Buckeye Hydro generously provided my RO system in exchange for an honest product review.
Beer is 90% water. That being said, it’s often overlooked as a critical brewing ingredient. Properly treated water can make the difference between good beer and great beer. If you’ve ever made the trip to the grocery store to purchase several gallons of reverse osmosis (RO) or distilled water for brewing, then this post is for you.
I recently had the opportunity to get my hands on a 4 stage Buckeye Hydro Reverse Osmosis System to experiment with producing RO water right at home. Buckeye Hydro has a lot of experience in the brewing space. Half of the company’s revenue comes directly from outfitting commercial breweries with water treatment equipment. As a complete novice in the water world, I worked with Buckeye Hydro to customize my system to fit my needs. They were incredibly helpful in explaining every detail and it’s apparent they have worked with numerous homebrewers to configure their systems.
I’ll dive into everything we chatted about and try to shed some light on all of my initial questions.
Why RO Water?
Why use RO water in the first place? The advantage of soft, mineral-free water is that it offers a clean slate to customize your water profile to best suit your beer style. Pure water allows the brewer more flexibility in freely customizing each element. While most of us can easily purchase RO/distilled water, an RO system offers pure convenience.
Tapwater restrictions may not necessarily be a problem depending on the style of beer you’re brewing. It’s obviously very easy to add minerals to water but impossible to REMOVE without some sort of filtration system. I brew a lot of NEIPAs, so my naturally high chloride water typically works in my favor. The problem presents itself when I want to brew a style of beer that requires low chloride content.
My system is a 4-stage premium RO system that produces 100 gallons per day (GPD) of filtered water. Buckeye Hydro boasts you’ll see a 95%-98% reduction in contaminates. My system operates with a ratio of about 3-1 or 4-1 wastewater (concentrate) production to filtered (permeate) water. This is a default ratio for residential RO systems, and it can be altered by modifying a part called a “flow restrictor.” Your water pressure and water temperature will also alter this ratio.
You can customize several parts of the system depending on your needs/budget when you place your order. I opted for some upgrades and will outline them below. Each system features a set of three colored tubes (blue, yellow, and white). The blue tubing is the water IN source, the yellow tubing is for wastewater (also referred to as concentrate), and the white tubing is your finished RO water (called permeate).
System Capacity: Capacity is all about the speed at which purified water is produced. Available capacities range from 25 to 200 gallons per day (GPD). Buckeye Hydro recommended 100 GPD. This is way more water than I’ll ever need in a day, but it’s nice to not have to wait for days to produce brewing water. At 100 GPD, the system should produce about 1 gallon of RO water every 15 minutes. It would take about 2.5 hours to produce 10 gallons of brewing water. Feedwater colder than 77 degrees, or at a pressure of less than 50 psi will slow the production of permeate.
Add Chloramine Stage: This option is designed to add additional filtration if your feedwater contains chloramines. Chloramines or chlorine are disinfectants typically used by water utilities to treat drinking water. Take a look at your city’s water report or call your water utility to determine which disinfectant they use. Adding this selection will add an additional (3rd) clear housing and special carbon filter to your RO system.
Just to note, chlorine volatilizes naturally whereas chloramine needs more aggressive treatment to remove. Learn more here.
ASOV Kit: The Automatic Shutoff Valve Kit includes an Auto Shut Off Valve (ASOV) with a check valve and a float valve. When your receiving tank is full, the float valve closes and the ASOV stops all water flow through the system. At a minimum, this prevents flooding. This will ALSO stop wastewater from continuing to flow after RO water production has been stopped. Without this, wastewater will always be flowing through and out of the system unless your source water is manually shut off.
TDS Meter: The Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) meter monitors the performance of the RO membrane. Various TDS meters are available. I chose the DM1 Dual Inline TDS Meter—a TDS meter that monitors TDS in two locations. The “in” probe of the meter is installed at the inlet to monitor your source water, and the “out” probe monitors the quality of the permeate. The DM1 is easy to install and allows you to easily toggle between the two readings. In my opinion, this is a good investment at only $29. When the TDS in your purified water starts to rise significantly, it’s time to replace your RO membrane.
Feedwater Supply Fitting: Buckeye Hydro offers a number of options to facilitate tapping into your home’s plumbing to get water to the RO system. I opted for the hose bib adapter because my brewery water source is a standard garden hose bib.
LeakBlock Sensor: This option is best to add if you’re system will be installed under a kitchen sink or somewhere similar where water damage would be a major concern. My RO system lives in my unfinished basement so I skipped this.
Setup and installation are pretty straightforward and only take an hour or so. Setup includes inserting filters into canisters and hooking up tubing (easy), hooking up your water supply (really easy) and, doing some routine maintenance before you start producing brewing water (also easy). I’m really not going to get into the technicalities of installation but I will say the provided instructions are straightforward and easy to follow. It’s 18 steps and looks overwhelming at first, but it’s only because they’re very specific and each step is explicitly clear.
The TDS meter installs in about 5 minutes and involves running supplied T fittings at the input and output of the system. The only step that may seem the tiniest bit intimidating is connecting your wastewater line to your sink’s drain. You can certainly run this into the top of a sink but I opted to tap into my drain pipe. I didn’t want to risk spills and the installation looks a lot cleaner. Just note, you will need a 1/4 inch drill bit to feed the permeate hose through your sink drain. All other parts are included in the system.
The most difficult step for me was finding a place to mount my system. My basement walls are concrete and space is limited. Rather than drilling into the foundation, I hung it from the rafters with some heavy-duty screws and the keyhole slots on the system bracket. The unit itself is fairly heavy and is even heavier once full of water. Secure it adequately.
These systems come with everything you need to get up and running.
Buckeye Hydro claims their systems will remove 95% to 98% of TDS in the feed water. Using my TDS meter, I was able to confirm a 96% reduction. My feed water contained 171 ppm TDS and my permeate contained 6 ppm TDS. Buckeye Hydro advises that performance may improve over the first 6 to 24 hours of run time.
I went a step further and actually submitted two water samples for testing at Ward Labs so I could compare my water profile before and after running it through the RO system. Below you can see a side-by-side comparison of my tap vs RO water. Water testing aside, there is a clear difference in taste between my tap water and RO water. I personally like the taste of my tap water, however, the RO water tastes more pure and free of chlorine/chloramines
|Analyte||Tapwater (ppm)||RO Water (ppm)|
|Total Hardness, CaCO3||58||<1|
|Total Alkalinity, CaCO3||74||6|
Ideal Brewing Water
As you can see from the data above, I greatly benefited from my RO system as it helped to lower total hardness, chloride, bicarbonate, and alkalinity (which is a big one). Low alkaline water is really important when it comes to managing mash pH in pale beers. Higher alkalinity water requires more acid to adjust mash pH in lighter-colored beers. Numerous studies show the benefits of pH impact on beer flavor, color, etc.
If you want to dive into some more specifics, this page by Martin Brungard is the holy grail when it comes to understanding brewing water analysis. This article breaks down each component and helps to explain what to look for in your water and how to adjust it.
Not everyone will benefit from RO water. Some folks are incredibly lucky and have access to tap water that is soft, low in mineral content, and low in alkalinity. You certainly don’t need to have a water profile with zero’s across the board. I imagine commercial breweries are in the exact same boat. The first step is to get a water report and see what you’re working with before making any sort of investment in a filtration system.
Overall, Buckeye Hydro offers a great system that can be easily customized to meet your needs. My system came fully loaded and retails for $225. Depending on your budget, you can absolutely piece together a more basic solution if you’re looking to save some money and improve your water. Buckeye Hydro is incredibly helpful and a great resource for homebrewers. I would absolutely give them a shout if you’re in the market for an RO system and don’t know where to start.