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A valuable lesson learned (costly too)

Let this be a lesson to all brewers who use a carbon block filter to filter brewing water… change the filter according to the label on the filter cartridge. Lately I had some batches of beer with a mild “harshness” that I could not pinpoint. I had a keg of MLPA blow the other night and I put a keg of Mexican Vienna Lager in its place. The beer was harsh-tasting and had a nasty astringency. I cleaned & sanitized the MLPA keg and went to transfer a rapsberry ale to that keg and thought I would check that beer as long as I had it open. Harsh. My only thought was my approximately 1-year old carbon block filter cartridge. I can usually filter tap water and have it taste very good (I filter to get the chlorine out) and I even fill 5-gallon drinking water bottles in our kitchen and my family can’t even distinguish it from Ice Mountain. So I put my portable filter together and filtered some water into a cup and took a sip. Harsh. The filter was bad and needed to be replaced. Now for the hard part… 12 five-gallon batches of beer were made with that water. 12. All bad. Some were in kegs, some in secondary and some in primary. A few were made with 50% RO and are “not as bad” but still undrinkable as far as I can tell. This is by far the worst homebrewery disaster I have had. I spoke with a few other homebrewers who say that they replace their filters every 6 months regardless of how often they brew or use the filter. I used to taste the filtered water before I brewed but somewhere in there I stopped doing that. I picked up a new cartridge and will now try to get my supply back up. Clearly my fault… I should’ve taste tested some of the beers along the way and maybe I could’ve picked it up sooner. A lesson for sure… bad carbon block filters can ruin your beer! Cheers Beerheads.

Wow - thanks for the warning. I was just kind of looking at my carbon filter during my last brew session and thinking . . . . .“it is probably just fine, even though it has been 6+ months.” No hesitating now, time to change it out. Sorry your advice had to come as a result of such bad fortune.

ken,
my heart bleeds for you. :cry:

I too use a carbon filter for our drinking/coffee/brewing water. Usually we notice it needs changing when the coffee starts tasting bad, but almost always by the 6-month point.

come to think of it, its about time to change it.

:cheers:

That is a bummer. BTW, what sort of filter setup are you using? I’ve been thinking I should start using one.

Hey Sully. I posted this over on our local board too. My filter setup is a simple portable carbon block filter cartridge in a plastic housing. In & Out food grade tubing, etc. I picked it up from MoreBeer for like $36. I was talking with Scott (SBN) about the fact that I just use the filter for stripping out chlorine and he mentioned that leaving the buckets out overnight (for the chlorine to escape) or using campden would work as well. I know that when I got the filter, it said that it stripped out chlorine, chloramine, organic flavor and particulate down to .5 micron. I don’t know if I was stripping out any organic flavor or particulate but it is possible that I could bypass the filter altogether to let the chlorine escape. Cheers.

[quote=“Ken Lenard”] I don’t know if I was stripping out any organic flavor or particulate but it is possible that I could bypass the filter altogether to let the chlorine escape.[/quote]If all you need to remove is chlorine, campden is an easy solution, but the carbon filter will remove most organics and it makes a huge difference in our drinking water. I use the same filter for household consumption and for beer, so I can taste the change in flavor (actually it just starts to have flavor) as the filter reaches saturation.

I use my filter for brews exclusively and I get way more than six months for a filter. In fact, I used one for like 5 years plus without any problems. I am not anal about it but I drain it after use. The filters are relatively cheap but every six months seems to be excessive to me. I ran the numbers some time ago and it was good for like 400-800 batches or something crazy. Perhaps there is something I am missing but I don’t believe activated carbon goes bad, the filter just reaches saturation (as shadetree pointed out). Overall, I think the 6 month cycle is great idea for the whole house user but not for brew exclusive use…

For me, never had any “harshness” come from chlorine or organics that are filtered. For me, I would get funky off flavors like band aid, smokiness, plasticky.

Also, I think most activated carbon filters do NOT filter chloramines… Maybe you have the appropriate filter, I don’t know.

Maybe there is something else going on?

I use well water, but if I use water from town, I use bisulfite to get rid of any chlorine or chloramine.
Sorry to hear of your water filter issues, it could be a case of your filter catching and releasing concentrated ions into the water once it reached capacity.

[quote=“onthekeg”]I use well water, but if I use water from town, I use bisulfite to get rid of any chlorine or chloramine.
Sorry to hear of your water filter issues, it could be a case of your filter catching and releasing concentrated ions into the water once it reached capacity.[/quote]
Yeah, this is what I thought. A number of other brewers have mentioned that the filters “reach capacity”. But it’s not like the water just went through without being filtered… I filter the night before I brew and would think that if the filter just “didn’t work”, the chlorine would still be in the water and would escape overnight. My guess is that the filter was at capacity and (exactly as you mentioned), started releasing the concentrated schputz that it previously filtered out. Ugh.

I don’t keep quite as large of pipeline as you do but I too ended up with a stack of compromised beers (in my case due to hard water and not managing mash pH). I now have am a lot more confident in knowing what I’m doing but given that experience of having a stack of bad beer now when I keg I pull a sample and quick carbonate it using a 2 liter bottle and one of the carbonator caps so that I can get an early taste to see if I hosed something up.

I don’t keep quite as large of pipeline as you do but I too ended up with a stack of compromised beers (in my case due to hard water and not managing mash pH). I now have am a lot more confident in knowing what I’m doing but given that experience of having a stack of bad beer now when I keg I pull a sample and quick carbonate it using a 2 liter bottle and one of the carbonator caps so that I can get an early taste to see if I hosed something up.[/quote]
Yeah, this is something that I haven’t had to worry about too much. I have to keep reminding myself that these beers weren’t “contaminated” and I don’t have to refocus my energy on cleaning and sanitizing… just being a little more thorough about sampling things and catching a potential problem early. This could happen due to contamination, mutated yeast or whatever. Apparently the “whatever” is “bad water”. :expressionless:

Ken, your beers are so good that I would still probably drink them flawed. Sorry to hear of the problems. I have such a hard water profile that I use bottled water exclusively (RO adjusted with CaCl and gypsum when I am out of delivered water). It becomes one of the priciest ingredients for me, but the whole-house filters that have been suggested seemed overkill in cost, so I just stayed with my bottled water (5 gallon spring water). Again, sorry to hear about your troubles - your recipes are great! I hope you can brew up some lighter quick ales to get on board while you wait out restocking you lagers…

Good luck with the new cartridge.

:cheers:

Activated carbon does remove chloramine from water, but its much less effective than chlorine removal. The net effect is that to remove chloramine from water, the flow rate through the filter has to be extremely low.

Back in Tallahassee, I used an activated carbon filter for my brewing water. The water there is chlorinated. With an in-line orifice in the hose that limited the flow rate through the filter to about 1 gpm, the chlorine removal was total and confirmed through testing.

One of my courses for my Masters in Environmental Engineering degree was on Activated Carbon treatment. I was looking over those old course notes a few months back and noticed a journal article on the removal performance of activated carbon for chloramine. The article did compare specially treated and regular activated carbon media and their chloramine removal performance. Both worked, but the special stuff was a little better. The real take-away message from the article was how slow the water flow rate had to be to get decent removal percentages with either of these media. The Empty Bed Contact Time had to be over 6 minutes for high removal of chloramine. Compare that to an Empty Bed Contact Time of under a minute for good chlorine removal. The flow rate for chloramine removal is ridiculously slow. Slow to the point of not being feasible for most brewers.

If your water has chlorine, carbon filtration is a good treatment. If its got chloramine, its best to forget carbon and move to metabisulfite for removal. To the OP, it would be good to find out if the water supply is chlorine or chloramine treated. That might be some of the source of the problem if its chloramine treated.

It’d certainly hurt to lose 60gal of beer, sorry to hear about that. At least you now have an excuse to brew up a storm. I’ve been using RO but when I get lazy I go back to tap water for brews that it fits (hard water with sulfate). I really need to remember to drop in a little kmeta.

[quote=“mabrungard”]Activated carbon does remove chloramine from water, but its much less effective than chlorine removal. The net effect is that to remove chloramine from water, the flow rate through the filter has to be extremely low.

Back in Tallahassee, I used an activated carbon filter for my brewing water. The water there is chlorinated. With an in-line orifice in the hose that limited the flow rate through the filter to about 1 gpm, the chlorine removal was total and confirmed through testing.

One of my courses for my Masters in Environmental Engineering degree was on Activated Carbon treatment. I was looking over those old course notes a few months back and noticed a journal article on the removal performance of activated carbon for chloramine. The article did compare specially treated and regular activated carbon media and their chloramine removal performance. Both worked, but the special stuff was a little better. The real take-away message from the article was how slow the water flow rate had to be to get decent removal percentages with either of these media. The Empty Bed Contact Time had to be over 6 minutes for high removal of chloramine. Compare that to an Empty Bed Contact Time of under a minute for good chlorine removal. The flow rate for chloramine removal is ridiculously slow. Slow to the point of not being feasible for most brewers.

If your water has chlorine, carbon filtration is a good treatment. If its got chloramine, its best to forget carbon and move to metabisulfite for removal. To the OP, it would be good to find out if the water supply is chlorine or chloramine treated. That might be some of the source of the problem if its chloramine treated.[/quote]
Martin: Thanks for jumping in here. I do run my water ridiculously slow through the filter as I had also heard that the more contact time with the filter, the better. We also have a “local” (Chicago & Milwaukee) forum where we have discussed the idea that our Lake Michigan water is treated with chlorine or chloramine. As of now, we have concluded that the water has been treated with just chlorine and will continue that way. There are enough brewers here where if the local water district decided to move to chloramine, we would all know quickly. Also, if I were to run my water through the carbon block filter and then leave it in buckets overnight… would chloramine (if it were present) escape on its own? Finally, do you know if the flavors I got in these beers was from the filter cartridge (having reached capacity) releasing all of the gunk that it previously filtered? This was discussed earlier in the thread and I was just curious. Cheers and thanks again.

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