Before you start your next homebrew it’s important to take a moment and examine the water that you are going to use for brewing. The average beer is more than 90% water, yet water is the most overlooked of the four key ingredients to beer. Water is every bit as important an ingredient, at all levels of brewing, as hops, barley or yeast. Think of it like this, if you’re trying to brew a Burton IPA, how can it truly be a Burton IPA unless the water has been adjusted to the same conditions as Burton Upon Trent? The same is true for a Czech Pils or a Robust Porter, the brew will benefit from a water that is adjusted to style. To the brewer who as has never modified his/her water modification can appear a bit complicated, but it doesn’t have to be complicated at all. In fact we’ve included a handy chart to show how you can modify the water to your desired profile with ease.
Unless using distilled or RO water, your local water is replete with an assortment of minerals and chemicals, some of which are beneficial to your brew, while others are detrimental. The first step in making sure you have the right type of water for your brew day is to get a hold of a water profile report. The municipal providers will have a water quality report that you can use to see what’s in your tap water; most of the time you can find the most recent water report on the provider's website. If you’re using bottled water, the bottler will have a report available as well. Distilled and RO water have had nearly every mineral and chemical ripped out, leaving behind a water that is devoid of anything beneficial. It will have to blended or built back with minerals. We do not recommend using distilled water, unless you are prepared to rebuild the entire water profile. Once you are armed with your water report refer to the chart below. With a little simple math you’ll be able to add minerals and adjust your brewing water to the target profile. Some of the key minerals and chemicals that you will use to adjust your water are:
Magnesium Sulfate: Accentuates hop bitterness and lowers pH.
Calcium Chloride: Used to harden water and lower pH, aids in mash conversion. Can make beer taste sweet in higher quantities.
Sodium Chloride (Salt / NaCl): Aids in drawing out flavors, too much will add a salty flavor.
Calcium Carbonate: Raises pH, lowers acidity. 5/8 teaspoon per gallon will reduce acidity by .15%. Do not try to reduce acid levels by more than .3% with calcium carbonate. Too much carbonate will inhibit mash and extract harsh hop flavor.
Gypsum: Lowers pH and hads permanent hardness to water. When using RO/Distilled water adding Gypsum will restore water hardness
ACID: lowers pH of water and can have a flavor affect. Old Ale Jay prefers phosphoric acid because it has a very low flavor affect. Be careful which acid you use to adjust pH. Lactic acid has a strong flavor profile, which is fine when brewing a sour, but not so appropriate for other styles.
Another important step in modifying your water to make sure it is brew ready is to make sure you have the correct pH for your mash, sparge and boil water. Of particular importance is the mash water water. Mash water pH should be between 5.2-5.5 for most styles. The closer to 5.2 the better, again, for most styles. Getting the mash water pH just right for a mini-mash (partial-mash) or all grain batch has all of the following benefits:
Increase in yeast health for fermentation
Inhibits bacterial growth
Improved enzyme activity which improves starch conversion
Increased hop extraction during the boil
Improved clarity of finished product
Improved clarity and flavor stability for aged beers
Specific brews may call for different pH levels depending the desired flavor profile. Sparge water may be adjusted as well, but unless the water being used has a very high pH it is not always necessary. When brewing an extract batch where there is no mash or sparge water to adjust, thus it is important to adjust the boil water to the levels mentioned above for most styles.
Lastly, depending on your municipality, a water report from your municipal provider might show higher than desirable levels of chloramine and chlorine in your water. These chemicals can affect the flavor of your beer. However, as long as you do a 15 minute boil these chemicals are going to be removed from the brew as part of the brewing process. Since most brews have a minimum of 60 minute boil for proper hop extraction, this shouldn’t be a problem. If you are still concerned about chlorine and chloramine levels, AHS carries chlorine test strips and campden tablets (1 crushed tablet per 5 gallons) to help you determine your chlorine levels and remove the chlorine.
All of this information and much more can be found in the book “Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers” by John Palmer and Colin Kaminksi. We highly recommend this book, or our entire set of books covering the quadfecta of Beer ingredients: The Ultimate Homebrewers Book Set. This book set has one book for each of water, hops, barley and yeast. If you have any questions please feel to reach out to our AHS support team at any time: