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Water Treatment

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There's an old adage which says if you ask ten brewers the same question you will receive eleven different opinions, and this is especially true when the complex subject of water treatment raises its ugly head.

Frankly much that has been written on water treatment in brewing necessarily forces the reader to try to come to terms with Advanced Chemistry, with predictable results.

Let's talk Science, Earthling... There ARE beings out there who adore discussing calcium and magnesium and parts per million thereof, and as soon as they manage to repair their spaceship they'll no doubt be heading back to their own planet. Fortunately for the rest of us there is an easy path through the minefield.

I suggest that you don't allow yourself to get bogged down in water treatment theory and discussion (unless you really want to) BUT do be aware that you WILL need to do something to your tap water in order to make great beer.

There are two types of water treatment out there that I would recommend. The first is 'The Water Analysis Method' and I use this for bitters, pale ales and lagers. The second is 'The Wheeler Method' and it's great when brewing stouts, porters and milds. Here's how they are done:

The Water Analysis Method

This method is so quick that it adds nothing to the overall time spent brewing. Whereas Wheeler and Protz (see 'The Wheeler Method' below) believe all brewing water should be boiled to drive off any impurities and chlorine/chloramines, this method merely advocates adding one crushed Campden tablet for every 10 gallons (45 litres) of water; this neutralises the chlorine/chloramines. (If you don’t get rid of, or neutralise, chlorine/chloramines present in your water, there’s a very good chance your beer will have a ‘TCP’ type taste). That's the easy part done...

To proceed in this method requires some homework as you need to obtain, from the water company that supplies your tap water, the alkalinity of the water expressed in parts per million (ppm). My water company, Severn Trent, has a brilliant facility on their web site whereby if you punch in your post code it gives you an analysis of your water immediately, online, which includes the alkalinity figure. Hopefully your water company will provide the same service but if not, simply write to them and ask for it; they have a legal obligation to send you the information.

The next thing you need to do is to go to the Brupaks web site ( http://www.brupaks.com/brewing-aids.htm ). There you are able to read exactly how to use Carbonate Reducing Solution (CRS) and Dry Liquor Salts (DLS) in your water, and how much of each product you should include by reference to the alkalinity of your water when preparing water for brewing bitter and pale ale. Basically you add the CRS to your water a few minutes after you’ve added the crushed Campden tablets, and you weigh out two amounts of DLS, adding the first lot to the grain before the start of the mash, and the second lot to the wort at the start of the boil. The Brupaks site tells you all about this in detail so I won’t repeat it here.

brewing in the bad old daysThe eagle-eyed reader will have noticed I said the above information is correct when brewing bitters and pale ales. Other styles of beer are covered on the same page, merely by scrolling down.

The Wheeler Method

This is a simple general treatment designed to improve all water. The main drawback to this method is the time it takes - it’s best done the day before you intend to brew. On the plus side, experimentation has shown my stouts, porters and milds are all greatly improved using the Wheeler method, to the extent that I wouldn’t dream of brewing these types of beer without it. I first read of this method in the excellent book with the less-than-catchy title, ’Brew Your Own British Real Ale At Home’ by Graham Wheeler and Roger Protz. Unfortunately at the time of writing, this book is out of print.

a great book, sadly out of print thanks to the publishers CAMRA!!To treat 25 litres of water, bring this amount to the boil and at the start of the boil, add 12grams of Calcium Sulphate (gypsum), 3 grams of common salt, and boil vigorously for half an hour. After this period switch off the heat. When the precipitate (the chalky white stuff) has settled out overnight, add 2 grams of Magnesium Sulphate (Epsom Salts).

To brew 25 litres of beer I always treat 50 litres of water to be on the safe side and I suggest you do the same.

As Mr Wheeler’s book says, "This water treatment is a good starting point irrespective of the type of beer being brewed and irrespective of your water supply". So if you don’t fancy the Water Analysis method, this one’s for you...

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