The Importance Of Water For Homebrew
The water that you use for your brew will make the world of difference. Most homebrewers don’t give it too much thought, at least I didn’t. It wasn’t until earlier this week that I was helping trouble shoot a beer and we realized that something was overlooked. Actually the biggest ingredient was overlooked, water.
So how important is the water that you use for your brewing? We will get to that in just a second but first I need to catch you up to speed.
How We Figured Out It Was The Water
The beer was given to me to trouble shoot, and the fact of the matter was I helped design the recipe so I was pretty familiar with the ingredients that went into it. Also the brewer that had this issue is a more than capable brewer (knows how to follow instructions, sanitize, yadda yadda yadda) and then I tasted it – there was an off flavor to it. It was an IPA that had this harsh flavor, a weird flavor to it actually. I was stumped, so I started going through all of the possibilities and my only suggestion was to let it age in the bottles a bit longer and taste it in a few weeks.
It wasn’t until a week later, the customer came back and we were chatting about his weekend house and how he didn’t brew this recipe during the week but rather on the weekend. With that comment we figured that the biggest difference between his brews made during the week (which have been consistently good) and the brews made on the weekend was the water profiles are polar opposite. The water he uses at his weekend home is extremelysoft versus during the week it is much harder.
Now Why Does That Make A Difference?
I learned this from people who lived in Seattle. Apparently in Seattle the water is extremely soft, it’s almost like rain water (from what I’m told – I’m not a water expert by any means) and they would tell me that it was a pain to make APA’s and IPA’s. They would have to add water salts to the water to make it harder. So why does this make any difference at all? Well the reason is that certain water profiles will lend better to different styles of beer better than others.
The chemistry of the water determines the effect that each type of grain addition will have on the beer as well as the hops have with that beer. It’s the reason why really good light lagers come from Czech and really good stouts come from Ireland/Great Britain.
Maybe it’s best to show with some examples and charts (I love charts). This information can be found on howtobrew.com. I tried to cut it down and make it a bit more comprehensive though.
First We Need An Example Of Brewing Water Table
Water Profiles From Brewing Cities
|Burton||352||24||320||820||44||16||India Pale Ale|
It doesn’t take too long to realize they all have different water profiles. These different water profiles are just what’s in the region – they aren’t building them up.
So What This Actually Means
Different water styles mean different things for beer. Certain minerals will accent on different malts as well as hop flavors depending on the concentration of them. That’s why in general if you go to a homebrew shop they will tell you, “When making beer, don’t use distilled water – you need those minerals in them when making ales”.
To further drive this point home, here is an elaboration on the information above.
The low hardness as well as the low alkalinity really help with getting the proper pH to be reached with only base malts – they don’t use many or any specialty grains. The lacks of sulphate helps with a light hoppyness.
This city has pale lagers. It has more malt flavor to it because of the higher levels of minerals.
Similar to Dortmund lagers but lacks the amount of calcium, sodium and chloride. The only way that they got the acid levels to be correct was to add Toasted Malt, hense the amber color for Vienna’s.
It has a fairly balanced water profile, they do however have to use darker malts to help balance the carbonates and acidify the mash. It has low sulfates so it really accents on the maltyness rather than the hops. This is why they have malty beers with light hoppyness.
With high levels of carbonate it makes the use of dark malts more promising in the mash. The high level of carbonate makes it more favorable to use dark malts to balance the mash, but the high chloride and high sodium allow the beer to be smoothed out. Think porters and browns.
This is very similar to the London styles of beer, but it has more bicarbonate and sulfate making the beer a bit more malty and using less hops to achieve balance in the brew.
Again it’s pretty close to London water. The hardness of the water is pretty high. The high level of sodium in the water helps produce a clean hop bitterness.
Has a high level of bicarbonate, because of that this style of beer really embraces the maltiest and darkest malts beer. Because of the low-level of sodium and chloride it has a mellow amount of hops.
One Step Closer To Going Water Crazy
Now that you know this, how do you know what your water profile is.
- As a last resort you can send your water to get tested . Once you do that you should get back a table letting you know what your water is.
- Maybe someone already did the work for you is another option. A lot of homebrewers are pretty nice people and sometimes you can find on a forum or a blog someone’s report on the water profile for your city, town, or county. So I would take a look on the internet before you rush out and spend money on getting your water tested.
- Also your county, town, or city may have public information on your water contents – may be worth checking.
- If you use bottled water, you can call up the manufacture and they should be able to tell you as well.
Yep We’re Water Crazy
We’re here, we are officially making a really big deal about something that only homebrewers would find interesting. Here is another chart that will help you, “correct” your water to the style that you are brewing. Again this can be found on John Palmers site.
Salts for Water Adjustment
|Brewing Saltand Common Name||Concentration at 1 gram/gallon||Grams per level teaspoon||Effects||Comments|
158 ppm CO3-2
|1.8||Raises pH||Because of its limited solubility it is only effective when added directly to the mash. Use for making dark beers in areas of soft water.|
|4.0||Lowers pH||Useful for adding calcium if the water is low in sulfate. Can be used to add sulfate “crispness” to the hop bitterness.|
|3.4||Lowers pH||Useful for adding Calcium if the water is low in chlorides.|
a.k.a. Epsom Salt
|4.5||Lowers pH by a small amount.||Can be used to add sulfate “crispness” to the hop bitterness.|
a.k.a. Baking Soda
|4.4||Raises pH by adding alkalinity.||If your pH is too low and/or has low residual alkalinity, then you can add alkalinity. See procedure for calcium carbonate.|
I Have To Bring You Back To Reality
It’s really easy to get lost in this, very easy. So time to bring you back to reality and full circle this thing. I’m not advocating that you need to be obsessed with your water profile by any means, that’s unless you want to. I guess my point can be summed up like this, be conscious of what the water profile from where you brew. It may be better for certain styles over other styles.
Finding out that your water doesn’t work for your favorite style of beer could be unfortunate, and if that is the case maybe you should consider playing with it a little bit or go the easy way, buy bottled water from a region that is near your favorite style and brew with that. But for the most part, I would just recommend brewing around it. Just at thought.
Well hope you enjoyed, and leave your comments and questions in the space provide below!
Tags: how to change water profile, how to check water profile, how water effects hops, how water effects malts, testing water, water profile, water profile and hops, water profile and malts, water profile test