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Advice on Water Test Results

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  • Advice on Water Test Results

    Fellow Probrewers,

    I need some advice as to a specific strategy on how to tackle our highly alkaline water. I know every water profile is different so before I go into what I’m thinking as of right now, here’s the results I received yesterday that are relevant to this discussion.

    Inorganics mg/L

    Total Alkalinity as CaCO3 260
    Bicarbonate Alkalinity as HCO3 310
    Carbonate Alkalinity as CO3 ND
    Hydroxide Alkalinity as OH ND
    Chloride 9.8
    Hardness (Total) 280
    pH 7.0
    Sulfate as SO4 11
    Total Dissolved Solids 330

    Metals - Totals mg/L

    Calcium 27
    Magnesium 52
    Potassium 1.7
    Sodium 9.6

    I’d like to produce a full spectrum of ales and have only produced one test batch with this water, which is fermenting as we speak. I didn’t test the pH of the mash, but I will on the next one. The level of extraction seemed to be just fine. The glaring issue I see is the Bicarbonate levels with a lack of Ca ions to balance it out. There’s already enough Mg in the water, hopefully not too much to give any harsh bitterness. My questions are:

    1) Do you think these results will require a means of treatment other than appropriately balanced additions of gypsum and calcium chloride (Given the low amounts of Chloride and Sulfate in the water currently and keeping those levels below 100 ppm respectively) to get the alkalinity down?

    2) Do you think this level of temporary hardness will be a significant problem for scaling?

    3) If so I was thinking that nanofiltration (I saw this mentioned in previous posts) would be the best way to go given it’s ability to remove molecules like bicarbonate, but allowing the smaller metal ions to remain. I also read it has a higher efficiency and lower cost than Reverse Osmosis. We have a 5 bbl system on it’s way in a couple months and already have a 1500 gallon water holding tank, as we are on a well in a rural area.

    Does anyone have a ballpark idea of what an appropriately sized nanofiltration system or RO system costs to install? How much to maintain on a monthly basis?

    I think my main concerns are the ability to get he mash pH somewhere in the mid 5’s when I need to, the build up of deposits in our pipes, hot liquor tank, heat exchanger etc., and the ability to produce lighter SRM beers. I know you can boil the water first, but that’s not very cost efficient or “green” for that matter. I also know that I can add lactic or phosphoric acid to bring down the pH if necessary as well, but I only want to do that if absolutely necessary and that won’t solve the potential scaling issue. I can use acid cycles on all the brewing equipment to combat that part of it, but the pipes leading up to it may still be a problem. I’m not looking to have the softest water in the world, just be able to make a variety of great ales without having to spend a ton of dough to get there.

    Other than this bicarbonate issue, the water looks pretty good right? Sort of a blank canvas really.

    Thanks All,

    Last edited by beereaucrat; 03-13-2012, 01:13 PM.

  • #2
    Thanks for the thorough reply. Very helpful. I have a few follow up questions.

    1) I have absolutely no clue what the cost is for these types of systems. Would you be able to give me a range?

    2) In regard to the Mg level, I've read a few different texts where some say the impact flavor changes around 30 ppm or even 50 ppm. I have also seen that Burton on Trent water has 62 ppm of Mg. Are there any other factors that influence this astringent flavor contribution? Is it that cut and dry? I ask because I just tasted my test batch of IPA using this water (It's almost to terminal gravity) and noticed no such flavor. I'll obviously let others try it to compare notes.

    3) When I do my next batch, this time measuring the mash pH and it's happens to fall in the 5's for whatever reason (if that's possible given the profile) should I care about the alkalinity?

    4) When doing salt additions using a program like Bru'n Water, you can target a certain residual alkalinity. Is there a number for residual alkalinity that is considered acceptable on the high end? That obviously would help determine if adding salts is an suitable answer or if that would cause other compounds like sulfate and chloride to get too high as a side effect.
    Last edited by beereaucrat; 03-13-2012, 04:35 PM.


    • #3
      Burton water can have high Mg levels (I worked in the town for many years) and we saw typical levels of up to 70mg/l from some wells. However we had others much lower (~30mg/l).

      After RO & addition of salts we aimed for around 20mg/l for Mg, 70mg/l for Ca with the addition of magnesium sulphate and calcium chloride to the RO product.

      Depending on the beer being brewed, further additions of CaCl and/or Na2SO4 were made to the mash liquor to give around 100-200mg/l Ca and similar levels for SO4.


      • #4
        Aside from the magnesium level, I agree that this could be a kind of blank canvas for you. It could be good. You will, of course, need to build your brewing water with various calcium salts. Aside from the main ones, consider the zinc levels, test for it if you haven't. Acidify to deal with the bicarbonate alkalinity as needed and I think you should be fine.

        Does your well have any periodic (seasonal or otherwise) variation? Will you be testing on an ongoing basis? Any nitrates/nitrites? Iron? Type of iron? How deep is the well?

        Try a bunch of different styles with your acidified and calcium supplemented water if you can before deciding what it is you do best with it. I agree that magnesium level may be a problem with less hoppy styles. Track/record pH's at every step of the brews. Focus on brewing and processing great beers, don't f*&k around with expensive water treatment equipment/regimes that will detract from your main focus and require ongoing testing and management, supplies and service etc. and perhaps also, cost you money you don't have.

        Perhaps when you buy a 50 bbl system.

        Honestly not trying to be a dickhead. Just food for thought.

        Best of luck,


        Liam McKenna


        • #5
          If we had the excess cash for an RO system and weren't going to be on septic, I'd seriously consider that route. The amount of water that goes down the drain with an RO system would pose it's own set of issues as production increases down the road.

          I just came back from a visit to Dust Bowl Brewery in Turlock, CA and had a good discussion with the Brewmaster there. He reached out to Dr. Michael Lewis (Who knows brewing chemistry like the back of his hand) at UC Davis regarding their alkalinity issues. His suggestion outside of RO was to take at least a portion of the next days brewing liquor the night before and bring it to a boil, turn off the burner and add appropriate amounts of Ca salts (without overdoing it of course) and then also a bit a of lactic or phosphoric acid. Then transfer it to the hot liquor tank. He's been able to get the lighter beers down to 5.5 on the mash pH. I got to taste a few while I was there and I couldn't detect any harshness. Our alkalinity levels are about 15% higher, but I'm thinking I'll try a similar strategy at first and see how it goes. That's what these test batches are for right?

          To answer your questions Liam:

          We plan on testing the water every 6 months as of right now. Perhaps would should do it more frequently? We were told it doesn't vary much by the county.

          Not sure how deep the well is, but there was no Iron detected at all and the Zinc was very low at 0.0085 mg/L. There weren't any results on the test for Nitrates/Nitrites, but with that being said, we went to the local water board and they guided us on what we should test for in that specific location so I think we should be good there.

          You're aren't being a dickhead, you're just keepin it real. I can appreciate that.

          Thank you all for the responses so far everyone. This is why the brewing community f*king rocks.



          • #6
            As far as the Mg levels go.... my next test batch is an American wheat beer so I'll know soon enough if we're going to be able to pull off light/non hoppy beers. Keepin my fingers crossed!