Knowing Your Water

Water Study

The club sponsored a water quality study in 2014. Water samples were sent to Ward Labs for testing from four different sources in the Lowcountry. Three were tap water (N. Charleston, Mt. Pleasant, Summerville) and one was from a private well in the North Charleston area near Northwoods Mall.

The results were very interesting. The private well water was observed to be unfit for brewing; very high amounts of dissolved solids, salts, bicarbonates, etc...

The tap water testing observed good brewing quality water that can be used as a solid base for matching the different brewing water chemistries of the world. We compared our testing results to the local water reports issue by the local muicipalites and observed very similar results.

 UnitsNorth CharlestonSummervilleMount PleasantWell Water     (North Charleston)
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)ppm119661071218
Electrical Conductivitymmho/cm0.
Cations / Anionsme/L1.5   /   1.51.0   /   0.71.5   /   1.619.8   /   20.0
Potassiumppm22< 124
Magnesiumppm22< 117
Total Hardness (CaCO3)ppm511823111
Nitrate (NO3)ppm0.
Sulfate (SO4)ppm86< 179
Carbonate (CO3)ppm< 1.0< 1.0< 1.0< 1.0
Bicarbonate (HCO3)ppm33< 153547
Total Alkalinity (CaCO3)ppm27< 143455

Barry Method

One of our members, Barry, a PhD and former MUSC professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, has taken a lot of water information and distilled it down into the following table:


Barry's explaination:

  1. What color will the beer be? The darker the more Sodium bicarbonate is needed to offset the acidity of darker malts.
  2. What flavor profile do you want in the beer? Bitterness is related to the ratio of Sulfate to Chloride. The ratio changes maintain the overall level of Calcium which is necessary for yeast health and flocculation.

I use reverse osmosis water, however, Charleston water is very low in minerals and can be used out of the tap after removing the Chlorine. (Note from Phil: I've done both, and I can get great results out of Charleston City tap water once treated with some campden).

Add the minerals during mashing and not to the hot liquor tank. The rates in the table are in grams per gallon. There will be some dilution of the Calcium concentration during sparging, but the Sulfate to Chloride ration will not be changed.

For colors other than those in the table, interpolate. Thus, for a color of 10, (0.3+1.0)/2 =0.65 grams per gallon.