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Water Treatment

PostPosted: Fri Apr 18, 2014 23:19
by Aleman
I'm going to throw some words of caution in here. This will come across as a bit fatuous but what the heck.

"Unless you understand water chemistry, don't offer people advice based on what you do with your water, for your beers." It may, probably will, be wholly inappropriate for another brewer based in a completely different area of the country, with a completely different water profile, and a completely different requirement to you.

Now for the second fatuous statement "Unless you are brewing consistently good beers with a minimum of water treatment, don't bother going any further" Seriously, there are a lot more fundamental things to get right first, before water treatment will make a significant difference to the end result. (unless you live in certain regions and want to brew at the extreme ends of beer styles)

Now for the third fatuous statement "If you are going to ask questions about water treatment, try and learn the terms that are used so that you can follow the discussion" . . . . .

Here we go

Hardness This is the level of calcium and magnesium ions in the water. you need a minimum of 50-60ppm of calcium for the brewing processes, in the mash fermenter and storage, and magnesium is an important element for enzyme function, but you only need ~5ppm. These levels can be supplied by the malt, and most water supplies in the UK have an adequate level as they stand. Hardness is GOOD for Brewing

Alkalinity. This is the level of bicarbonate and carbonate ions in the water. Alkalinity buffers the pH of the mash (and subsequent steps) and prevents it from falling in the proper range of 5.2-5.7 (mash - measured 10 minutes after the start). A high pH can cause the extraction of tannins and other compounds from the grain which can cause astringency and hazes. Alkalinity is BAD for brewing

Generally, but not always - Burton is a prime example, hardness and alkalinity go hand in hand, if you have hard water you have a high level of alkalinity. Another degree of confusion is also added into the mix by the water companies (and other water labs) who adopted the convention of reporting hardness and alkalinity as if it were contributed wholly by calcium carbonate "as CaCO3" if you have a hardness value on your water report you cannot use it as your alkalinity, they are two completely separate things that are reported (for the sake of convention) as if they are the same thing. Don't get sucked in, If you see "Hardness as CaCO3" on your report ignore it. Stick your fingers in your ears and say very loudly "LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA" over and over again until you forget all about it.

Get an alkalinity test kit and use it each and every time you brew

pH. The level of hydrogen ions in the water, this really has no bearing on brewing, so is best ignored as far as water treatment is concerned. It has a bearing on enzyme performance in the mash, but cannot really be adequately measured using pH strips, as the acids in the mash swamp the indicators used on the strips.

Simple water treatment can be described as follows - assuming you have water with a reasonable amount of hardness and a moderate alkalinity level.

  1. Remove Chlorine - Nice and simple one, if you can smell chlorine when you run your cold tap at full bore into a bowl in the sink you need to treat your water. . . . You may decide to treat it anyway as a precaution. The simplest solution is to use a campden tablet, and simply crush this into the HLT or Boiler before you fill it. One campden tablet will treat 17UK Gallons at a chlorine level of up to 3ppm
  2. Reduce Alkalinity - As a generalisation, the paler the beer the lower the alkalinity needs to be to allow the mash pH to fall into the correct range. Lagers need something like 10-20ppm and stouts like 100-125ppm. So how can you reduce it?

    1. Boiling breaks up the hydrogen carbonate ion driving off of carbon dioxide, and precipitates calcium carbonate. Particularly effective if you add a tsp of gypsum or calcium chloride before boiling . . . you need to let it cool and rack off the chalk before using . . . Don't forget to measure the alkalinity once you have boiled it, so that you know it's beef effective enough.
    2. Adding an Acid The hydrogen ions from the acid react with the bicarbonate ion to produce water and carbon dioxide which is driven off when you heat the liquor for the mash. The reaction is pretty much instantaneous and does not require any input of energy. Pretty much any acid can be used, however, some are more flavour neutral than others. Hydrochloric, Sulphuric, and, some authors include, phosphoric are very flavour neutral. Lactic, Citric et al have a flavour profile that will transfer through to the beer. As little as 6ml of 75% lactic leaves an obvious 'infected' flavour in 50L of pilsner. As long as you are only reducing the alkalinity by a small amount in dark beers then any acid can be used, as you start reducing the alkalinity further then you have to consider which acids are appropriate. CRS or AMS is a mix of sulphuric and hydrochloric acids which give a fixed ratio of sulphate and chloride in the liquor. This may or may not be what you want in your beer, and may well make it impossible to hit the desired mineral profile without adding an excess of calcium salts, so again is really only appropriate for moderate alkalinity reduction.

    Any good water treatment calculator will tell you how much acid to use to reduce your measured alkalinity, always add 2/3rd's of the acid you get told, measure the alkalinity again and then add the final amount. Ofttimes it appears that the acid strengths reported on the container are not what is actually inside, and you do not want to be over or under treating your water.
  3. Adjust Calcium levels You do this by adding calcium salts of the 'flavour' ions. The two prime flavour ions are sulphate, which increases the perception of hop bitterness and palate dryness, and chloride, which increases the perception of maltiness and palate fullness/roundness. If aiming for a hoppy pale beer then you need to add calcium sulphate (gypsum), if you are brewing a dark malty mild then use calcium chloride. If your calcium (hardness) level is already high, then you need to be careful about adding more, and should consider diluting your water before you start to allow you to get the sulphate:chloride balance where you want it.

If the OP's Hardness is truly that high (420ppm) then he needs to take a combination of approaches. Firstly dilution using either RO water, available from a decent aquarist retailer, or a bottled water of known LOW alkalinity like Tesco Ashbeck or Asda Smartprice. at a ration of 1:1. This will reduce everything in the water by half its value, and means that the amount of acid needed to reduce the alkalinity needed for the beer will be much lower and using the appropriate acid below any flavour threshold. I don't think that boiling is going to be that effective and surmise that a large amount of the hardness is permanent hardness (calcium combined with sulphate Ala Burton and Munich) rather than temporary hardness. While boiling will reduce any temporary hardness present (not eliminate) it will not touch the permanent hardness, which means the only effective way of reducing the hardness (and sulphate levels) is through dilution.

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Fri Apr 18, 2014 23:28
by Aleman
Hardness GOOD! Carbonates BAD! Removing hardness using a filter is not a good thing for beer. . . Removing alkalinity (carbonates) is a very good thing. Most water filters that remove hardness do so using ion exchange and the cheaper ones (and those that do not say what they do) usually swap sodium for calcium in a 2 for 1 deal . . . . Sodium above 50ppm can have a detrimental effect on beer quality . . .if you have 150mg/l calcium (hardness) and you filter then you could have 300mg/l Sodium . . . The better filters use a decent deionising resin which swap cations for H+ and Anions for OH- . . .but these need more frequent changing

Randomly choosing a bottled water from a supermarket is really just playing Russian Roulette with what water you are using. The cheap value waters change composition as the supermarket changes source, if you get used to brewing with one water, you may suddenly be surprised when the beer quality goes downhill.

Two that a known for their stability, and suitability as a base water for making good beer are ASDA Smart Price and Tesco Asbeck. Both are low mineral content water which means that ideally you need to add a tsp of gypsum to the mash and one to the boil for all beers apart from pilsners when you will want to use calcium chloride.

Remember that for kit beers there is no real reason to use anything other than tap water to make them up

The main purpose for water treatment is to ensure the mash pH falls in the right range . . . which tends to imply that all the other reactions subsequent will be all right. One reason you might want to use a consistent low mineral content water for kits is that, in theory, the kit manufacturer has already supplied all the minerals required in the kit, so you don't need to add any more.

If you do use tap water to make up your kits then remember to treat for chlorine with 1/2 a campden tablet in 10 gallons.

Water composition varies quite dramatically within a region as different areas are supplied from different sources, one person may have soft water (supplied from the moors) and another only a couple of miles away may have hard water (Borehole supplied)

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Fri Apr 18, 2014 23:33
by Aleman
oldjiver wrote:I understand that the hardness is in the form of Calcium bicarbonate (which is soluble) and boiling knocks off one of the carbon atoms making it Calcium carbonate (which is not soluble) so it drops out.
(can any scientific folk add to this?)


Never ever ever mention hardness in the same sentence as carbonates!!! They are two separate things that are only coincidentally related.


Burton water has high hardness (Calcium > 250ppm), but low (ish) carbonate/bicarbonate as the calcium is partnered with sulphate (permanent hardness rather than temporary).

Boiling splits a bond in bicarbonate (HCO3-) to leave CO2 and OH- . . the CO2 is driven off

2 HCO3 -> (CO3)2 + CO2

The carbonate reacts with calcium to form calcium carbonate, which precipitates . . . but you do need to cool the water and leave it somewhere still for it to form.

You can estimate the effect of boiling for decarbonation (removing bicarbonate) by the following formula: boiling will remove all but about 30 to 40 ppm of carbonate-bicarbonate; at the same time, it will remove 3 ppm of calcium for every 5 ppm of carbonate. For example, if your water has a total alkalinity of 150 ppm, boiling will remove 110 to 120 ppm of that amount. At the same time, the calcium content of your water will be lowered by 66 to 72 ppm.

It is alleged that it is possible to reduce the alkalinity down to 50-80ppm through adding gypsum and boiling hard for 30 minutes . . . but having tried it in East Anglia found that the practical limit was around 135mg/l . . . making it a pretty ineffective method compared to say acid treatment, especially when you consider the energy used to do so.

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Fri Apr 18, 2014 23:42
by Aleman
Aleman wrote:There are two lots of additions on to the mash tun and one to the boiler, we don't add all of them to the mash or in the sparge water as a) some are difficult to dissolve if you already have a high calcium content, and b) due to reactions in the mash some will be trapped in the mash which could lead to a deficiency in the boiler, so we split it into two additions.

chastuck wrote:What is this "deficiency in the boiler" that adding salts to the boiler is attempting to cure? I have been all-grain brewing for over 40 years now, and what you are saying goes against all I thought I have learnt over those years, including an early period in my working life when I worked in a large commercial brewery.

I'm more than happy to provide the information :whistle: I've highlighted the bits that take place outside of the mash and sparge ;)

Hardness in brewing water (i.e calcium and magnesium content) has the effect of reducing the pH (raising the acidity) of the mash and wort compared to distilled or alkaline water. This generally favours mash enzymes and there is some improvement in extract yield; slightly increased free amino nitrogen (FAN); lower wort colour (boil);better and more rapid mash/wort separation; superior formation of breaks during boiling (boil); brighter worts (boil); and more rapid onset of fermentation, yeast growth, flocculation (fermentation), and more efficient use of finings(boil/fermentation). Calcium precipitates oxalate, which might otherwise crystallise in the beer. Lower pH also serves to extract less harsh bitterness from hops, especially in highly hopped beers. Wort pH itself, however, is not necessarily a harbinger of beer pH - this depends on the concentration of the buffer systems present in wort and their removal during fermentation.

Now in a brewing liquor that already has a sufficiency of calcium (>100) then you may well find that there is no benefit to splitting the addition into two and ensuring that your sweet wort has enough calcium for the reactions in the boil and subsequent stages. There is no doubt that precipitation of calcium phosphate in the mash, (and probably during sparging) robs the liquor of calcium, therefore there is a benefit of supplementing the sweet wort in the boiler with calcium.

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Fri Apr 18, 2014 23:49
by Aleman
stevie1556 wrote:Silly question, but isn't it easier to use bottled mineral water? I use it for my wines and never had a problem (but then again I've only been brewing just over 2 months). I only ask as I would like to make an ale kit soon.

Not all bottled water is suitable for beer most often have a high level of alkalinity (bicarbonate) normally achieved by raising it artificially. With the vast majority of beer (the pale ones) you need a very low alkalinity (<50 . . and ideally < 30 ).

Wine is a completely different animal, and although 'soil type' and therefore potentially water has an effect on the growing conditions of the grapes and subsequently wines, it is nowhere near as important. . . . especially for kits

Remember that water treatment is only important for full mash brewing, kits and extract really only require the chlorine taking out.

tazuk wrote:I am trying to get me head round it at moment, so as you can see yes there is, I can think of projects and build things wire them up but water thing I need to learn

Hmm, Ok . . . People worry too much about water quite unnecessarily! This is not their fault, but is the result of authors and suppliers promulgating the myth that you have to match an 'ideal' beer mineral profile or an brewers 'regional' water profile, this then leads to unnecessarily over complex water treatment calculators.


Get a water analysis from a reputable supplier (PM me about Phoenix Analytical), and discard murphys suggested water treatment, Get yourself a Salifert Alkalinity Test Kit. Measure the alkalinity every time you brew, adjust it using acids/boiling/slaked lime, to that required for style.

Using the results for the water analysis increase calcium to 100-150ppm by adding either calcium sulphate or calcium chloride depending on whether you want a hoppy beer or a malty beer. . . . If you already have high levels of sulphate and want a malty beer, then you do need to look at using some RO or Tescos Ashbeck / Asda Smart Price water to reduce that first.

I would strongly suggest taking a look at Gordon Strong's book Brewing Better Beer . . . While I do not agree with some of the things he says (Especially regards the hot break :evil: :evil: :evil: ) his chapter on water treatment is almost spot on . . . although I do not agree with his use of RO water as all of the water liquor, I can see where he is coming from with it. . . . I'm in a similar situation as most of the year my tap water is pretty much RO pure :roll:

I am hoping to provide an in depth set of articles and a water treatment calculator for the CBA web site that works the way Lewis and Young / Strong / Aleman ( :D ) suggests. Please do not hold your breath :D

Please remember that water treatment is something that you should look at only when you are brewing consistently 'good' beers

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 00:10
by Aleman
bomberns127 wrote:hardly anybody treats the water they use, if they do they dont post it <snip>I know getting water reports and acting on them is confusing unless you are a biochemist of some sorts, but since its the major component in what we all do can someone give a rough guide in laymans terms as to the best way to tackle it whether it be kit, extract or AG?

I think there are a couple of flaws.

Firstly the accuracy of any water report you get from a water company is questionable, plus it often leaves things out, and hides the single most important brewing criteria (Alkalinity) behind other measurements, if it includes it at all.

Secondly the water source your water comes from can change from day to day, and in my case when it does there is a massive difference in the water make-up between reservoir and borehole . . .if you don't take that into account any water treatment you do is more akin to witchcraft than science

Thirdly, A lot of the authors really understand the science involved in water chemistry but then fail to make the applciation to what happens when brewing, which makes water treatment much more complex than it needs to be. Plus they all seem to imply that you need to match the water profile for the beer you are brewing (Murphys of Nottingham do this as well) . . . but fail to take into account the water you may be starting with (Murphys offer a water analysis service - but that doesn't take into account that tomorrow you water may come from a different source) . . . and present a "One Size Fits All" approach . . .Which is fine if you want a consistent level of mediocrity . . .but if you really want to lift you beer above the average then you really have to make an attempt to understand the logic and reasons behind water treatment (Which I have posted on here ad nauseam).

My water treatment approach is as follows

On the day of brewing measure the alkalinity (bicarbonate ions concentration), and the calcium ion level of the liquor you are going to brew with. (Salifert sell kits to do this which are cheap and simple to use)

Using an appropriate acid (hydrochloric, sulphuric or Carbonate reducing solution from Murphy's, a blend of hydrochloric and sulphuric acids), adjust the alkalinity down to 30ppm for pale beers . . . . and up to 125ppm for dark beers. For dark beers I may need to add sodium bicarbonate to raise the alkalinity as my water is 'normally' low in bicarbonate. Bicarbonate is the thing that prevents the mash pH falling to the right range, so reducing it to a low level for the beer style you are brewing is important.

Increase the calcium level to at least 150ppm (calcium is important in getting the mash pH in the right range, along with hot break formation, yeast fermentation and flocculation etc). The salt you use for this (or blends of salts) depends again on the style you are brewing. For hoppy beers you need to think about raising sulphate so would look at calcium sulphate (and possibly using sulphuric acid to reduce the alkalinity), for malty beers you need to look at increasing chloride so would consider using calcium chloride (along with hydrochloric acid for alkalinity reduction). . . . You might need to consider a blend of the two salts as not only is the actual level of the sulphate and chloride ions important . . . the ratio between them is as well.

Finally I add an extra 5ppm of magnesium in the form of magnesium sulphate . . . which again alters the sulphate levels but as it ins in the order of 1.5g in 100L of liquor the level is pretty low.

Sounds complex?? probably but it follows these three simple rules

1) reduce the alkalinity to a level appropriate for the beer style being brewed
2) adjust the calcium level to a minimum of 150ppm
3) adjust the levels of sulphate and chloride depending on the style of beer being brewed.

Water treatment does not make a massive difference to the quality of beer being brewed, indeed there are far more important things that affect beer quality in a major way (yeast quality and fermentation temperature control for example) . . . but once you have cracked the brewing process and are making consistently good beer, then water treatment will allow you to make good beers 'shine'.

Water treatment is only really applicable to all grain brewing, while some of it does apply to extract brewing (sulphate/chloride levels and ratios for example), and kit brewing is best done with low mineral content water as all the minerals used for mashing and boiling have been concentrated into the extract.

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 00:13
by Dennis King
Think you should make this a sticky Tony.

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 00:26
by Aleman
Dennis King wrote:Think you should make this a sticky Tony.

It's a bit crass to sticky your own posts :rofl:

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 00:31
by Dennis King
I've done it.

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 08:35
by Frogfurlong
Brilliant :thumb:

I did have to look up the acronym "RO" though, I hadn't heard it before.

RO = Reverse Osmosis, a filtering method.

Thank the Brewgods I saved that file :D

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 08:41
by Frogfurlong
Just a thought:

If the carbonates in the water can reduce the efficiency of the mash, would it be naive to think increasing the grain bill will counteract this?

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 08:43
by Aleman
Frogfurlong wrote:If the carbonates in the water can reduce the efficiency of the mash, would it be naive to think increasing the grain bill will counteract this?

Not really because the water to grist ratio is a constant . . . therefore you keep the carbonates a constant. . . . Increasing the dark/crystal malts in the recipe will help to a degree . . . but then you are not making the same beer

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 08:48
by Frogfurlong
You don't ask, you don't find out :)

Thanks Aleman :thumb:

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 12:34
by CraftyTim
Thanks Aleman, probably the best, most practical common sense water treatment write-up I've seen. :thumb:

After blindly following my Murphy's water report for a few months and having mash pH problems I realised Alkilinity was a problem, I've been checking my Alkalinity each brewday once I realised it changed everytime and hand calculating the acid and salts that I need from that (none of the spreadsheets seem to work for me), I haven't got onto measuring calcium yet but have been relying on the brupaks website calculation from the Alkilinity reading, so that will be next on the list.

My beer has been good but has recently started to improve now I understand how the water chemistry works, it taken a few brews, but then practice makes perfect :D

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 18:33
by oldjiver
Having taken your advice and got a Salifert kit, I found that the Alkalinity of my water was way different to the water report as you suggested it may be. It was 191ppm with the Salifert, the water report was 283. I understand that it may vary widely on the day from brew to brew. That begs the question do the sulphate and chloride levels vary too. I know a professional test is recommended to establish your initial water profile but can you rely on this (apart from the alkalinity test done each time) for an extended period of time? ( and can the lay man test at home for all the required variables?) I have seen the Brupaks formula for calculation of Calcium of "Original Alkalinity in ppm X 0.4 = Calcium in ppm" but this does not indicate the balance between sulphate and chloride?

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 19:11
by Aleman
The levels of the other ions will vary in the same way, and you can hope that if it is a simple case of more rain diluting it then the ions will be diluted in proportion. If however it is the case of them switching to a borehole rather than a reservoir you can have a completely different profile.

Can you rely on a professional test? . . . It's valid for the day the water sample is taken. I know a very respectable member is planning on offering a testing service, and I will be using this on a monthly basis, once I know how the levels change during the year I can them measure say alkalinity and calcium, and make an educated guess as to what the rest of the ions are likely to be. . . . Unfortunately you can't really measure all of the required levels yourself, it does take some fancy equipment. (PM me about Phoenix Analytical)

If you are in a hard water area then the Salifert Calcium kit is quite handy . . .I'm always a fan of measuring what I can rather than using a formula that quite frankly does not fit any of the profiles some of the time :roll:

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 19:26
by Frogfurlong
My water is so hard you can almost stand on it :lol:

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 19:33
by oldjiver
Thanks once again Aleman. I recently met a Craftbrewer (originally shedbrewers) member Bob of Felixtowe, who said putting his conical in a brewfridge had transformed his beer. Attention to all the aspects of brewing is I suppose the key to quality. I just wonder why some of the pub beer is so ordinary when brewed by people with professional qualifications.

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 19:37
by oldjiver
Frogfurlong wrote:My water is so hard you can almost stand on it :lol:

Are you from Galillee then? :pray:

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 19:45
by Frogfurlong
East Yorkshire, It's where God comes for his holidays :P

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Tue Apr 22, 2014 16:58
by Lukesteroo
Thank you for all the useful information in this thread.

Am I right in thinking that for the Hardness test kit I need to buy this kit:

Salifert KH + Alkalinity Profi-Test Kit

rather than this kit:

Salifert pH Profi-Test Kit

It seems the second of the two mentioned return pH readings two high up in the range for mashing pH so would not be appropriate. (Sorry, I am not able to post URLs yet).

Thanks in advance.

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Tue Apr 22, 2014 19:01
by Eric
Yes, you should measure the amount of alkalinity in your water with this kind of kit.
A pH measurement of water can at times be misleading.

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Tue Apr 22, 2014 21:24
by CraftyTim
You really need a meter to get accurate pH readings.

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Tue Apr 22, 2014 21:37
by GrowlingDog
CraftyTim wrote:You really need a meter to get accurate pH readings.

Apart from measuring the pH of the Mash I don't use my meter for anything else. I don't think the pH of your water really matters.
As long as you know the Alkalinity and some of the other key parameters then you will be fine.

Re: Water Treatment

PostPosted: Tue Apr 22, 2014 22:58
by Good Ed
You can also get a Salifert kit to measure your calcium. I measure mine every couple of brews and get consistent readings so far.