|Water—it’s 90 to 95 percent of our beer. Or, maybe it’s only 80 percent if you’re a fermentation masochist.
Regardless, it’s the vast majority of our favorite beverage, yet it’s the least talked about in the homebrewing world.
Much of homebrewing is the sort of stuff you can casually wave a hand at, like we can with malt, hops, and yeast.
With those ingredients, you can usually predict what will happen with a few simple algebra equations. You can
often get great results with ballpark guestimates and simple rules of thumb. Not so with water. It’s understandable—
it’s chemistry,and it doesn’t like to be ignored. The margins between great and awful can be measured in grams.
Our biggest brewing-water obstacle is our municipal water supplier. That doesn’t mean they’re providing us with
awful water. It means that, thanks to the discovery that water is a primary means of disease communication, our
modern water supply is rendered safe via chlorine compounds. This is a wonderful for humans,not brewers.
Unfortunately for our needs, chlorine (or the more stable and oft-used chloramine), reacts with elements in malt
to form a nasty, clovey, plasticky, medicinal aroma—a class of chemicals called chlorophenols. You don’t want
these in your beer. Sadly, of all the brewing faults I taste in homebrew, this—the easiest to deal with—is the most
common. So many homebrews taste like a medicine cabinet. So, if you do nothing else with your water, remove the
chlorine compounds. Let’s assume your city is using chloramine, which is more practical and stable and therefore
harder to remove. You have two real choices: Filter your water through an activated charcoal filter or chemically
separate it with Campden tablets or potassium metabisulfite. I use a small dose of Campden—a single tablet will
neutralize 20 gallons pretty instantaneously. Filters, on the other hand, require maintenance and restraint.
I'ts important to know your water profile.. Municipal water providers always issue annual water reports. There are
certain compounds that the U.S. government requires water districts to track. The things brewers care most about
aren’t mandated, but they’re often included anyway. Search your water provider’s website for their report; the
reports are required to be publicly accessible.Look for the following items: calcium, bicarbonate, carbonate,
sulfate, chloride, magnesium, and sodium. Before you dig too deep, check the following:
1. Do I have 50 ppm or more of calcium? (This helps mash enzyme activity. 2. )Which is higher, chloride or
sulfate? (Sulfate increases the perception of dryness, promoting hop bitterness. Chloride decreases that
perception, hiding hop bitterness.) 3. Is my bicarbonate level above 150 ppm? (Generally, the higher your
bicarbonate level, the better for your darker beers.)
A critical aspect of water chemistry is maximizing enzyme efficiency, and that is largely a matter of calcium and pH.
Make sure your total calcium is above 50 ppm and that your mash pH—at mash temperature—is in the 5.1–5.6
range. A safe rule of thumb is to add 1 ml of lactic acid (at its usual 88 percent concentration) per gallon (3.8 l), if
you have normal municipal water.
Brewers most commonly use lactic acid to adjust pH, plus calcium sulfate (gypsum/CaSO4) and calcium chloride
(CaCl), playing salt-and-pepper to adjust calcium levels and taste. Once you start playing, you’ll begin to see the
interplay—CaCl adds calcium and chloride, gypsum adds more calcium as well as the sulfate. I recommend you do
the least needed . It is best to always start with half the amounts recommended and see what that does for you.
The mash and the boil aren’t the only place you can add water salts. If you start with a beer that’s under-
seasoned, you can play scientist and add small portions of sulfate and chloride to a glass to adjust the taste.
Why did I talk about water this month? The topic was actually selected by homebrewing readers who sent me
emails. If there is anything you'd like to know about brewing or just drinking beer just ask. I hope things did't get
too technical. If so then maybe the column will at the least make the casual drinker appreciate all the skill,
knowledge, and work that goes into making good beer.
Hope you found this month's column of interest. If you have any questions about beer or brewing
or just want to submit a word for me to discuss here just e-mail it to me.
Thanks and Cheers!
|Good Water Makes Good Beer
|A new column by
|Jack O'Reilly attended the
famous Siebel Institute/ World
Brewing Academy in Chicago.
|I'm very excited to be part of the BeerNexus team. I think my many years in the
beer business both as a brewer and manger will enable me to explain and
investigate many topics of interest for those who really love craft beer.
Hope you join me every month.
More by Jack: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14,
#15, #16, #17, #18, #19, #20, #21, #22, #23, #24, #25, #26, #27, #28, #29, #30,
#31, #32, #33, #34
|Techniques and insights
for the serious ceft beer
fan and home brewer.