The importance of water cannot be understated, not just for beer but for life. As draught conditions persist in certain areas of the country and polluted supplies are becoming more common in others, brewers are taking the necessary steps now to be thinking about clean water.
All about water in the brewing process
When it comes to sustainability, one issue rises above all others: water usage. Without water, there is no beer. And as any brewer knows, water doesn’t just comprise more than 90-percent of the final product, it’s also used in nearly every step of production. Cold water cools down wort, hot water cleans and sanitizes equipment, water rinses floors and bottles and cans after filling. All the way down to employee hand washing and rinsing glasses in the tasting room, water is ubiquitous.
With the impacts of adverse weather and climate events on the rise, having an understanding of your water footprint is key to managing this critical resource in the future.
If you worked as a brewer at Sierra Nevada Brewing circa 2005, you would have had the luxury of deaerating the brewing water with an expensive deaerating column to reduce the amount of dreaded dissolved oxygen (DO) in your cold side processes.
Scott Jennings, innovation brewmaster at Sierra Nevada, worked there at the time. He says, “The benefits of a column system for water deaeration is that such a system removes oxygen from the water to a very high degree ( <5 ppb oxygen ), the water is sterilized in the process, and the water can be carbonated afterwards if that is desired.”
Today, the column remains a gold standard of deaeration equipment and still lingers out of most brewers’ budgets. While the majority of independent American breweries either opt for somewhat less cap-intensive systems or bootstrap with boiled water and carbon dioxide (CO2), many small brewers don’t deaerate their brewing water at all.
Anions – ions (atoms or molecules with an electrical charge) with a negative (-) electrical charge, so named because they go toward the anode in an electric field. The main anions in water are hydroxide (OH -), carbonate (CO3-2), bicarbonate (HCO3-) (which together comprise “alkalinity”), sulfate (SO4-2), nitrate (NO3-) and chloride (Cl-).
Cations – ions (atoms or molecules with an electrical charge) with a positive (+) electrical charge, so named because they go toward the cathode in an electric field. Besides the hardness ions, the main cations in water are sodium, Na +, and potassium, K+.
Chloride, Cl- – a common mineral component, can be found in elevated levels near seawater and other salt supplies, which can cause taste problems and can contribute to corrosion. Recommended U.S. limit, 250 mg/L.
A blending valve allows you to control your total dissolved solids or TDS in your brew water. Purified water or reverse osmosis water can tend to be on the aggressive side. So by adding a little TDS to the water can reduce that. This will also give you a consistent water to brew with. Most systems come with a TDS meter. These are pretty accurate and with the blending valve the adjustments are pretty easy.
Ultraviolet Sanitization Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) is a sanitation process using short-wavelength ultraviolet light to kill bacteria. UV light can be used to sanitize food, air, and water purification processes.
The use of UV light to sanitize has been used for many years. Its use has grown in recent years to sanitize drinking water and water used in the brewing industry. Its use to sanitize water is most effective as the water is in a contained space when exposed to the light. In water treatment, the use of UV light has been effective in killing bacteria, viruses, molds and other pathogens. UV light, put together with RO and Carbon Filtration systems, can be set up to operate as an on-demand process to sanitize water for consistent brewing water.
Soft Water Systems
When softening water you’re basically removing the calcium and magnesium out of your brewing water. Water softener’s work by what is called ion exchange. This exchange takes place when the water is run over the resin bed that is charged with sodium chloride.
When it comes to the salt there are 2 types you can use in your system. You can backwash it with a sodium brine or a potassium brine. They both work the same way. The big difference between the 2 is you can water your plants with the softened water if you use the potassium, the drawback with potassium is the cost. Both will exchange the hardness ions for sodium chloride ions or potassium chloride ions. Reverse osmosis systems, used with a water softener, do a great job of removing the sodium chloride or potassium chloride from the water. Nano filtration systems will let that salt by product pass-through to your brewing water.
The differences between Chloramines and Chlorine in your brewing water
Most municipal water District’s will add chlorine or chloramines as a disinfectant to their water supply. This is a common practice to deliver safe water to the public but can create many issues for Brewers and Distillers affecting their finished product.
A big problem with city water is consistency. Water districts can pull their resources from many locations and in various ways. As the water changes, its makeup and treatment will change as well. Even if water is pulled from one source it’s characteristics can still change throughout the year. So having chlorine or chloramines in your water up to your brew house is a good thing but that’s as far as it should go. Both of these chemicals can produce a myriad of unpleasant tastes and aromas in your brew.
One of the simplest and most efficient ways to remove these chemicals is a carbon filtration system. Activated carbon does a wonderful job of removing foul tastes, aromas and chlorine from your brew water. A properly sized carbon unit will work with your system’s flow rate. Giving your water the proper contact time, with the carbon, will ensure an aroma free product water.
Catalytic Carbon or Carbon Systems – what they do, how they work, maintenance and benefits
There are 2 main types of carbon systems:
1) Standard Coconut Shell
2) Catalytic Carbon.
RO or Nano – What’s the Difference?
Reverse Osmosis and Nanofiltration are water membrane filtration processes designed to lower your parts per million (PPM) or total dissolved solids (TDS) in your brewing water. Both of these processes will deliver consistent water quality and both work the same way. The filtration function is achieved by forcing water through a semi permeable membrane. The water passes through the outer wall and into the center of the membrane where small pores allow most of the water molecules to pass. However, some of the ions in the water cannot pass through these pores. As a result of this process you have water with very low TDS levels when using RO membranes and higher TDS levels when using Nano membranes.
The difference between the 2 membranes is the size of the pores in the membranes. The pores in the nano system are much larger which will allow more water to pass through. But as I say for every action there is a reaction, and for nano you will receive a smaller rejection percentage. For example if your feed water TDS is 400 ppm you can expect your nano system to produce water quality between 40 and 60 ppm. The reverse osmosis system with the same feed water will produce under 10 ppm. This results in a difference in the amount of waste water. Nano recovery rates are between 70 and 80 percent where reverse osmosis is between 65 and 75 percent.
Technology today has made great strides in reverse osmosis technology. There are a variety of new membranes to choose from. With the introduction of low energy membranes, systems now can be powered by smaller pumps and reduced pressure on the entire system. This lower pressure has the effect of reducing the maintenance and operating costs.
If your water report shows a high mineral content, Nanofiltration may not produce the quality of water you’re looking for. With the RO system, you use a blending valve to set the exact level of TDS you want in your brewing water.
• Reverse Osmosis and Nanofiltration Systems Maintenance
The make-up of water will vary, over time, with any municipal water system. To ensure good consistent brewing water that will produce a better product and a consistent product, knowing what is in your water is essential. Today, knowing that you can control the water make-up, right before brewing, allows you to control the taste and look of your brews.
For brewing, removal of unwanted chemicals through filtration, is step one. Control of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) levels is step two. The last step is the safety process of running your water through a UltraViolet (UV) light to remove the possibility of water contamination. All of this is possible with today’s technology.
The following are definitions and terms that all municipal water reports use. You can review your municipal water report by going to the web, searching “Water Report 11111” using your Zip code in place of the example “11111”.
In Brewing and Distilling, the beginning is in the Water.
“It’s always best to start at the beginning.”
– Glinda the Good Witch, The Wizard of Oz
Unfortunately, in today’s world, there is no such thing as pure clean water. Even harder to find is water that is delivered to your operation with consistent properties and quality.
City Water – If you are brewing with a Municipal Water Source, since water is stored before delivery, there will be additional chemicals added to keep the water low in bacteria. Some cities also add chemicals for health benefits (like fluoride). Also with a Municipal Water Source the consistency can be a problem, city’s can pull their water from multiple sources.