What’s in Your Water?

Brewing water chemistry has a direct effect on the quality of beer you produce. There are many articles and even books on the subject and it seems surprising that some brewers pay little attention to it. By following some guidelines your homebrews will tend to improve as you tune in on the subtle differences that electrolyte adjustment can make.
All natural waters have minerals and gases dissolved in it and these can vary by source and locale. The extent and degree of these compounds determine the overall quality and hardness of water. Beer is produced all over the world and certain styles have emerged by combining native water and the locally used malts. The classic example is Burton Ales where very hard water produces an exquisite character beer.
Using this knowledge one can duplicate a certain style by reviewing the water analysis of the region where the beer is produced, then try to duplicate it.
Most homebrewers use tap water which is most likely chlorinated. It is necessary to remove the chlorine by charcoal filtering or boiling. Boiling also serves to remove alkalinity. One could always start with distilled water and make the proper additions to boost the Calcium, carbonates and sulfates to the desired levels needed to match the style.
In my area the tap water has a Total Hardness of 182 mg/l as CaCo3 so it is perfect for all types of ales that call for the addition of darker malts. I remember a few years back when I tried a Stout at a brewpub and the beer had little to no head. I questioned the brewer if he checked out the analysis of the water he was using and suggested a higher carbonate level would balance out the acidity of the darker malts. Awhile later, I returned and the Stout had a nice lasting head.
When brewing ales that range from amber to dark I use my tap water for the mash. A carbon activated filter from a home center comes in handy to remove any sediment and chlorine. I always use a tablespoon of 5.2ph Stabilizer in the mash as a buffer. Depending on the style I might add some Gypsum or Calcium Chloride.
I found a spring well not far from my house that I tested and found it to have a low hardness level. I always use this water for the sparge or when I’m using lighter malts in the mash. Commercially sold spring waters sometimes have the electrolytes listed on the labels. The brewer would have a base water to start out with, make additions or if it is soft enough use it in the sparge.
Check with your town to see if you can get a copy of the water analysis report and again use it for a basis of additions you feel appropriate.
Read about the effects that bicarbonates etc. have on hop utilization and final flavors of beer. The late Greg Noonan wrote an excellent book on brewing water chemistry that is considered to have had a great impact on the brewing process worldwide. Your beers will improve as you make subtle adjustments, starting with the water.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply