Home Brewing Water Chemistry for Beginners

Water makes 97% of beer and some say it’s the most important factor in good beer. But what is Ph and how do we adjust our water? Does it really matter? If you are looking for a simplified look into brewing water then you have come to the right place.

When starting up brewing it makes sense to master an understanding of each of the main ingredients. Hops and yeast are the simplest to get since they are accessible to any level brewer. All you need to do is try them out. Moving to all-grain is probably one of the biggest leaps you can make to improve the quality and control of your beer. But for some reason, water is hard for a lot of brewers to get their heads around. Maybe it’s all the elements and names.

If you like the way your water tastes, it will make a good beer.

We will keep things super simple so you can get all the basics to start taking those steps towards better beer today.

Types of water used in brewing

Tap Water

Water running from a tap
Credit: https://www.luqel-water.com/en-en/magazine/water-and-health/tap-water-or-mineral-water

Tap water is where the general rule of thumb comes to play. Good tasting water makes good tasting beer. Obviously, if your tap water tastes awful don’t use it. But if you like it then you can use it. It is super helpful to get a water report from your local city. Or you can send a sample of your water to a company like Ward Laboratories. They will then send you back a report that tells you what minerals and elements are present in your water.

The reason this is important is that these minerals have a major impact on your beer. Once you have a water profile, you can then determine the adjustments you need to make with water salts.

A potential negative aspect of tap water is that you get what you get. You can’t take away certain elements of water. One major thing to be conscious of is if you are using tap water with chlorine or chloramines which are usually found in the city water and can ruin your beer. It will give your beer a very medicinal taste.

The easiest way to remove these is to use Campden tablet. Just add 1 tablet and it’s good for up to 20 gallons of water. It starts to work immediately. Do not skip this step if you use tap water. When using city water the mineral levels could fluctuate which can make it hard to replicate the same profile each time.

Filtered – Reverse Osmosis Water

Pouring a glass of filtered bottled water
Credit: https://www.healthtechzone.com/topics/healthcare/articles/2020/06/16/445690-4-benefits-drinking-reverse-osmosis-water.htm

The biggest benefit of filtered water is that you don’t have to worry about all the mysterious things that your city might put into your water. A filtration system does a great job of stripping almost all the contaminants in the water. Additionally, it will remove a lot of the minerals as well.

This means you will need to add back in more water salts to make up for the losses. It’s probably still in your best interest to get your water tested after filtration to have a better understanding of where you are starting from.

Distilled water

Display of distilled water bottles on a store shelf
Credit: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317698

This is the cleanest water possible. All levels of minerals are zero. So you really need to bring in the adjustments to get the water to the right levels. If you really like consistency this is the method for you.

If you need more information on the water filtrations systems and how they work you can check our Water Behind Beer Brewing article. Hope you enjoy it.

Minerals of importance for beer

Pouring a glass of mineral water
Credit: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet-nutrition/a32946175/mineral-water-health-benefits/

There are six key minerals of importance for beer in the water report.

Calcium is important to yeast enzyme and protein reactions, both in the mash and in the boil.

Magnesium is an important yeast nutrient.

Sodium can round out the beer flavors and accentuate the overall flavor of the malt.

Sulfate accentuates hop bitterness making the beer seem drier and crisper.

Chloride accentuates the flavor and mouthfeel of the beer.

Bicarbonate helps buffer PH or the acidity of the beer.

So when you get your water report you will need these numbers to input into brewing software. They are the ones that have the biggest impact on your beer and they are also the ones you can easily adjust. The more sulfate there is the more bitter your beer will seem. And more chloride can mean a more full body.

We recommend using brewing software when adjusting the water. You can pick a style of beer you are trying to make and the software will estimate the minerals needed. Then you add in the current water profile and it will tell you which water salts to add to get close to the amounts needed for that style.

Brewing software display
Credit: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/782007922767198483/

Water Salts

There are three main water salts to use more often than others.

Epsom Salt also know as magnesium sulfate increases magnesium and sulfate levels.

Gypsum is also known as calcium sulfate increases calcium and sulfate levels.

Calcium chloride increases calcium and chloride levels.

Other water salts are table salt also knows and sodium chloride and baking soda or sodium bicarbonate which lowers the acidity of the mash.

Adjusting PH

PH scale range from 0 to 14
Credit: https://www.jansanconsulting.com/ph-scale.html

PH is a scale of acidity from 0 to 14, with 0 being super acidic like battery acid and 14 being super basic like drain cleaner. Right in the middle is 7 which is neutral. This is where pure water is.

A finished beer has a PH of somewhere between 4 and 5. And mash should have a PH of 5.2 to 5.6. That’s the target that we are worried about when it comes to brewing. The reason is that during mash if the PH is not in that range you are not going to get as much efficiency converting the starches and the grains to sugar.

Grains in general are a little acidic. The darker the grains the more acidic they get. When we add grains to water which is at around 7, it will lower it slightly, but often not enough to reach our target. That’s where adjustments need to be made by the brewer.

in order to determine where your PH is you will need a PH meter. If your PH is too high you will need to add some acidity into the mash to lower it. The easiest way is to use an organic acid like lactic or phosphoric acids. If you overshoot your PH you will need to raise it back by using baking soda.

You will see that at the end it will be worth it all the time and effort when you taste your better and well-adjusted beer. Cheers.

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