Brewing water affects beer highly, which is why homebrewers must pay attention to their water chemistry before they start brewing.
By achieving the right chemistry, you can get the perfect beer flavor, regardless of the beer style.
Brewing water affects the pH flavor of the beer, which will influence the beer flavor, seasoning and presence of off-flavors. This guide will cover all you need to know about setting up the proper water chemistry for your beer.
What Is Brewing Water?
Brewing water is water used to make beer, which can cause off-flavors from contaminants and chlorine or even add seasoning to the beer. Water is the most essential ingredient in beer, so you need to use the best one when brewing.
When it comes to brewing water, you should use those free from colors and odors, even if you get them from a pond or have chlorine. Also, the right kind of brewing water for mashing beer and making the wort should have low to medium alkalinity and hardness. But this is just general and will depend on the minerals in the water and the type of beer you want.
– Types of Brewing Water
Usually, water can either be groundwater or surface water. Groundwater is obtained from underground aquifers, while surface water is from rivers, lakes and streams.
Using surface water, you can expect higher organic matter and lower dissolved minerals. The organic matters include algae and leaves, so the water must be disinfected with chlorine to be clean. On the other hand, groundwater has higher dissolved minerals and lower organic matter. You won’t have to disinfect it, but you should check the minerals.
What Type of Brewing Water Should I Use?
You can brew beer using any type of water, but if you follow the recipe and the water chemistry correctly, you can make great beer rather than a normal one. Also, if the recipe is bad, using good water does not change anything.
Mountain spring water is advisable for brewing as a clean surface water source. It has very few minerals, which means that you can set up the water chemistry from scratch and add the suitable mineral salts.
Features in Your Water
When testing or checking your brewing water properties, there are a few minerals and features that you should look out for. These include the pH, sulfate, calcium, sodium, chloride and magnesium. So when setting your water chemistry, you’re placing specific amounts of these minerals and features in your water.
– Water pH
Water pH measures the alkalinity or acidity of water, measured on a scale of 1 to 14. The neutral number is 7, which is found in daily foods. When brewing beer, you need to know the starting pH of the grain. The mash pH of beer is usually between 5.2 and 5.6.
It shouldn’t be too acidic or have too much alkalinity when brewing beer. If the pH is too low, you get tart beer, but the beer would have off-flavors if it’s too high.
– Sulfate and Chloride
One of the significant factors that affect the water chemistry is sulfate and chloride, as they greatly affect the style of beer you’re brewing. If you’re brewing beer, you might have heard of balancing chloride and sulfate.
If you have more sulfate in your beer, there would be more hop bitterness and a dry beer. But on the other hand, more chloride increases the malt flavors in the beer, giving you a complete and sweet taste.
– Other Minerals
Other minerals mentioned include calcium, sodium and magnesium. The hardness or softness of water is dependent on magnesium and calcium. If you have more of these minerals, the water will be harder. It leads to better yeast flocculation while brewing.
As for sodium, this is the mineral for salt and would balance out the malt flavors. If you have too much sodium in your water, the beer will be salty. This is only suitable to be used if the beer is supposed to have salty flavors.
– Water Hardness
You’ve probably heard of hard water before, especially if your location has hard water from the local providers. Generally, hardness checks how hard it is for the water to mix with soap, but this isn’t important information when making beer.
Hardness shows how much magnesium and calcium ions are in the water, and this can be permanent or temporary. Permanent hardness means there are sulfates and chlorides in the water, but if it’s temporary, it can be reduced by boiling the water and letting the calcium carbonate out.
Hard water is not great for drinking but might be ideal for brewing instead. So you don’t have to worry about reducing the magnesium and calcium in the water.
Checking Your Brewing Water Properties
Before you start adjusting and tweaking your water chemistry, you need to know what’s in the brewing water you’re about to use to make beer. Once you know the minerals and pH, it’s easier to determine what to change to achieve the right chemistry.
You can make beer with tap water or bottled water. It’s easier to know the mineral qualities of bottled water, whether you’re using spring water or distilled water. If you use distilled water in brewing, it has no minerals so that you can make the water chemistry from scratch.
If you’re using tap water, you can find out the brewing water properties using three main ways.
– Test It by Yourself
For one, you can use a home water test kit to check the brewing properties in your water. You can purchase a kit online or at a brewery store and follow the instructions to use it.
– Test It Professionally
You can also get your water professionally tested by taking a water sample to a lab. Search for labs online and send the water to them. They would send back the water report after a while, so you know the kind of water you’ve been using.
– Ask the Government Office
If your water is provided by the local government, you can contact the local water department for a report. You can even include that you’ll be using the water for homebrewing as they might have a special report for this.
Tools for Adjusting Brewing Water
Whenever you get a homebrewing recipe, it usually comes with the water chemistry you should achieve in the brewing water. To adjust your water, you need particular tools in your homebrewing kit.
Here are the tools you might need.
– Digital pH Meter
It helps to have a pH meter when you’re brewing, not only for checking the brewing water but also for knowing the gravity and the alcohol content in the beer. You can ensure the mash pH is within the standard value.
Rather than purchasing test strips, you can get more accurate results with a digital meter.
– Jewelry Scale
Since you need a small scale for checking to measure your brewing salts in grams, it’s more advisable to use a jewelry scale. You can also use the scale to measure hops in grams aside from salts.
– Glass Medicine Dropper
Getting a medicine dropper is optional, but it would come in handy when setting your water chemistry. It is used to measure liquid in quarter millimeters, so you can use it to add minimal amounts of liquid acid to reduce the pH. It increases accuracy compared to using a teaspoon and having to test afterward.
There is also different software that you can use to measure your brewing water chemistry. These apps can be downloadable, and there are a lot of free platforms too. They are ideal for homebrewers who need help in tracking recipes and water profiles.
Salts for Water Chemistry
When adjusting your brewing water after checking the minerals and pH, you need certain salts and chemicals to add to them. The salts you need depend on the beers you want to brew and the original water profile.
Fortunately, these salts are usually highly affordable and easy to store. You can keep them in your homebrewing kitchen in case you need them.
One of the most critical chemicals is Campden tablets, which contain potassium metabisulphite. This will eliminate any chlorine and chloramines in your water, or it would taste bad. Although it might not be compulsory to add this each time you’re brewing beer, it’s crucial for precaution’s sake. You should only put about 500mg in your water before you start brewing.
The other vital salts and chemicals include:
- Baking soda will increase the mash pH and level of alkaline.
- Calcium chloride will lower the mash pH by increasing the calcium and chloride.
- Lactic or phosphorus acid will lessen the mash pH.
- Calcium sulfate or gypsum slightly reduces the mash pH by increasing calcium and sulfate.
- Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate which increases magnesium and sulfate. You should purchase the food-grade version.
- Non-iodized table salt for increasing sodium.
Brewing Water Tips
The type of water chemistry and how you adjust it also depends on whether you’ll be using an all-grain or an extract method. Here are some helpful things to keep in mind when brewing.
– For All-Grain Brewers
As an all-grain brewer, your mash pH must be between 5.2 and 5.6, so anything outside this can lead to bad beer. Don’t add salts into your mash carelessly until you’ve checked the pH and are sure it is necessary. You should only add the right amount that is needed.
Also, you should check the pH level after adding water to the grain. The pH determines the extraction of tannins and the mash enzymes activity while brewing, so check and make the necessary adjustments before moving on.
Although you have the pH range, this should be achieved about 15 minutes after dough-in, once the room temperature has been reached.
– For Extract Brewers
On the other hand, extract brewers don’t have to worry about water chemistry as much as all-grain brewers. But they need to work on rehydrating the malt extract to the initial composition. Thus, the recommended water type for extract brewers is distilled or low-mineral mountain stream water.
As for brewing with salts in your water, extract brewers should first make the same type of beer without the salts. By checking the taste, you know whether you should add salts the next time you’re making the exact beer.
Water adjustment is complex when brewing with extract because the manufacturer might have already added chloride or sulfate into the malt extract. By adding more salt or any other chemical, you can even ruin the taste rather than make it better. This is the same case for liquid and dry malt extract.
If you want to use salt during extract brewing, you can add only one gram of calcium sulfate for each gallon of wort, which would contribute to the bitterness flavor. But, if you want your beer to taste fuller, you should use one gram of calcium chloride for every one gallon of wort.
It’s inadvisable to use both in one wort, and don’t go past one gram until you’ve tasted the beer. If you have already tasted the beer and think it needs more chemicals, you can make adjustments the next time you make that exact recipe.
Conclusion: Brew Beer Easily With the Right Water Chemistry
Now that you know the right way to set up your water chemistry and brew beer, you can follow this guide when you’re making your next batch.
- Brewing water is used to make beer and affects the pH of your beer; the most advisable brewing water is mountain spring water.
- The critical properties of water are its pH, hardness and presence of minerals.
- You can test the water with a homemade kit, at a lab, or by asking the local government.
- Some essential tools you need to adjust water chemistry include pH meter, jewelry scale and glass medicine dropper.
- The mash pH for all-grain brewing is between 5.2 and 5.6, and extract brewers should check chemicals and salts in the malt extract before brewing.
Remember to pay attention to water chemistry whenever you brew so you can achieve the right taste, aroma and mouthfeel you desire in your beer.
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