Water questions and suggestions

Physics, chemistry and biology of brewing. The causes and the effects.

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Postby kevponce » Sat Jul 11, 2009 9:05 pm

The big boys say it is all about the fermentation process anyway
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Postby Legman » Sat Jul 11, 2009 9:25 pm

Yeah, well I'm gonna get fermented myself while I'm brewing tomorrow! :lol:
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Re: HCO3

Postby slothrob » Sun Jul 12, 2009 8:45 am

Legman wrote:Slo, I've been tinkering with Palmer's Suggested Beer SRM Color/Style Guide
for Residual Alkalinity Mash pH chart.
Palmer says the HCO3 range for dark beers is 150-250, but if I'm trying to get my RA up to about 270, my HCO3 has to go up to about 365. I believe you told me that it should not exceed 300, but I could not find this in Palmer's writings.
If I can not exceed 300, how am I to get the RA high enough? :?

Did I say CO3 not above 300?
I think that's supposed to be RA not above 300. (I'll look for the reference, but I might have got it from that podcast that kevponce mentioned.)

I think it's just that the relationship between RA and SRM starts to deviate toward the high end. An RA of 300 should be sufficient for any very dark beer that calculates to a higher RA. I can't remember if it's a decreased effect of color on pH or if the SRM formulas go off at the high end or if there's a problem with carbonate chemistry at very high concentrations. The practical result is that adding too much CO3 to try and balance a very dark beer will give a higher pH than you're shooting for.

For caution, I usually aim for the low end of the RA target for very dark beers, or add half the CO3, check the pH, add half the remaining, check the pH, and stop as soon as I get where I want. I suspect that being a toward the high end of mash pH is better than the low end for a black beer, to avoid acridness, so that might not be necessary.
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fermentation vs water

Postby slothrob » Sun Jul 12, 2009 9:30 am

kevponce wrote:The big boys say it is all about the fermentation process anyway

My problem with these simplifications is from my experience trying to make stouts with my local water. I took the "if your water tastes good it's good for brewing" at face value. Well, our water is delicious, but every Stout I made had a harsh roast character.

It turns out that my pH was too low. The first black beer I made with water corrected for RA was a revelation and one of the best beers I've made. This is why I've worked to understand water chemistry and become such an advocate for it's importance.

I suspect a lot of people that are jumping through hoops like adding roasted malts late in the mash, or using paler roasts to smooth out their beer flavor, actually have a water problem.
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Re:HCO3

Postby Legman » Sun Jul 12, 2009 1:13 pm

Slo, I did see in Palmer's writings that the RA was supposed to be below 300, but not the HCO3. That's what confused me a little about his SMR Color/Style Guide for RA Mash pH chart. There was no way I could reach the RA without getting my HCO3 above 300. I have seen in some other articles not to exceed 400ppm. But not knowing, I aimed for the lower side to be safe.

My OCD :roll: kicked in about 3 a.m. this morning, and I got out of bed and started juggling numbers around. I ignored the RA and just tried to set the ranges within the acceptable ranges....while still being under 300 HCO3.

This is what I ended up with (mash tun only):
(4.5 Gal.)
CA++ 112
Mg++ 1
Na++ 106
HCO3 289
SO4 49
Cl 105

RA 156.71

My efficiency was about 73% which is lower than my usual, but yet still above what I normally get making very dark beers. So it did help some. Maybe if I could have got the RA up higher, my efficiency would have increased more. I may try it tomorrow. My buddy is coming over to brew a stout as well, so it would be a good experiment.
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Re: HCO3

Postby kevponce » Mon Jul 13, 2009 9:34 pm

slothrob wrote:Did I say CO3 not above 300?
I think that's supposed to be RA not above 300. (I'll look for the reference, but I might have got it from that podcast that kevponce mentioned.)


Slo, I confirm it was from the podcast. As I was listening to it I was jotting down notes in a word file. I just looked at my notes and most definitely he says HCO3 not over 300.
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Postby kevponce » Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:05 pm

I just got back a second water report that I sent to ward labs. You see we get this report from United Water in North Jersey here and for all intents and purposes I find it absolutely useless. First it is about 12 pages long with so much BS I want to puke and second the variances are so large that I could never get anything dialed in. I actually just dug it out and can't even find calcium on it. Nice printing though. (I am a printer)
Getting back, sorry for the tirade, North Jersey is actually a very nice collection of communities once you get past Newark, but in general Homebrewing support stinks. Some good bars though. Try Andy's Corner in Bogota. Tons of variety.
Getting back again, my report was based upon my water "boiled" this time. Interestingly very little changed, except the pH went from the 7.2 to 8.7. That seems like a big jump to me.

So I guess I can look at it two ways.
1. Why bother boiling, that is if a campden tablet really breaks down the Chlorine/chloramine, of which I see we may get either depending upon the multitude of sources.
Or
2. Boiling really doesn't change that much so boiling it is probably a good idea. Except why does the pH sky rocket.

Any sage-like advice?

One concern I have is that I live in such a large metro area that the water company is probably always juggling my numbers. So can I ever trust anything? i guess I will be relegated to keeping an eye on it for a while. maybe over the course of a year it will show its true colors. thats a lot of reports though.
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Postby slothrob » Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:42 pm

kevponce wrote:Getting back, sorry for the tirade, North Jersey is actually a very nice collection of communities once you get past Newark...


I don't know North Jersey well, but I really liked the Southern part of the state when I was there. Reminded me a lot of Cape Cod back in the 1960's.

kevponce wrote:Interestingly very little changed, except the pH went from the 7.2 to 8.7. That seems like a big jump to me.

Plain water is so poorly buffered that the pH can change wildly, which is why RA and not water pH is important to mash pH. Boiling will drive CO2 out of solution, reducing the carbonic acid concentration and raising the pH. I've seen pH swings of 3 points just from dissolved gas. That might be what you are seeing.
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Re: HCO3

Postby Legman » Tue Jul 14, 2009 5:44 am

kevponce wrote:
slothrob wrote:Did I say CO3 not above 300?
I think that's supposed to be RA not above 300. (I'll look for the reference, but I might have got it from that podcast that kevponce mentioned.)


Slo, I confirm it was from the podcast. As I was listening to it I was jotting down notes in a word file. I just looked at my notes and most definitely he says HCO3 not over 300.


And what was the reason for this? Where they talking in the mas tun only or post boil concentrations?
My sound card is on the fritz. (I can't listen to the pod-cast.) :(

Yesterday, my buddy came over to brew his stout. I did put the HCO3 above 300 but below 400 (mash tun only). This was the only way my RA was going to get up that far. I got the RA up from 156.7 (my stout) to 242.6 (buddies stout). The outcome.........efficiency went up about 10%.
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High SRM and 300 RA

Postby slothrob » Wed Jul 15, 2009 1:38 pm

I found time to listen to the 4th water podcast again and reread Chapter 15, and I think I've worked my way out the confusion. No guarantees I've got this right, but I think I might. :?

I believe the upper limit is 250 - 300 RA, not ppm CaCO3.

RA is non neutralized alkalinity, which is HCO3- in brewing. When you add CaCO3, only some becomes available as HCO3- because of the complexities of CO3 chemistry in water. In Palmer's text, he mentions a HCO3- limit of 250 ppm. I think this is the same as saying an RA limit of 250, not the same as saying a CaCO3 limit of 250 ppm.

In the podcast, Palmer says an RA of 250 is maximal for most very dark beers and maybe 300 for the darkest of dark Imperial Stouts. He says that this is because of a plateauing of the pH drop above a certain SRM. He says that a recipe made entirely of Black Malt isn't going to push the pH much lower than a pound or two has already pushed it.

The result, if I have understood this correctly, is that you can add as much CaCO3/NaHCO3 as you need to get to an RA of 250, if that's what your recipe calls for. If your SRM calls for a bit lower than 250, you're probably safe with either sticking with 250 or going a little higher. For myself, I think if I go above 250, I'll let the actual pH of the mash dictate adding more HCO3-.

Edit: When Palmer talks salts, he means the concentration for all the pre-boil water. His method is to add the needed salts to the mash, then an amount proportionate to the sparge water to the boil.
Last edited by slothrob on Wed Jul 15, 2009 8:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE:High SRM and 300 RA

Postby Legman » Wed Jul 15, 2009 8:20 pm

That sounds more logical to me. I went back and read Chapter 15 several times and that's what I kinda got out of it, even though it wasn't that specific.

I haven't been able to listen to the podcast yet.....My sound card is on the fritz. :cry:

But any rate, that's good to now and clears up a few things. :)
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Postby Suthrncomfrt1884 » Thu Jul 16, 2009 11:39 am

kevponce wrote:I just got back a second water report that I sent to ward labs. You see we get this report from United Water in North Jersey here and for all intents and purposes I find it absolutely useless. First it is about 12 pages long with so much BS I want to puke and second the variances are so large that I could never get anything dialed in. I actually just dug it out and can't even find calcium on it. Nice printing though. .


I felt the same way about my report. It was only a 2 page packet of info. The ranges were ridiculous, and half of the things I needed to know aren't even tested for. I know I've got good drinking water, so I'm just leaving the water chemistry alone for a little bit until I get the drive to send out a sample to be tested.
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Postby jawbox » Thu Jul 16, 2009 6:59 pm

The water department usually has the info you do need. It's worth shooting them an email or phone call. I know my water report from the village doesn't show anything I need for water chemistry, but a quick email to the water department got me what I needed.

I've since used Ward Labs for periodic testing. They'll mail you sample bottles if you request them online.

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Water Dept.

Postby Legman » Thu Jul 16, 2009 7:17 pm

Yeah, that's what I had to do. When I first contacted them about a water report they mailed a nicely printed pamphlet with pretty pictures of our town and what not. I didn't tell me squat about my water chemistry.
So I had to email them and ask specifically for the things that I was looking for. They did email me back with what I needed.
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Postby Suthrncomfrt1884 » Fri Jul 17, 2009 1:46 pm

Yeah, I did the same thing. I actually went to the water dept. They told me I'd have to talk to the guy who does all the lab work. He wasn't in, so I left a message for him to get back to me. Two weeks later he calls me, and the guy didn't seem to have a clue about what I needed. I think I'm just going to check out getting it tested by Ward.
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