a water topic...
« Reply #14 on: May 14, 2021, 02:27:47 PM »
Anything too much higher than 150 ppm and you should cut at least in half. anything approaching 300 ppm and you should probably just build it from scratch
Okay, bear with me on this piece.  If my bicarb is 140ppm and I use acid to neutralize the bicarb and get my mash pH to 5.4... and this REMOVES the bicarb... what would be the need to "cut at least in half"?  Did I potentially "cut it in half" (or more?) by neutralizing it with acid?  I realize that what I'm talking about is some fine-tuning but it goes back to what I mentioned in the OP.  If I start with 140ppm and I "remove some" of that by using acid... I assume that there is still some amount of bicarbonate left in the water and I wonder about the impact that might have on the beer.  How do I know how much of the bicarb has been removed by acid?  Is it ALL of it?  Is it just enough to move the needle on the pH meter and get it to 5.4?  MV, I think you just got to the heart of the issue for me but it's still a little murky. 
Ken from Chicago. 
A day without beer is like... just kidding, I have no idea.