Sunday, September 14, 2008

Homebrew Water Treatment – A Practical Guide


I think that water treatment has made the biggest impact on the quality of my beers (besides fermentation temperature control and pitching more yeast). It has the greatest impact on very pale or dark beers, which both taste much smoother now that I adjust the various levels of ions in the water. That said if you are either just starting out or simply can't be bothered rest assured that you can still brew some very good beers without worrying too much about your water (read #6 anyway).

Most of the water guides out there in books and online tend to be heavy on the “why” and light on the how. What follows is the water treatment process I go through for most of my batches.

It is aimed at all-grain brewers. Malt extract contain all the minerals that were concentrated from the water that was used to brew it, so ideally you would be using distilled or reverse osmosis (RO) water to reconstitute it. You can still add some salts to the boil for flavor, but in most cases if you are using moderate tap water you probably already have more than enough ions.

In my experience it is not a good idea to copy historic or famous water sources (Dublin, Munich, Burton-on-Trent etc…). The brewers in these areas often go to great lengths to treat their water to make it suitable for brewing, it is much easier to start from your local water and tweak it to make an ideal water for the beer you are brewing. I have made several below par beers simply by dumping water adjustment salts (Epsom Salt, Table Salt, Calcium Chloride, Gypsum, Chalk, and Baking Soda) with no real concept of what levels were right for the type of beer I wanted to come out with, don't let this happen to you.

1. Research your water. The important ion concentrations to find out are calcium, sulfate, sodium, (bi)carbonate, chloride, and magnesium. I have always been able to get this info for my tap water off the city's water department website. ProMash has a very helpful tool that will calculate your Ca, Mg, or Alkalinity based on CaCO3. If your water department doesn't have a site, or the site doesn't have all the ions listed, trying emailing, or calling them. As a last resort you can send your water to a testing company like Ward Labs (Either test W-6 or W-5A).

2. Determine what flavor ions you want in your beer. Calcium, magnesium, and carbonate primarily effect the pH of the mash, the other three are just there for flavor. Here are my suggestions for various types of beer:

Sulfate - Hoppy beers get 175 ppm, moderately hoppy beers get 75 ppm, and low hopped beers get less than 50 ppm.

Chloride – Hoppy beers get less than 50 ppm, moderately hoppy beers get 75 ppm, and low hopped beers get 100 ppm.

Sodium – Hoppy beers get less than 30 ppm, moderate hop/malt beers get 50 ppm, and very sweet/malty beers get 75 ppm.

3. Determine your estimated Residual Alkalinity. To do this John Palmer has a great spreadsheet on his website. Use any brewing recipe software to determine the SRM (color) of your recipe, then input this number into the spreadsheet, the spreadsheet will give you a range of RA, I just take the average of the high and the low.

4. Determine the rest of your water profile. Tweak the target water profile in the Residual Alkalinity spreadsheet until the RA matches the estimate needed for your beer. Adding calcium with lower the RA, adding carbonate will raise it. Magnesium will lower the RA as well, but it is much less effective than calcium and can give an off flavor if there is too much of it so I rarely go above 15 ppm. The spreadsheet also tends to require huge amounts of carbonate to get the RA high enough for very dark beers, but I haven’t found it necessary to go over 300 ppm. All beers need some calcium (it helps enzymes in the mash and promotes yeast health) so even if you need a high RA I would not go below 40 ppm calcium. If you have a lot of carbonate in your water you may want to dilute it with some distilled or reverse osmosis water to lower the number, it is hard to brew a very pale beer with more than 75 ppm carbonate.

5. Determine your salt additions and/or dilution. Enter your water (from step 1) and your target water (from step 4) into the free program BreWater 3.0. The program has a wizard that will automatically determine how much of each salt you need to add to reach your target water profile (a bit of rounding on your part is fine). If you have too much of any ion your best option is to dilute the tap water with store bough distilled or RO water. If you add a significant amount of pure H2O it is always a good idea to add some yeast nutrient blend, near the end of the boil, which will replace the trace elements that tap water contains (copper, zinc etc…) which are used by the yeast.

Steps 1-5 should be completed before you start brewing. Steps 6-10 are done on brew day, although 6 and 7 could be done the night before if you want to have your water and salts prepped.

6. Remove the chlorine/chloramines from your water. A carbon block water filter is the easiest way to accomplish this. In the long run it is much cheaper than a standard Brita/PUR filter and it filters water much faster. There are chemical and heat options as well, but I haven’t had great luck with campden tablets and pre-boiling the water seems like more effort than it is worth. This is also a good time to add any distilled/RO water. This may be the most important step as chlorine compounds can combine with phenols from the yeast or malt and create horrific medicinal chlorophenols.

7. Weigh out the salts on a gram scale. There are volume equivalents available for the weights, but since you are dealing with such small amounts it is best to be as precise as possible. I like to weight out each salt individually and then add it to another bowl. Divide the custom salt blend into two dishes by weight, one for the mash water and one for the sparge divided in the same ratio as the water. For example, if you will be using 3 gallons to mash followed by 6 gallons to sparge you should add 1/3 of the salts to the mash, and the rest to the sparge.

8. Mash in, mixing the malt, hot water, and the mash portion of the brewing salts. Wait 5 minutes for the pH reactions to take place, pull a small sample of wort, cool to room temperature in a bowl, and take a pH reading (I use Color pHast strips, but a pH meter is an option). A pH of 5.5 is optimal at room temp, which is equivalent to a pH of 5.2 at mash temps, but anything within .2 up or down of that is fine.

9. If the mash pH is on target, let the mash rest as normal (this happens for me 90%+ of the time). If the mash pH is too high add ¼ tsp of phosphoric acid, stir and take another reading, repeat until the pH is low enough. If the mash pH is too low, add either chalk or baking soda ¼ tsp at a time until the pH is high enough. It would be a good idea to note how much change each addition causes so you can use this information next time.

10. Add the rest of the salt blend to the sparge water, some salts may not dissolve completely in water so it is worth giving the water a stir occasionally to keep them evenly suspended. I also add phosphoric acid to lower the pH of my spage water below 7 if I am making a very pale beer. The amount of acid you need will depend on the buffering capabilities of your water, it takes about ¼ tsp of 10% phosphoric acid per gallon to lower the pH of my water enough.

If you want a more technical “why” discussion of water treatment, take a look at How to Brew by John Palmer or New Brewing Lager Beer by Greg Noonan, both of which are very in depth and do a good job explaining things like why calcium lowers the mash pH or how to calculate salt additions by hand.

50 comments:

DavidP said...

While I haven't tried campden tablets for chlorine/chloramines I've had great success with Chlor-Out, a product used to treat fish tank water - available at Wal-Mart. It comes in liquid form and uses about 1/2 teaspoon for a 5 gallon batch.

DT said...

Awesome man, I actually just downloaded the water reports for up here a couple of weeks ago and was planning on sitting down to analyze them. Being my first time, your post is super timely! If you've got any tips for the New England water, let me know.

Josh said...

Agh! Add a title to this post so it shows up in my RSS reader. :[

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

-Nice tip on the Chlor-Out, seems like a better chemical option than Campden Tablets. Although I figure the carbon filter is also taking out other undesirable compounds from the water.

- Metro-Boston water is pretty moderate, I didn’t screw with it too much unless I was doing something really dark or something really pale.

- Just added a title, sorry about that. I had written a draft of the post Friday, so I had to create a new post last night so it would show up as being posted Sunday, I just forgot to transfer the title over.

Alan said...

Great tips, Mike. I have been making my own water profiles for a while with great results but I have picked up some excellent tips from you. Thanks!

Cheers,

Alan

Thom said...

I use Campden Tablets to dechlorinate and they appear to work quite well, I think.

What kind of problems have you encountered with them?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Everyone else who tries Campden tablets seems to have good results withy Campden, but I tried it twice and had two batches that didn't start fermentation until I pitched more yeast a few days later. I'm not sure if it is something about my water (DC Tap) or my technique (crushed up and stirred into the water several hours before the start of brewing), but it just didn't work for me.

Thom said...

I thought you would refer to a flavour issue rather than a process concern.

I don't make wine, but the bottle of Campden Tablets I have suggests that it can be used to cease fermentation when used in high concentrations so I suppose there is chance it could prevent yeast activity.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Campden certainly can be used to kill yeast at the right dose, 1 tablet per gallon was enough to stabilize my Brettanomyces spiked Russian Imperial Stout when it got to the FG I was looking for. That said, for water treatment I used the recommended 1 tablet per 20 gallons of brew water, which according to everyone I talked to shouldn’t be enough to impact the yeast after the wort is boiled.

Thom said...

I use 1/2 a tablet per 20 litres which seems to work as evidenced by the lack of swimming pool aroma and flavour from my heavily chlorinated municipal supply.

I think a carbon filter might be the way to go for me in the long term, though.

Steven said...

great tips this article should be in the instructions of Palmer's spreadsheet

James said...

Awesome post. My county water report is uninformative when it comes to mineral content. Based on your advise I sent in a sample of my water to Ward Labs last week. I just got the results of my household mineral test back yesterday. turns out I have very soft water; great for a pilsener. Now I can finally start dialing in my water...

Dan said...

I have read HTB and listened to all four water episodes on the BN's Brew Strong. I've been fiddling with the spreadsheet for hours. You've got a gift for explaining things, man. Within 5 minutes I was able to dial in my salts for my brew session this weekend. Thanks for the post.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

No problem Dan. What are you brewing with the modified water?

dunleav1 said...

" If the mash pH is too high, add either chalk or baking soda ¼ tsp at a time until the pH is high enough. "

Don't you mean if the mash PH is too low?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Thanks for catching that (either of those will raise the pH), it is fixed now in the post.

Shawn said...

when you carbon filter your water you remove more than just chlorine. You remove minerals too, don't you? I checked the pH of my water before and after it went through a brita filter. Before the pH was ~8.5 and after ~7.1.

How do you control for that?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I have a carbon block filter which (as far as I know) does not remove any minerals.

Brita filters, in addition to the activated carbon, have an ion exchange resin.

Here is a quote from the FAQ page on Brita ( http://www.brita.net/uk/faqs_household.html?L=1#6 ):

Does the removal of temporary hardness affect calcium levels?

Yes, but mostly in the form of temporary hardness or limescale which is not a good source of dietary calcium. This will not have a significant effect on the calcium intake of those on a normal diet.

Roger said...

Hey Mike,
I love your website. It has become my new, go-to site for detailed information. You have a really easy to understand way of teaching and keeping track of the details. Thanks from all of us who benefit from it.

As for campden tablets, I understand they immediately break chloramine and chlorine into free chloride ions. The sulfite then gets boiled out. Our municipal water supply uses chloramine, and I know well the chlorophenol taste from not using a campden or active charcoal filter. However, in no cases have my yeast been affected by campdens that I can attest to. There should be nothing left by the time they are hitting the wort to make beer.

FWIW, that's how I understand it, but I am no means a chemical engineer... cheers!

FelipBorncois said...

Great post! I've been read the whole h20 chapter from palmer's book and this post and have filled out the RA spreadsheet. Unfortunately, now I"m having an issue figuring out what 'salts' to use to modify my water. I live in the valley in Los Angeles and we have good water for making pale ales from what I've read through the past few days research, and I believe all I need to do is make up around 200 points of calcium to hit my target range. Where can I find more information, or a better calculator for salt additions? Unfortunately the one you listed is only for PCs from the 18th century ;) and I'm on a Mac these days. Thanks in advance for a response, I have been reading your blog archives everyday for quite some time but this is my first comment.

cheers!
-fb

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Most homebrewing software (e.g. ProMash, BeerSmith, etc.) have modules that can help you calculate how various salt additions will affect your profile.

200 ppm calcium is a lot. If the problem is that you have too much carbonate raising your RA. I’d rather cut with distilled water, or add acid to drop the pH, rather than adds loads of calcium salts.

Good luck!

FelipBorncois said...

Thanks for your response! I think I'm finally getting my head wrapped around this situation. From what I've heard (from John Palmer) nailing your RA and chloride to sulfate ratio is 99% of the battle. So, I live in L.A. and already have a high sulfate content: 242ppm and a 74.5ppm chloride count. After looking at your "Pliny The Water" profile I see that you have a 2.635:1 ratio of sulfate to chloride. So can I simply add some calcium chloride to my profile to bump it to 102ppm which would give me the same 2.635:1 ratio that's in the Pliny profile (this is for an IPA btw). Also, I can simply add some lactic acid to balance my RA.

Thanks, you truly are the man!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

One of my pet peeves is the sulfate to chloride ratio idea. To take an extreme example, it just doesn’t make sense to me that a beer with 10 ppm sulfate and 5 ppm chloride would have the same flavor as one with 500 ppm sulfate and 250 ppm chloride (even though they have the same 2:1 ratio). Give it a shot, and see if you like the results, you can always tweak subsequent batches.

Martin said...

Thanks for that text, quite helpful!
I've used campden tablets as well and on the hefeweizen and on the enkel I brewed this summer I find a medicinal aftertaste (bandaid like). Maybe maltier or hoppier beers hide the problem?

Anyways, I'm going to filter all my next batches.

Dr Jacoby said...

Why do you split the mineral salt additions between the mash and the lautering stages? I would have thought that the mineral salts are required mainly for the mash. Sometimes I add extra salts to the boil to compensate for losses to the grain bed in the mash, but I don't understand why you would need to add salts to the lautering water.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

There are different schools of thought on when to add minerals. You could certainly determine different ideal profiles for the mash and sparge. pH is still an issue for the sparge, so if you are adding minerals (calcium, magnesium) that help to lower the pH, they may be valuable in the sparge as well as the mash. Some brewers acidify their sparge water to reduce tannin extraction, which would make this unnecessary. You are correct that if you don't have a good reason to add flavor minerals (sulfate, chloride) to the mash, then they are fine to add directly to the boil.

Dr Jacoby said...

Reading up on this, I found the following on a blog by an Irish brewer (http://blackcatbrewery.blogspot.ie/search?q=calcium): "Increasing calcium values to 200 mg/l has shown to increase run off from the mash tun, improve extraction and also increase free amino nitrogen - an essential nutrient for yeast. As the the wort gravity decreases during run off the pH tends to increase, promoting the undesirable extraction of tannins and silica from malt husks. However, it has been noted that increasing calcium in sparge water to 200 mg/l can prevent the wort pH increasing and reduces the extraction undesirable compounds."

This offers a nice explanation of why calcium additions are important for the sparge. It seems that if the goal is to maintain the correct pH level for sparging, then it is advisable to calculate how much calcium should be added to the sparging water to help maintain an appropriate pH level once the first runnings have been drained away. This would probably be achieved using your method, almost be default. Moreover, a significant portion of the calcium added to the sparge water is likely to make its way into the boil, reducing the need for subsequent additions.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Well said, and thanks for the link as well.

Chris J. said...

Nice write-up. It answered a couple questions I had lingering..

1) Whether to mix in the water additions with the mash, or with the strike water as it is heating.

2) How to divide the total calculated additions between mash and sparge water.

One question I still have though is if the basic process you outlined changes if you were to start with 100% RO or Distilled Water? Is it essentially all the same steps, but with higher additions to make up for it?

If I am using a water-spreadsheet would I just enter a 0 for all of the minerals when asked for starting water profile then continue from there?

I saw your mention about the importance of yeast nutrient when using RO/DI water, but other than that are there any other things to be mindful of?

Cheers!

-Chris

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Distilled is mineral free across the board, but that isn't necessarily the case for RO. As far as I'm aware RO is low, but still have a small percentage of whatever was in the water it was produced from. Probably close enough to just call it distilled and boost additions to hit your targets from there. Other than nutrients, nothing else you need to do differently.

Joe said...

what type of off flavor does magnesium produce? Is it a mineral flavor?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

How to Brew describes magnesium as giving a "sour-bitter" taste at higher levels. I've never pushed it close to the 50 PPM level John Palmer cites for that though. You could certainly dose a fermented beer to taste the flavor. Not sure what if anything it does at lower levels (other than lower the mash pH and serve as a yeast nutrient). I also see some discusion that you can get quite a bit of Mg from malt, so not sure it is worth adding more.

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lifefermented said...

Hey Mike, great post. I did a little mini-series on water treatment myself if any of your readers are interested. I know it always helps me to hear a few different voices when I am researching: http://lifefermented.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/baking-experimentally-part-1/

Paul said...

What are you using to boost sodium? I used baking soda in a recent brew and it taste pretty awful and salty.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

How much did you add? it doesn't take much. Never had a problem adding baking soda in dark beers. The carbonate it contributes isn't great in paler beers pH-wise. Table salt (sodium chloride) would be the standard if you didn't need carbonate. What sort of PPM were you shooting for for sodium?

Paul said...

It was for a malt forward pale ale that came in about 10 srm with 35 ibu's. I have had great luck following your recommendations before so I shot for 75 ppm sulfate, 75 ppm chloride, and 50 ppm sodium. The beer isn't terrible it just seems salty and leaves me thirsty (for water or something besides the salty beer.) First time I had this problem but I think may have figured it out. I already calculated raising my chloride to 75ppm with calcium chloride. Does baking soda raise both sodium and chloride?

Paul said...

nevermind it looks like baking soda only raises sodium. I'm stumped then.... I added it to the boil only because my PH was already perfect...

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I'd guess that the addition of baking soda pushed your pH higher than it should have been. Sure pH of the mash is important for enzyme activity, but the boil pH and final pH are important as well. Try dosing a small amount of acid into the glass to see if that makes the beer crisper and more refreshing.

Paul said...

Thanks, will do. I don't know what I was thinking I think I was just playing around with different additions in ez water and realized baking soda could help boost sodium without thinking about other consequences such as ph. Since adjusting my sulfate and chloride and treating chlorine I have noticed a significant increase in the quality of my beers so thanks again!

Karl Howard said...

Awesome post. But too awesome, as a beginner, the more I read it, the more I have to worry about something I hadn't even thought of before. I'm too pedantic to shrug and just use tap water as-is though.

I'm in Slovenia now and I'm trying to just focus on finding out if there's Chlorine/Chloramine in the tap water, and if so figuring how I want to go about removing it. Also, I got a lab report listing Sulfate (12.4mg/l), Chloride (13.8 mg/l) and Sodium (4.8 mg/l) I'm about to try a very hoppy IPA. According to step 2, the Chloride and Sodium levels gets a big thumbs up, but the Sulfate is way below target. Should I worry about that?

Many Thanks

water purification large scale said...

Very useful blog. As long as the river is reasonably free of chemical pollutants then you would be fine. However, if there is farms or ranching nearby, or industrial chemical pollution, you would need a filter that can deal with these contaminants. Many water purification filters claim to remove chemical contamination through use of charcoal filter elements. First Need and MSR are two brands I know off-hand that can remove chemicals as well as protozoa and bacteria. Good day!~ Charles Edmund

lifefermented said...

Whoops, just noticed I gave the wrong link to my water treatment posts before. I go a bit more in depth with the science, and I think it complements this post well. The proper link:
Water treatment at Life, Fermented
Sorry for the mix up and happy brewing. -Dennis

celine sanderson said...

You are so helpful! Keep up the good work, loved the blog. I've been wondering about how water treatment will help our health. Any ideas or references?

Jack said...

I know this is an old post, but as a chemist, I am compelled to write that no sulfite survives the boil. It is a very heat labile compound and decomposes into sulfur dioxide which evaporates out of the kettle.

I don't know why those two batches failed to take off, but the fact that you used campden to treat the water is coincidental. As you have mentioned, no one else that you know has encountered a stuck fermentation due to campden.

I love your blog, especially because you approach brewing with scientific principles in mind. Unfortunately, I think that you missed the mark by blaming campden tablets without good evidence or any research into the matter. I'm not posting this as a "one-up" but rather as a public announcement to the many readers of your blog.

Please keep brewing and writing so I can keep reading! Happy New Years!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Thanks, but it doesn't change the fact that I'll never add campden tablets to my brewing water again. Carbon filtration accomplishes the same result, and it has worked for me.

Brewing is part science, art, and raft. To me the science is valuable in informing your process and recipe, but the beer in the glass is the biggest driver of what I do.

Michael Pratt said...

Hi Mike

I was wondering what your thoughts were on Gordon Strong's take on water treatment? Apparently he uses all RO water to mash and typically (but not all the time) uses 1 tsp calcium chloride for malty beers and 1 tsp gypsum for hoppy beers in the mash. I am generalizing what he recommends with the salt additions, but the biggest thing Gordon questions is why we are mashing the dark or crystal grains at all? From what I remember, he recommends adding the non-diastatic grains at mash out similarly to stepping them in an extract recipe, and not worrying about making too many adjustment to the water on account of the dark grains. Of course I am generalizing what he recommends and not speaking the whole picture, but I'm sure you ran across it when you where reviewing his book. I was hoping to get your input on what he suggests.

Love the website by the way and thanks for all your posts!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Hard to argue with him considering the medals he has won and the fact that I've never had a beer he's brewed. Give it a try, if you like the results, keep doing it!

Derek Sharpie said...

best water purifier i've tried and i'm sticking to is berkey water filter. Instatly purifies water from any source including stagnant water.

Hannah Tess said...

R.O water system is really the best as it can remove contaminants such as arsenic, nitrates, sodium, copper and lead, some organic chemicals, and the municipal additive fluoride.

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