From Papazian's Joy of Homebrewing:

In the US temporary hardness is determined by a measure of bicarbonates [2(HCO3)].The hardness that bicarbonate ions contribute is temporary because it is easily precipitated (becomes solid) and is removed when water is boiled or treated with certain acids.

My water has a very obnoxious level of bicarbonates (349 ppm, according to the analysis from Ward laboratories).

How long will I have to boil water to remove it of all bicarbonates?


Here is a different opinion in Brewing Classic Styles (incidentally, also by John Palmer??):

Here is a procedure to remove some of the alkalinity from the water:

Add 1 teaspoon of calcium carbonate to 3 to 5 gallons of brewing water, and stir. This will create precipitation nucleation and growth sites, i.e., seed crystals, and help some of the alkalinity precipitate out.

Boil for 10 minutes and allow to cool.

Pour the decarbonated water off the chalk sediment into another pot.

This states that boiling is only necessary for 10 minutes, not 30 as in the Water book (perhaps due to the addition of CaCO3, although that was mentioned in the Water book somewhere else); this also indicates that allowing the kettle to cool is all the waiting time necessary, not "overnight" as in the water book.

I'm not sure why two books by Palmer indicate different procedures. Perhaps it was because these books were actually written by 2 authors each?

  • It's becasue knowledge is not static. John learned something in between the 2 books. And we're all still learning...be careful what you take from older books. – Denny Conn May 28 '15 at 15:26

From Water: A comprehensive Guide for Brewers by John Palmer and Colin Kaminski:

The calcium carbonate that has precipitated [from boiling] exists as micro-crystals in suspension, which will eventually grow heavy enough to settle out. According to historical brewing texts such as Syke's, the water would typically be boiled for a half hour to allow the CO2 to be well scrubbed by the steam, and would then be allowed to settle overnight, leaving a white layer of precipitate on the bottom of the kettle. The reduced-alkalinity water would then be decanted off the sediment for use as brewing liquor.


Note that while our goal here is to remove bicarbonate(alkalinity), we are simultaneously removing calcium, which is not necessarily desirable. Therefore brewers who decarbonate their water this way often replace the lost calcium by additions of calcium chloride and/or calcium sulfate. It helps if this is done before decarbonation as the extra calcium aids in the decarbonation process, again according to LeChatelier's Principal.


But what if the water is not allowed to cool or the precipitate to settle? .... So heating of brewing water to strike temperature may result in a small reduction in alkalinity and hardness. Vigorous stirring or aeration can help the CO2 to evolve and increase the precipitation. The result is that some small proportion of the initial alkalinity would likely precipitate, byt still be suspended in the hot liquor when it is added to the mash. What is the effect of the suspended precipitate in the water being added directly to the mash? That is a good question.

Reducing alkalinity with slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) is very similar to the boiling method, but slaked lime adds more calcium and raises pH, achieving lower levels of alkalinity than boiling alone. ... Water with [249 ppm CaCO3] can be reduced to [21ppm].

[pg 103-108]

So, calcium ions reacts with bicarbonate to precipitate calcium carbonate in boiling water. Not only should water be boiled for 30 minutes, but the kettle needs to remain over night to allow the precipitate to settle-- Decanting wouldn't do much of anything immediately after boiling.

I could look into CaOH, but I'm just going to buy a RO system.

  • If you go with RO water, don't forget to add back some of the stuff that's been filtered out. You can generally find Burton Salts (of something similar) where you buy grain. – CharlieHorse May 29 '15 at 18:59
  • @CharlieHorse does this also apply to distilled water? – Matthew Moisen May 31 '15 at 4:01
  • Yes, but not quite as bad. You actually want the minerals in your beer. The reason some folks use RO water is so that they can control exactly what the mineral content is because they're trying to emulate the water from a certain part of the world, for instance, Burton, England is a pretty popular one. There are a few web sites that will tell you exactly how much of what to add to RO water to achieve this. Most folks I know just use tap so that it's a local tasting brew. – CharlieHorse Jun 1 '15 at 13:32
  • It's not usually a good idea to try to emulate water form an area. almost every brewery adjusts and treats their water somehow, so knowing the water they start with is not necessarily as knowing the water they use. – Denny Conn Aug 26 '15 at 19:40

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