water is too complicated for me

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Dec 5, 2015
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Total Alkalinity: Total alkalinity is the measurement of all bases in the water and can be thought of as the buffering capacity of water, or its ability to resist change in pH. The most common and important base is carbonate. Total alkalinity is expressed as milligrams per liter (mg/L) or parts per million (ppm) of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), note that other carbonates may be present, their levels are converted to equivalent CaCO3 levels and added to the CaCO3 level.

Hardness is the sum of the multivalent metal ions in solution, whereas alkalinity is a measure of the solution's ability to neutralize acids (sum of hydroxide, carbonate, and bicarbonates).

{\displaystyle {\text{Carbonate Hardness CH (mg/L)}}=[{\text{HCO}}_{3}^{-}]+[{\text{CO}}_{3}^{2-}]}However, for water with a pH below 8.5, the carbonate will be less than 1% of the bicarbonate, so carbonate alkalinity will equal carbonate hardness to within an error of less than 1%.

Adjusting your RA - Adding calcium will reduce your RA, so additions like Gypsum (CaSO4) and Calcium Chloride (CaCl) can be added. Magnesium also reduces your RA, so Epsom Salt (MgSO4) will also work. You do need to be cautious, however, as you don’t want to raise the Calcium or Magnesium levels beyond the range recommended for brewing. Calcium has a recommended range of 0-150 ppm, and Magnesium a range of 10-50 ppm, and you don’t want to exceed those.

My water report

hardness as Ca 97

total hardness as CaCO3 242

Mg 9.5 Na <.35 SO4 114 Chloride 76

pH 6.6

Alkalinity as CaCO3 124

Carbonate as CO3 74

nitrate 19 sulphate as SO4 129 calcium as Ca 52

magnesium as Mg 7.2

am I right in saying I should add magnesium sulphate and calcium sulphate ?

and if so how much per 25 litres ?
Unfortunately it depends on the style of ale you're brewing. If you download the Brunwater spreadsheet you can plug your numbers into the Water Report Input sheet then use tabs (2) (3) and (4) to enter your recipe and tweak the minerals - and in your case probably acid because you're in a hard water area. Brunwater can be intimidating at first but once you've done it once you really only have to go in and make minor changes (mainly your recipe) as you do each subsequent brew.
Bimble over to Brewers Friend . Com and use their water calculator. If you read through the instructions you will be Ok.

Water treatment doesn't need to be complicated. There are 3 basic steps:

1. Remove chlorine by using Campden tablets.

2. Adjust alkalinity to the appropriate level for your beer style, the lighter the beer the lower the alkalinity.

3. Make sure you have enough calcium, around 100ppm is generally a decent target.

And that's it. Forget all the other stuff about magnesium, sodium, hardness etc. If you want a little more customization then:

4. Adjust the sulphate/chloride ratio to a level appropriate for your beer. About 2 for hoppy beers, about 0.5 for malty.
Dude this is potentially such a huge topic, but in terms of a working outline in order to give quick results.

Total alkalinity is a convenient measure of your waters ability to buffer (resist) pH drop. pH drop is required in the mash to achieve an optimal range. Malt is more acidic than the water, the darker it is the lower it is and will adequately lower pH if the buffering ability of the water has been reduced. You should reduce alkalinity for all brewing liquor depending on style and grist, darker grist is more acidic and will effect a greater drop in pH up to situations where you might need to increase alkalinity for stouts and porters. Chloride and sulphate are the main flavour ions and will also drop pH, though not as much as expected due to rate limiting reactions involving phosphate. Calcium chloride and calcium sulphate are the weapons of choice, the balance of which can determine dry, bitter, crisp (sulphate) and soft, round, full, sweet (chloride). Don't bother with magnesium and the rest. Typical usage is to use a food grade acid to react out the alkalinity allowing the grist and salts to do their work. Use calcium chloride and sulphate in the mash to further reduce pH and to give the optimal ratio for taste and to increase calcium levels to >150ppm. Treat all brewing liquor.

What does this mean? (sorry for the beer mat maths!) Use 80-88% lactic acid at a rate of 5-7ml per 25 litres. Treat your strike, sparge and any top up liquor. This should reduce your alkalinity to 10-30ppm which is a little average to high for super pale ales, but ok for golden, amber etc and contains a margin of error. Use 2:1 sulphate to chloride for dry hoppy beers, the opposite for sweet beers and 1:1 for balanced as a starting off point. Aim for 200ppm and 100ppm for 2:1. At 129 and 76 this would be 3.18g of sulphate and 1.39g chloride in 25L to bring them up to 200ppm and 100ppm respectively.

Calcium sulphate is 557ppm 1g/1L and calcium chloride is 458ppm 1g/1L (from memory!) this means that if your starting point is 129 and your goal is 200 the difference is 71 / 557 to give 0.127g per litre or 3.18g in 25 litres.

You don't need to do all this to make alright beer, but these details get a little more important if you want to continue to improve your process. The really awful thing is how often tap water parameters drift. I wouldn't expect anybody to test every brew day, but if you want ppm accuracy for everything you need to. The take home is that you shouldn't really need ppm accuracy for everything, knocking a chunk out of the rA and then adding sulphate and chloride to taste in moderate amounts with a healthy margin for error will generally improve the outcome. Note the healthy (conservative!) margin for error!
Get a Murphys water report if you’re struggling. They give simple water additions according to style. You jus add them ml/L or g/L.

I finally persuaded my water company to give me these figures

alkalinity = 242 mg/ L as CaCO3
hardness as HCO3- =alkalinity x 1.22 = 295 mg/L
these are routine test results for my supply - why do you say they won't be accurate ?
Test results for your area, not your tap or comprehensive. A water report and treatment yields the same marked improvement like when you start controlling your fermenting temps.

Murphys makes its easy for you. Broad brush stokes compared to the more complicated calculators but effective and simple.
What @IanM said. Steve Strange's (pinned) guide to water treatment is amazing.

If you follow that guide, you need to buy just a couple of aquarium water testing kits.

After the campden tablet, a couple of tests and a couple of adjustments. For me (soft water area) it's usually a bit of bicarb, followed by a bit of gypsum and I'm done.

The water reports from water company are pretty much useless as they're always out of date. I'm amazed at how the test results vary from brew to brew - your water is constantly changing.

(I mean the beginners guide - I haven't dare look at the advanced yet - basic is enough for me!!)
Agree with Lee about water company reports but disagree about Murphy's, I have have issues with them. Phoenix Analytical is the same price and more comprehensive.
Yes he is more comprehensive, I’ve had one done by him and it was very detailed. But for a beginner Murphys offer half decent water treatment additions so no further calculations are needed.
My big grip with Murphy's is I bought some suphuric acid off them a several years ago and after a few brews which I went by the strength that they sold it buy I new something was wrong so I found out how to test the strength myself and it was way out. When I contacted them all they said that is what their lab made it. A friend of friend works in a lab and tested it for me and the result was almost the same as my home made test and a long way off theirs so I have no confidence in their lab. Others on another forum have had similar issues.