Category Archives: Brewing Ingredients

Reverse Osmosis System Installation

At some point in your brewing career you are going to become interested in taking your water chemistry to the next level.  As part of that, you might come to the realization that you want to improve the quality of your water and stop using the water from a garden hose or you might want to cut down on the inconvenience of having to go to the store to get your water.

Difficulty: level_3

If you have made it this far, please continue.

Time Required

A few hours to a day depending on how expansive you wish to make your system.

Cost

$150-400, dependent on how complex you want to make it and how much capacity you want.  After it was all completed, I had close to $300 in my system.

Background

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

  1. The basics of an RO (Reverse Osmosis) system
  2. Some of the considerations when choosing a system
  3. A brief explanation of how they work
  4. How I chose to install my system

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Basics of an RO system and what I chose

Filtration
Generally the filters are contained in one assembly.  I’ve seen anywhere from 3 to 7 stage filters.  The system I chose was a 5 stage.  It seemed to be the most common and my most important criteria was that I would be able to get replacement filters easily and economically.  I didn’t want to have a $45 filter that would have to be replaced every 6 months.
Holding tank
These come in various sizes.  The purpose of the tank is to store water for on-demand usage.  With a limited flow rate for the filters to do a good job, you can’t just keep the faucet going non-stop.  My system is rated at 75 gallons per day, which is just over 3 gallons per hour or just under 6 ounces per minute.  Keep in mind that the size of the tank dictates how much water you can have on hand at any time.  Also the quoted size of the tank isn’t necessarily how much water you’ll have available either.  Mine is a 4 gallon tank that can hold 3.2 gallons.  I’ve seen a 14 gallon tank that holds 10.7 and a 20 gallon that holds 14 gallons.
Faucet
Pretty self-explanatory.  You need some way to get the RO water.
Tubing
There is pretty much a standard tubing size used for RO systems that appears to be the same as ice-maker tubing.  It comes in a variety of colors, which you can use to your advantage if you like to keep things organized and color-coded.

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.

Tools/Materials Required

First off, the items required will depend on the RO system you select.  In general the following items will be helpful
  • Cordless drill
  • Mounting screws (may or may not come with your system)
  • Tube cutter
    • 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)

My Installation

The first step in the instructions is to test the water pressure.  This system required an input pressure between 45-70 psi.  I measured mine somewhere in the mid-70’s at the time of installation.  A little on the high side, but ok to go.
Rather than install my RO system under the already overcrowded area under our kitchen sink, I decided to install ours in our garage.  The main benefits were that when I do go to change filters, it will be significantly easier to replace them when they are at chest height and any spilled water won’t be a big deal in the garage either.
I had to add an additional 2×4 to the wall to span 2 studs and provide a sturdy mounting surface for the filter array.  This also provided some additional space between the filters and the walls, which makes removing and reinstalling the filters much easier.
Plumbing Connections
First off is an explanation of how the push fit connections work in an RO system.  This video clearly shows what is happening inside the connector and demonstrates how easy they are to connect and disconnect.

It is recommended that if you have a water softener, to pull the RO system supply from the softened water, rather than your hard water.  The ion exchanged water coming from the water softener is apparently easier on the RO system than just plain hard water.  Fortunately, our laundry tub in the garage was already plumbed for soft water on the cold side, so I just had to tap into the supply.
My system also came with a feed water adapter, which made that easy.  It also has an on/off valve in case you want to service the RO system without turning water off to the house.  Fortunately, since my system came with color coded tubing, I was able to follow that scheme and just by looking at the hoses, I know each ones function.  BUT, because I like labels, among the RO water lines (blue), I added labels showing their destinations.  It just helps when needing to re-configure.
The other connection for the system is the waste water (black tubing), which requires drilling into your drain on your sink adding some foam and attaching a saddle connector.
Again, since it was in the garage, this was more accessible.
The last connection is the outlet.  This was the hardest part for me, since I decided to run a line to the sink in the kitchen.  I drilled a hole in the wall under our sink, which went to the crawlspace under our kitchen.  I then ran this line through our crawlspace on up to the kitchen sink.  The outlet also has branches to the ice maker for our garage fridge, an additional faucet on the laundry tub in our garage and a loose line that is used to fill my kettle (the whole point of this exercise).
For now, I pull out a longer extension for filling my kettle so I don’t have to move it once filled, but I’m considering going ahead and making that line permanent so that it’s one less thing I’m setting up.
picture of yellow line going to kettle – no picture yet
One of my favorite add-ons for my setup is the HM Digital DM-1 In-Line Dual TDS Monitor.  It is made specifically for RO systems to monitor the incoming TDS value and the outgoing TDS value.

Here is a diagram of my system.  You can see it has a few branches and valves to cut each section off.

System Performance
Right after installation, the manual recommends running a decent amount of water through the system to clear out any loose particulates in the filters.
Here is a graph showing the cycles of water after installation.  I basically let the system do it’s job filling the holding tank and drained it each hour and took readings.  After about 6 tanks (19 gallons) worth of water, I was down to 12 ppm!
I haven’t taken regular measurements, but here is a chart of the in/out over time since installation.  When I first bought the system, I was accepting that I would be replacing filter sets every year.  After seeing the measured performance of the system, I would say that after 2 years, there does not seem to be a noticeable difference in output, so I would consider the filters still operating properly.

Conclusion

I am extremely happy with the RO system as I have installed it.  I’ve switched to drinking RO water exclusively around the house.  I’d like to say that this has been able to shift my palette slightly in that I should be able to pick out more subtle differences in my beer.  That could just be in my head however.  The TDS readings over time have shown the system to be working as intended and I’m quite happy with the filter performance over the 2 years I’ve had it installed.
Other benefits
We now have RO in the kitchen, which besides clean tasting water, we use it exclusively for coffee and our electric tea kettle.  The added benefit is that we now do not have to deal with mineral and lime build up on the heating elements.
Also, my oldest daughter has been raising a Cape Sundew and a Venus Fly Trap on our kitchen windowsill, which are both carnivorous plants and they require RO water.  Ever since I’ve installed the system, these plants have flourshed.  These plants have also allowed us to make it through an entire summers with out any fruit fly break outs!
Of course while working in the garage, I now also get to have a fresh ice water composed of RO ice cubes and RO water.

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NHC 2014 Homebrew Expo

Ok, so this is REALLY what I came for.  You know I’m an equipment geek, so it was cool to see all the latest stuff.  In no particular order, here is my list of the coolest things I saw.

Missed my first post on my thoughts of the evening events?  Go back to the beginning..

Difficulty: level_1

This might be slightly more difficult to read than most, because your inner brew geek mind will easily wander into thinking about what you can buy or make next.

My Favorite Things….

010-NHC_2014-SYNEK

SYNEK Draft System

This is like the countertop kegerator. And the thing is, that isn’t the coolest thing about the SYNEK. What is so cool, is that they have brought focus to a new way to package beer. The best way to describe it is like box wine. If you’ve ever bought some and taken apart the box to find the bag inside, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’m not ashamed to say that I still do buy it, because there actually is good box wine. I’m an ultra-beersnob, but I’m fine with the Two Buck Chuck (or Three Buck, depending on where you live).

Anyway, back on subject. The premise is that anyone from homebrewers on up to professional breweries will be able to use the new packaging. It’s one of those ideas that was waiting to happen, since all the technology was there. I like the fact that with growlers, you can go to most any brewery and bring home the deliciousness. The bad thing is that once you open them, you need to drink the beer within a few days or it goes flat. Unless you are using some sort of carbonation cap (I’ve got a method, which I’ll have a post on soon). In any case, glass is not an ideal material for holding pressure.

I talked for a while with Steve Young, the founder for quite a while.  He’s the guy in the videos on their site.  You really have to watch the videos at the SYNEK Kickstarter page. It can do more justice than me writing about it.

I myself am planning on acquiring an early unit to run it through it’s paces. For purely scientific reasons….

010-NHC_2014EV_Keg

EV Container Plastic Kegs

So a few plastic keg manufacturers have come to market with mixed reception. What I think is so great about this one is that they have a removable liner, so it makes cleanup a snap. This will have huge implications for commercial breweries. NOBODY likes cleaning. I had this idea when I decided to go with the Fermentation Bucket Liners, but hadn’t thought all the way through how to do it with a corny keg, so I’m glad to see that somebody has done it with normal kegs at least. Currently, the only fittings available are for a Sanke keg connector. They are supposed to be slightly larger in diameter than a standard sixth-barrel or corny keg.  Visit their site to get more info.

010-NHC_2014Braumeister

Speidel Braumeister

Not necessarily new, but my first time seeing it in person. I have to say, it is quite beautiful. It’s like the Porsche of brewing equipment. Appropriate, since they are headquartered in Ofterdingen Germany, not too far from Stuttgart, Germany, home of Porsche. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.
If you can read German, go here:
http://www.speidels-braumeister.de/brauprozess.html
If not, go here:
http://morebeer.com/category/braumeister-electric-allgrain-brewing-systems.html

Hop Union

Until NHC, I hadn’t used their products or website. I had just seen their nice advertisements in Zymurgy. I got a few hop samples and intend to use one for my 1 gallon brewing experiment (in process). Their website has a ton of resources applicable to the homebrewer. You MUST go to their site and find out all you didn’t know about hops already.

White Labs

What’s so new with White Labs? They’ve been around. Ok, well besides what I think is a cool application of genetic mapping technology to study the yeast family tree.

White Labs is introducing their new FlexCell packaging. All the information you would want can be found here:
http://www.whitelabs.com/innovation
And in case you were wondering, as with the traditional vials, if you collect 5,000 empty FlexCell packages, Chris White will come to your house. Start saving!!

Clear Beer Draught System

So I keg and don’t filter my beer. I use a combination of patience and not necessarily caring what my beer looks like. OK, so when I do get to that point in the keg where my beer is crystal clear, I do feel pretty pleased with myself. What we have here is an invention that allows you to pull beer from the top of the keg, instead of at the bottom. It’s basically a floating siphon. When I saw it, I thought “I wish I had invented that!”. I must acquire one and try it out.

Grog Tags

Ok, so I don’t bottle. Why do I care? It’s not just bottle labels, but keg/carboy labels, coasters, bottle caps and more. I hadn’t realized this before visiting their booth at the expo. I currently use gaffer’s tape on my fermenting buckets and then keep the same label all the way to the keg, but I do like the keg/carboy labels. And since my bottle labeling consists of a handwritten Sharpie label, it might be handy to have some real bottle labels made up. What else is cool about the bottle labels is that they are re-usable. As a test, I even ran my NHC tasting glass through the dishwasher with their sample label and it came out just fine.
More info and video.

Click on my link below for 10% off.

[ad name=”GrogTAG 720×300″]

Brew Toad

First off, thanks for the free wireless at NHC!

Another brewing software has entered the market. I talked to the developer of Brew Toad at the expo. While it doesn’t yet support special tools for BIAB, I will wait for it to mature a little and then include them in a future comparison of brewing software. I currently use BeerSmith, but I know things are moving the way of web based so you can have your information anywhere you have an internet connection, so we’ll see how this turns out.

I’ll be breaking my thoughts into a few posts:

Part 1: Evening Events
Part 2: Seminars
Part 3: Homebrew Expo (This post)
Part 4: Other highlights and parting thoughts

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Grain Storage

Grain Storage

Difficulty: level_1

Time Required:

As long as it takes you to replace a trash bag.  Maybe more if you decide to nerd yourself out.  Keep reading to the bottom if this is you.

Cost:

Less than $5 per bucket assembly.

Background:

So if you are serious about brewing and want to save money in the long run, you are most likely buying your most used grains in bulk.  If you don’t want those savings to go to waste, you need to store the grains in a way that doesn’t degrade the quality of the grain.

Required:

5 Gallon bucket + lid of your choosing
food safe bag

“Let’s do this”:

Whenever I choose a storage solution, I try to find something readily available where that exact same container can be purchased again at some later point in time.  I arbitrarily chose Homer buckets from Home Depot.  Maybe I fell for their marketing scheme of having them available everywhere you look in the store for a reasonable price, but hey, they work.  So now, I just buy these buckets so everything matches.

What is convenient is that each bucket holds just about 25 pounds of grain.  So what I usually do is buy the 50 pound bag of ‘Merican grain when I’m going to use it, then the remainder always fits in two buckets.  The same goes for when I get the 55 pound bags of “Ferrin” grain.

So choose your bucket and then decide which lid you will use.

008-Grain Storage-Crappy lids

Do not buy these lids!  They tempt you with the “easy removal” line, but upon the first or second removal of this lid, this will occur.

008-Grain Storage-Sealed Lid

This is what I buy.  They are a few cents more and in my opinion, worth so much more.

008-Grain Storage-Seal on lid

These lids have a rubber seal, which helps keep moisture out.

008-Grain Storage-Lid as Received

The lids do have this one time seal feature, but just go ahead and pull it off.  If you are just the slightest bit careful, you can remove these lids over and over again.

008-Grain Storage-These lids crack too

 

You might get a crack in the lid where the stress “reliever” is, but as long as it doesn’t go beyond the rubber seal, you should still be ok.

If you want the ultimate in awesomeness, go for the Gamma lids.  I personally don’t use these for my grains, because the highest frequency I need to access my grains is every two weeks and I can cope with the standard lids.  I do however use them for our bulk dog food storage and hay for our guinea pig, since we store them in the garage and we access them every day.

The Gamma lids are surprisingly decently well priced at Home Depot ($7-8).

Ok, enough about lids already!

Since it is mostly accepted that the plastic used in most 5 gallon buckets is not rated as food safe, lets just add another layer of protection.

Once you have decided on your bucket / lid combo, just place a food safe plastic bag liner in the bucket.  Reference my post on food safe bucket liners to get an idea on where to get these bags.

008-Grain Storage-Twist bag

 

Not much to explain really.  Put the bag in the bucket and pour your grains in.

008-Grain Storage-Tuck Bag

I then twist the top of the bag and tuck it in the side of the bucket.  Then just put your lid on.

Labeling

Per my post on Easy Fermenter Labels, I just used gaffers tape to note the grain type and amount of grain in the bucket.  See “Nerd Alert” at the end of this post to determine the amount of grain in the bucket.

008-Grain Storage-Label Contents

Moisture control

Ok, so I admit, I had been using muslin bags filled with rice for “moisture control”.  After some reading on the internet (so it must be true), I came to the conclusion that rice is a poor desiccant.  I fell for the commonly held belief that it absorbed moisture because they use it in salt.  Well, it seems that rice is used in salt shakers to prevent clumping.  Sodium chloride is actually a better moisture absorber.  It all makes sense now, because the container I store our ice melter in always has a pool of water on top.  Now I just say (my opinion here) that if you won’t be using the grain within 3-6 months, you probably aren’t making the best of purchasing grain in bulk.

Nerd Alert!level_5

Ok, so if you aren’t using all of your grain at once, you’ll probably want to know how much grain you have left.  What I do is weigh the bucket plus the bag liner before pouring the grain in.  This is my tare weight.  So whenever I need to know how much grain is left, I just weigh the grain bucket with the grain in it and subtract the tare weight.

008-Grain Storage-Tare Bucket

I also note the date each time I weigh, because I know myself and I know that if I just put the weight on there, I will wonder if it was before or after a certain brew an then end up re-weighing the grain.

008-Grain Storage-Stacked Buckets

So here is “Fermentation Central” in my basement.  Two batches of Cream Ale fermenting, next to my stack of grain storage buckets and my two dorm fridges converted to fermentation chambers.  The top one is running intermittently (had since college) and the bottom one is facilitating a German Alt.

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