I just received a copy of the latest (April 2016) water analysis of Southwest Water finished water supplied to households in Dickinson and surrounding areas (see below). I looked the numbers over from the perspective of a home brewer and have the following observations and recommendations.

Total hardness and pH are not big issues except how and what it takes to adjust sparge pH. The optimum range for sparge water pH is 5-6 if you sparge until the grain bed runs dry to get as much sugar from your mash as practical. If your sparge runnings are above pH 5.8 at the end of the sparge you could extract some tannins, which produces an astringent quality to your beer (think strong tea). If you do not acidify your sparge water and don’t notice astringency in your finished beer, then don’t worry about your sparge water chemistry. If you feel there is some astringency in your finished beer, then acidifying your sparge water may help. I find that 1/4 teaspoon of 22% lactic acid per gallon of sparge water does the trick of getting Dickinson municipal water at or below pH 5.8.

Sodium by itself is not a big issue in Dickinson municipal water at 75.2 ppm because it falls within the normal brewing range of 0-150 ppm. However, sodium in combination with sulfate can lend a harsh flavor (think metallic bitterness) to finished beer. Such is the case with Dickinson municipal water. It has a sodium content of 73.2 ppm and sulfate content of 202 ppm. From a drinking water standpoint, the sodium and sulfate concentrations in Dickinson municipal water are fine, but from a beer brewing standpoint harshness is a concern. There are two ways to address this issue. One approach is to use reverse osmosis (R.O.) or distilled water for half of your total brewing water. This will dilute the sulfate concentration down to an acceptable range for most beers. If you are brewing a British ale in which a sharp bitterness is desired, then do nothing and brew with straight Dickinson municipal water. The other approach to reduce excessive sulfate is to add calcium chloride to your brewing water to precipitate out some of the sulfate as calcium sulfate (aka gypsum) and boost the concentration of calcium and chloride at the same time. I add 1/2 teaspoon of calcium chloride to my total compliment of brewing water (7-8 gallons) to do the trick. Calcium chloride is inexpensive and available from homebrew or chemistry lab suppliers.

Calcium is important for yeast nutrition, beer clarity and mash enzyme effectiveness. Dickinson municipal water calcium concentration is 49.3 ppm which is just a bit below the desired range for brewing (50-150 ppm). Therefore, by adding a little calcium chloride to your brewing water, you can bring sulfates down and calcium up at the same time. Do not add Burton Salts, brewing salts, Gypsum or table salt to your brewing water unless you have a particular style of beer that calls for higher concentrations of certain ions than already exist in Dickinson municipal water. For most beer styles, there is already plenty of sodium and sulfate in Dickinson municipal water and additional brew salts will give your beer an even harsher flavor profile.

One more aspect to modifying Dickinson municipal water for brewing is the reduction of chloramines.  Chloramines are a combination of chlorine and ammonia used to disinfect against potentially harmful bacteria and viruses in drinking water.  Our water is treated with chloramines rather than free chlorine, as chloramines provide disinfection protection that is longer lasting than free chlorine.  While chloramines are not harmful to people drinking Dickinson municipal water, they can produce a harsh “Band-Aid” flavor in beer brewed with the water.  There are a couple fairly easy methods to reduce chloramines in brewing water.  One approach is to add 1 campden tablet (potassium metabisulfite) at a rate of 1 tablet per 20 gallons of water (or .02 grams/gallon), let the solution sit uncovered for 20 minutes before proceeding to brew with it.  The other approach is to run the water through an activated charcoal filter before using the water for brewing.  Note: boiling water for at least 15 minutes with no lid on the pot will only remove chlorine, not chloramine.  Use of Campden or activated charcoal filtration will remove either chlorine and chloramine.

The bottom line.  Filter your brewing water through an activated charcoal filter or add Campden to reduce chloramine, and add a little calcium chloride and/or substitute some R.O. (Reverse Osmosis) water in place of Dickinson municipal water to reduce sulfates.  This should alter your water chemistry to reduce both potential contributors to harsh flavor from Dickinson municipal water in your beer.


Jon Stika

Analysis of Southwest Water supplied to Dickinson, ND April 2016

Conductivity: 624 umhos/cm
Dissolved solids: 399 mg/l
Hardness Total: 157mg/l
Alkalinity (Calcium Carbonate): 76.3 mg/l
pH: 8.30
Iron: <0.05 mg/l
Manganese: <0.01 mg/l
Calcium: 49.3 mg/l
Magnesium: 8.1 mg/l
Sodium: 73.2 mg/l
Potassium: 4.3 mg/l
Carbonate: <1 mg/l
Bicarbonate: 93 mg/l
Sulfate: 202 mg/l
Chloride: 14.0 mg/l
Nitrate: + Nitrite 0.06 mg/l
Silica: 4.32 mg/l
Fluoride: .76 mg/l
Hydroxide: <1 mg/l
Hardness: 9 gr/gal
Turbidity: <1 NTU
% Sodium: 49.4
Sodium Adsorption Ratio (SAR): 2.54