From the Blog: Water Chemistry Part 1 of 2

Water Chemistry Part 1 of 2:

The Basics

Last week I spoke to a customer excited to embrace his inner brewer and create his own recipes. He had carefully calculated his base and specialty malts, researched alpha acids and aroma characteristics and even sought out just the right yeast to tie everything together. It was an impressive recipe. But something was missing. I asked “and what about your water?” “What about my water?” he said. Water accounts for 90-95% of your beer yet it’s the one ingredient we rarely think about on brew day.

Understanding how water affects beer can take your recipe from good to great but taking it for granted can render an otherwise great recipe underwhelming. In general, if your water tastes good or better yet, doesn’t taste at all, you’re probably in good shape. But if you have a water softener in your house or find yourself filtering your drinking water you might want to start treating your water more like an ingredient than an afterthought. Remember: Good In = Good Out.

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One question I have been interested in is how stable a water supply is over time. You suggest getting a report from the water company, but unless that supply is constant from day to day, does it help much? I know that my local water company uses multiple reservoirs, each one fed by a different water shed and each with a distinct water profile. I recently did some experiments and it appears the hardness and alkalinity vary by a factor of four from one day to the next. My results are written up here: Testing Boulder Tap Water for Home Brewing.

So my question is whether other people have monitored their water over time and is my water supply unusual for being so variable?

I have contacted my local water quality services and requested the water quality data that they must send to the state in a monthly email. Therefore, every month I receive a new and updated water quality report. This report barely ever changes and there aren’t much differences from the year to year reports. I adjust my water based on the profiles I need for the beer I am brewing and then, using that data, adjust my water by dilution with RO and adding salts.

Curious about using a local “Spring Water” shop. They have RO water, that is supposedly good for drinking. Where I live (Lathrop, CA) our city is primarily well based and isn’t really good tasting. Normally when I brew I just buy 3 of the 2.5 gallon jugs of Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water since I am still dealing with mostly extracts. Can someone recommend a good place to have water samples tested? If I decide to use the local place (only 39c a gallon) I want to know what is in it, and what I should probably add to make it good for brewing.

Ward Labs is the gold standard for water analysis. You don’t need the brewer’s test, just the household water test will give you appropriate information for adjusting brewing water.

RO water is variable depending on how the source maintains their filtration system. TDS meters are not terribly expensive and will give you an idea if the water from your source is starting to suffer.

I managed to talk my water company out of a report, after telling them I was home brewing they said okay.

My water is great! EXCEPT for sulfate at 410 mg/l!! Are there any water treatments besides RO and add minerals back to handle that high of a sulfate level? Dilution reaches the point I have to start boosting calcium etc to get it back into decent brewing range.

Add some Calcium Chloride and brew Burton ales! Some famous IIPAs use water with this much (or more) sulfate.

What happens if I use maple sap instead of water?

This sounds like it would be good for a new topic. Repost in the Ingredients category. Replies will be specific to your query.

I don’t want to be limited to IPA’s(even though I do like them!)

I use RO water for consistency myself. I personal believe in using the best quality of water every time to eliminate that as a variable.

That was mostly in jest. I’m not aware of treatments to remove sulfate, so I would guess that dilution would be your best bet. As far as using the water as-is, high sulfate typically enhances the dryness of a beer, so you may find ways to compensate for this with recipe formulation. Mashing high to increase your final gravity may help, and selecting yeasts that enhance malt may as well.

But the best bet may be to use your water as-is for hoppy styles, and find an appropriate dilution for all others. Or use RO or distilled water and build up the profile.

Yeah I am looking at an RO system, I checked with the water company again and they just emailed me back saying the readings vary widely depending on time of year, snow melt and rain… my water comes from an aquifer system with exposed fens…

Every beer style was developed historically with a certain water profile associated with specific European cities and regions. Hard water is generally good for heavier styles, not light ales and lagers.

A home RO system is a great idea in this case! There’s no way of knowing what’s in your water otherwise. I know some of the folks here use them - maybe start a new thread and see if you catch their attention?