Water chemistry was always one of those aspects of brewing that I thought was too advanced for me. I would always tell myself “I’ll get to that eventually” and just kept on brewing without giving it a second thought. My beer was alright but certain styles just didn’t seem to be as crisp or clean as they should be. Finally one day I decided to take the leap and start learning about water adjustments. So where did I start? Bru’n Water!

LaMotte BrewLab Case

 

Martin Brungard (now a member of the AHA governing committee) came up with a very user friendly spreadsheet that allows you to enter your water parameters and then make real time adjustments tailored to any beer style. His first sheet in the workbook has some excellent explanations of how and why you should adjust different aspects of your water. It goes over the sulfate to chloride ratio, acidifying your sparge water, adjusting for mash pH, calcium levels, and countless other parameters to check. The best part is that all of this is free! You can donate to him via paypal and you will receive an even more user friendly workbook. If you like his product I highly recommend a donation!

In order to begin making adjustments to your water you need to know what your water parameters are to begin with. You 100% cannot begin adding salts or acids unless you know what you are working with. Even if you buy bottled water from the store you do not know the alkalinity, pH, calcium, sulfate, chlorite, etc of that water unless it is distilled or RO. This is where the LaMotte BrewLab comes into play. Before I found the BrewLab I used services of Ward Labs. They are a great resource for brewers but the costs can add up. It is $40 for the full test plus you have to pay for shipping. The BrewLab is good for at least 50 tests and costs $125 before shipping. That works out to $2.50 per test. While Ward Labs gives you results that are much more precise, the BrewLab gets you in the ballpark which is good enough (if not better) for our purposes.

LaMotte BrewLab Organization

When playing with Bru’n Water you should not be concerned with + or – a few ppm. All of these numbers are just guides to get you within a range. In reality your source water changes frequently and a test performed in Spring may read significantly different than a test performed in the Fall. Road Salt alone can have a huge affect on the Sodium and Chloride levels. That is why it is valuable to perform frequent water tests. Some professional breweries do this daily!

The BrewLab contains the following tests: Total Hardness, Calcium Hardness, Chloride, Sulfate, and Total Alkalinity. You can then take these values and calculate: Magnesium Hardness, Magnesium, Calcium, Sodium, Bicarbonate, and Residual Alkalinity. These are all the major ions you need in order to adjust water for flavor and pH. The BrewLab Plus comes with a pH meter. I use the BrewLab basic since I already had a pH meter.

The first test is for total hardness which consists of three steps. You fill one of their test tubes to the 10ppm level, add 5 drops of hardness reagent #5, and then add a hardness reagent tablet #6. Once the tables is dissolved you start adding and counting drops of hardness reagent #7. Each drop equals 10 ppm until the solution changes from red to blue.

Hardness Test Step 1 Hardness Test Step 2 Hardness Test Pre Reagent Hardness Test Reagent Drops Hardness Test Color Change

The next test is to determine calcium hardness. Using the same test tube you fill it to the 10ppm level and add 6 drops of sodium hydroxide reagent. Then you add a calcium hardness tablet and swirl to dissolve. Using the hardness reagent #7 again you add and count drops. Each drop equals 10ppm. Once you have this value you can calculate the magnesium hardness by subtracting the calcium hardness from the total hardness. Using multiplication factors you then can calculate the calcium and magnesium levels.

Calcium Hardness Test Step 1 Calcium Hardness Test Step 2 Calcium Hardness Test

The next two tests are for the individual chloride and sulfate ions. The chloride test uses a different test tube with a 25ml sample. You add 5 drops of chloride reagent A which turns the solution yellow. Next you add and count drops of silver nitrate until the solution turns orange-brown. Each drop equals 10ppm. For the sulfate test you use the same tube with a 5 ml sample. You add a sulfate turb tablet and shake until it dissolves. You then immediately place the tube on the target to see how cloudy the sample is. This test is the only one that I feel is not precise enough as it has a 50ppm resolution. This will get you in a range though and you can use the bru’n water spreadsheet to help approximate what the level should be between your observed range.

Chloride Test Before Change Chloride Test After ChangeSulfate TestSulfate Turbidity Test

The last BrewLab test is for total alkalinity. Using the same test tube as the previous two tests with a 25ml sample, you add three drops of the total alkalinity indicator and swirl until the sample turns green. You then add and count drops of sulfuric acid until the solution turns red. Each drop equals 10ppm. The bicarbonate, residual alkalinity, and sodium can then be calculated once this value is obtained.

Total Alkalinity Test Total Alkalinity Test Post Change

The final thing to test is your pH. Using a calibrated and well maintained pH meter you easily measure your sample. I had some evil water the day I was running these tests.

Devil Water

Devil Water

The BrewLab is easy and intuitive to use and gives the home brewer valuable water parameters that can be confidently used to adjust your water. A good way to offset the price tag is to offer tests to your home-brew club. I have been doing this for my club with positive reviews so far. Once the kit is paid of you can use it as a club fundraiser.