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Water, gotta be easy, hasn't it?

I have to say before i start this blog, i am not putting myself forward as an expert in water chemistry, far from it, the more you read the deeper you get (sorry) :)

We pay so much attention to grain bills, Hop type and timed additions, Alpha acids and aroma, yeasts and kettle finings, temperatures etc. etc...

But all beers are at least 95% water, some much more (coughudwieser) :) and if the water is miles out, your beer will never be right.

I have had a couple of issues over the last two months or so and have picked the brains of people who do know more about it and come up with a few ideas, if you have any more to add please let me know, it will be appreciated..

So here we go, as you can see on the water hardness map of England and Wales, the water on the Eastern side is generally from underground sources and are heavy with CaCo3, Calcium carbonate or Chalk. On the Western side reservoirs are generally the source and are higher in acids and low in chalk.

We try to "Burtonise" the water, sounds a bit kinky but just means we try to get the water profile close to the one in Burton on Trent, Staffordshire, which is recognised as excellent for brewing, hence the big breweries deciding to locate there.

Here on the East coast we need to add acids and salts to our mains supply to combat the alkalinity the chalk brings to the mix. On the West coast they actually add chalk to combat the acidity.. All sounds quite simple,mmmm?

The sample below was analysed in 2020 and as you can see the raw Liquor (mains water) has alkalinity as CaCO3 of 186, the targets for Lighter ales is 20 - 50 so we need to add a fair wack of AMS (acids) to combat this amount. You can also see the sample is quite low in Calcium, Magnesium,Chloride and sulphate, all corrected with the addition of DWB, a mixture of salts and minerals..

Still with me? Well done..

The darker beers have a higher acid content which means they have a higher tolerance to the chalk, so this area tends to produce better Dark beers than light ales..

Another thing i had noticed is the smell of the water, when rinsing a large vessel some days i cannot detect any Chlorine smell, then others it smells like a swimming pool. i have asked Yorkshire water and they said that two years ago they stopped using Chlorine gas to keep us safe but changed to adding sodium hyperclorite (Bleach) and sodim bisulphate.. we shouldnt be too alarmed at this, they have to add a disinfecting agent to keep us safe, and anyway, if you eat a salad in a restaurant it should have been washed in a weak bleach water and obviously rinsed well. They have no real explaination as to why it smells more one day than another, probably too many variables.

So im not sure whether i have tied myself in knots a little, i am certainly confused as to what to do next.

So, i have decided to install some filtering kit and a reverse osmosis (RO) thingy..

The raw water now comes into the brewery and the hose pipe and pressure washer taps use it neat, it then goes through two simple "screwfix" filters, a sediment filter first then into an active charcoal filter to remove most of the chlorine and some chalk, this is used in the sink and water heater, after these two initial filters i have tee'd in the RO unit.

The RO unit works slightly different to a filter as in it actuall produces x2 quantity of waste water to pure water, and i mean "pure water", you can put seawater through this thing and it comes out clean..

At least i know i have a blank canvas with the RO water, and can simply add the elements needed to make the brewing liquor ideal for any type of beer. This should not vary which is great to know.

The whole idea is to add as little as possible, if you have large amounts of chalk so have to add equally large amounts of acid to compensate, although correct i'm sure, it doesn't quite sit right with me, sounds a bit like adding loads of salt to a dish because you have added loads of sugar.. maybe the RO can remove the sugar instead.

I have taken 3x samples and will be sending them away to be analysed over the next couple of weeks, one sample of unfiltered water, another of the water after the initial filters and one of the RO water. i will post the results in this blog when i get them.

It may be that the filtered water is better for dark ales and the lighter ales and pilsner would be better served by the RO water.. dont want to throw the baby out with the bathwater! ;) we'll see, TBC..

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