Water is the basic raw material for brewing beer
The four most basic ingredients of beer – water, malt, hops and yeast. Beer, like our body, is mainly water, with 90%-95% water in beer.
Compared with the processing of the other three raw materials, the status of beer brewing water is often overlooked by breweries or home brewing beer lovers, but in fact, there is a lot of knowledge about brewing water.
Water quality control in brewing is not only related to the production process, but also has a direct impact on product quality.
The purpose of this article is to give you more understanding about the use and selection of brewing water used in craft beer production.
Source of Brewing Water
When you’re making beer, it’s important to know the composition of your brewing water. You can find out by looking at your source of brewing water.
Tap Water (Municipal)
This is the water that comes out of your home’s taps and contains essential minerals from your local reservoir. It may have a slightly different taste depending on where you live, but it is still a good choice if you don’t have access to bottled or spring water.
Spring or Bottled Water
Water that can be bought in supermarkets and contains a certain amount of minerals is another option for those who want their beer to have more flavor than tap water. Some people prefer this type of water because they believe it tastes better, while others prefer distilled or reverse osmosis (RO) water because they want to remove any impurities from their beer.
Distilled or Reverse Osmosis (RO) Water
Pure H2O without any minerals is another option for those who want their beer to have more flavor than tap water. Some people prefer this type of water because they believe it tastes better, while others prefer distilled or reverse osmosis (RO)
Water quality requirements for craft beer
1. pH value
The pH of the mash should be between 5.2-5.6. Because acidity can:
Helps convert starch into sugar and improves saccharification efficiency
Improve Yeast Health
Inhibits bacterial growth during fermentation
But too low a pH can lead to over-extraction of tannins and bad flavors, so it is important to test the pH of the water before brewing.
2. Sulfates and Chlorides
Traditionally, the more chloride, the more prominent the malt flavor, enhancing the fullness and malt sweetness (heavy mouthfeel) of the beer. Many craft beers, therefore, use chlorides to enhance the mouthfeel and creaminess of malt-flavored beers.
More sulfates accentuate the hop bitterness, resulting in drier or crisper beers (thin mouthfeel), with a recommended water level of 20-150 ppm.
But chloride and chlorine are two different things. It’s important to know if your city’s water company uses chlorine or chloramines to sanitize water, and brewed water must be chlorine-free. Chlorine will outgas and/or evaporate, but chloramine is a more stable form of chlorine that doesn’t evaporate as easily. Removing chlorine, or purchasing reverse osmosis or distilled water should be the first step in treating your water. So the ratio of chloride to sulfate is also important to the brewer.
3. Other key ions
The bicarbonate/carbonate water content should be classified as 0-50 ppm for light beers; 50–150 for amber to brown beers; and 150–300 ppm for dark to jet black beers. This is the ion of greatest concern when brewing dark beers, as it is extremely important in determining the pH of the mash and beer. In most cases though, except for darker beers, it’s an ion not needed for brewing.
Sodium is the salt that completes the taste of the malt. The recommended water level is 0–50 ppm. While we recommend 50 ppm as the maximum level, certain beer styles may benefit from the higher sodium content of table salt, such as Gauss, and it boosts well in stout brews.
Adjusting Brewing Water Chemistry
When the quality of water from three different sources does not meet the standards for beer brewing water, it can be adjusted by adding appropriate chemicals.
- Potassium Metabisulfite (Campden Tablets): Eliminates chlorine or chloramines in water. 100L only needs about 1.25g. Brewers use it to stop yeast activity to sweeten beer.
- Gypsum (calcium sulfate): Adds calcium and sulfate. Will lower the pH of the mash slightly.
- Calcium Chloride: Adds calcium and chloride. Will lower the pH of the mash slightly.
- Epsom Salt (Magnesium Sulfate): Adds magnesium and sulfate. But food grade must be used.
- Non-iodized table salt (coarse-grain or sea salt): Increase sodium.
- Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate): Increases alkalinity and pH of the mash while adding a little sodium.
- Chalk (Calcium Carbonate – CaCO3): Increases the alkalinity and pH of the mash while adding a little calcium. But baking soda is recommended as it dissolves better in water.
- Lactic or Phosphoric Acid: Lowers the pH of the mash.
Earth is the featured water for brewing?
One of the main reasons why certain places are known for particular styles of beer is because they have access to certain types of water that are well-suited to different beer styles. For example:
Take Ireland: The water around Dublin has a very high alkalinity, making it perfect for brewing stouts and stouts. This is in stark contrast to the softer “Bohemian” waters of Germany and the Czech Republic, which are perfect for brewing pilsner and Helles-style beers. The low residual alkalinity and balanced sulfate-to-chloride ratio make it an excellent choice for pale and hoppy beers.