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When I started brewing, I was buying Ice Mountain brand spring water from the grocery. In my opinion it was the best tasting water, so I used that for my brewing water. I then started dabbling in water chemistry, so I got an inline charcoal filter for my home water and got a WARD labs test done and used those results as absolute fact. It is well known that the water in Indianapolis is extremely hard.
The WARD lab report showed a TDS value of 501 and a Total Hardness of 334. Of note, I submitted two samples and the charcoal filter did nothing for any of the measured levels in the water. I was naive and assumed that it would. They really just filter the chlorine in the water.
I still would in most cases split my home water with a 50:50 mix of Ice Mountain and my home water. Of course my desire to simplify my process, I wanted to take one less trip to the grocery store out of my brew day prep.
I had mostly decided to take the leap of installing an RO system. It was then one day having a conversation with a neighbor who works for the Indianapolis Water Company that cinched it. He was talking about the variety of sources for water that are available to Indianapolis Water and that those sources change often, even daily.
Well, I might as well throw my water report out in the trash right?
One thing I value in my process is repeatability. I don’t want to brew a batch of beer one time, then brew it again a year or so later and have it be completely different. One variable I can control is the water used in my beer.
The best way to do that is to strip the water down to nothing, then rebuild it with mineral additions. One could argue that this is more complicated than just buying your water from the grocery store or the tap. Sure, but I heard in one podcast, paying attention to your water is the difference between a beer scoring 30 and one scoring 40. Plus, now that I’ve got my mineral additions routine worked out, it’s really like weighing out your hops, so no big deal.
This post will show
- The basics of an RO (Reverse Osmosis) system
- Some of the considerations when choosing a system
- A brief explanation of how they work
- How I chose to install my system
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Basics of an RO system and what I chose
Considerations before purchase
- Permanent or portable? I had seen some of the portable systems and considered those, but since I was looking to spend a decent amount of money on an RO system, I figured I might as well enjoy the water beyond brew days and install a permanent system.
- Number of filter stages (more is better??). I chose a 5 stage system. The more stages, presumably a greater filtration level. My system quoted filtration down to 0.0001 microns.
- Availability and cost of filter replacements. Mine uses a standard size, but I’ve seen some that use smaller filters or larger capacity systems that use more expensive longer filters.
- All-inclusive kit. Most contain every component you need, but make sure you know what you are getting. Some come with tubing, some don’t. Mine was very complete with everything needed, except common tools.
- Holding tank size. Mine came with a 4 gallon (3.2 available), but I would prefer at least a 14 gallon that would have 10.7 gallons of RO water on hand at any point in time. Only having 3.2 gallons available to dispense at a time, means that when preparing for a brew day, I must empty the tank twice to get enough water for my all-electric Brewer’s Edge Mash & Boil’s 4 gallon batch sizes.
- Transparent filter cover for first stage. I liked this feature in the one I purchased, because it allows me to see when the filter will turn from a new white color to brown and rusty or whatever it will turn to.
- Daily throughput. Again, decide what your needs are. Ours is just for brewing and drinking water at two faucets. 75 gallons per day is completely sufficient for us. If you are starting a nano-brewery, you’ll probably need more.
How they work
Essentially water comes in from the source, and goes through 3 pre-filters, then goes to the reverse osmosis membrane where the water is then split into waste water and RO water. Finally, it then either goes straight out to the faucet or goes to the holding tank reservoir.
Stage 1 Sediment Filter (PP): Sediment filtration extracts suspended sediment, dirt, rust, silt and sand
Stage 2 Granulated Activated Carbon (GAC): pre-filter reduces and removes: chlorine, volatile organic compounds (V.O.C), pesticides, nitrates, herbicides, tastes, odor, and disinfection by-products (Chloramines, THM, TCE)
Stage 3 Carbon Block (CTO): pre-filter removes Chlorine, then reduces or entirely removes Pesticides, Nitrates, Herbicides, tastes, odor, and disinfection by-products (chloramines, THM, TCE), Volatile Organic Compounds (V.O.C).
Stage 4 Reverse Osmosis Membrane (RO): This semi permeable membrane filters and rejects tiny impurities down to 0.0001 of a micron removing impurities such as colloid, heavy metal, dissolved solids, germs and other harmful substances. Virtually only water molecules and dissolved oxygen can pass through the Reverse Osmosis Membrane. The rejected contaminants are flushed to drain. The good output is now essentially RO water!
It is important to note that part of an RO system involves some waste water. I haven’t measured it, but I’ve seen quotations that for every one gallon of RO water, the system will have rejected about 2.5 gallons of waste. If you live in an area where water conservation is at a premium, you need to take this into consideration.
ASO Valve: This is the rectangular piece shown. It shuts the system off when the tank is full to conserve water.
Stage 5 Post Activated Carbon Filter (PA): Post Carbon Final polishing filter for taste and odor. The final clean water will either go to the faucet for immediate usage or will go to the holding tank for future on-demand supply.
Mounting screws (may or may not come with your system)
Optional, but makes things easier
This should be an essential part of your brewing toolkit anyway for cutting kegging and dispensing tubing
Water pressure gauge
Various RO couplers, Tee’s and valves
Label maker – if you want to place labels on the tubing as well
- Great to have in the brewery anyway
Color coded tubing
Inline TDS meter (optional)
Additional faucet (optional)
Here is a diagram of my system. You can see it has a few branches and valves to cut each section off.
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