Water is the main ingredient in beer and it is important, however altering the chemistry of your water can be quite awkward and a matter of experimentation. It’s also down to personal taste so if you like the flavour of the beer you make then don’t worry about the chemistry of your water.
Paraphrasing John Palmer (howtobrew.com): Water is the ‘final 10% that takes beer from good to great.’
It’s the last thing you should tackle when making beer. Concentrate on the main business of brewing before moving onto water chemistry and if you’re brewing from kits then I wouldn’t worry about altering the water at all until you have moved onto and become relatively experienced in all grain brewing. Above all home brewing is a hobby to be enjoyed. It’s best to keep it simple and then improve your in depth knowledge once you’ve mastered the basics. Don’t get too worried about the ‘rules’ and use your own judgement where water is considered it’s all about personal preference.
Changing your water profile:
If you are considering altering your water profile the first thing to do is get a water report. If you’re in Yorkshire you can type your postcode into the Yorkshire Water website to get a breakdown of what’s in your water. Here’s a link: https://www.yorkshirewater.com/waterquality
Some signs of water quality are very obvious, for example if you have calcium build up on taps you can be pretty sure that you have hard water. Hard water is actually good for brewing because of the high level of minerals and calcium it has.
Whether water is hard or soft is dependent upon the rivers and streams it is collected in before travelling to a reservoir. Soft water comes from areas where the rock is hard, therefore it doesn’t collect as many minerals as it travels to the reservoir. Hard water comes from areas where the rock is soft and permeable therefore the water collects a much larger amount of minerals before entering a reservoir.
Top Tip: Add a campden tablet to your brewing water 24 hours before your brew day. This is a quick and easy way of getting rid of excess levels of chlorine and chloramine. Chlorine isn’t as bad as chloramine which is the main culprit you want to get rid of. The yeast produces phenals which forms chlorophenals when combined with chlorine and chloramine. These manifest themselves as a sharp or chemical flavour bordering on a medicinal/band aid taste. Chlorine is easier to get rid of because it is volatile and evaprorates from the water over a short period. Chloramine is more stubborn but half a campden tablet per 23 litres of water reduces the levels present.
PH is driven by three factors: Alkalinity, water hardness and grain bill. A low pH is driven by water hardness and a high pH is driven by high alkalinity. Alkalinity is the main thing you’re struggling against when you’re brewing as it increases the pH, something you don’t want. John Palmer author of ‘How To Brew’ says that the pH should be consistent for all brews and that the range you’re looking for is between 5.4 and 5.8 at room temperature and 5.1 and 5.5 at mash temperature.
Hard Water: Has high levels of calcium and magnesium and as mentioned before it is good for brewing. The pH can range from 5-10. The high levels of calcium are good for the bio chemical reactions in the mash. Enzymes in the mash require calcium ions as a cofactor, meaning it acts as a catalyst and increases the rate of the chemical reaction. In this case the conversion of starch to sugars.
Good levels of calcium in your water are between 50 and 100 ppm. 200 is too high. Check out the following link with more information about water and mash pH: http://howtobrew.com/book/section-3/understanding-the-mash-ph/residual-alkalinity-and-mash-ph
Soft Water: Doesn’t contain high levels of calcium and magnesium and it’s pH can range from 7-10. Beers like Pils and Helles are brewed with soft water. Generally soft water will need brewing salts added in order to achieve a better balance of minerals. Here’s a link that goes into more detail: http://howtobrew.com/book/section-3/understanding-the-mash-ph/using-salts-for-brewing-water-adjustment
You can use pH strips which are designed to be used at room temperature or a pH meter. The pH meter we stock has automatic temperature compensation which means it gives the correct reading whether you’re at mash temperature or not.
Mash pH and Malt
The next thing to consider is how the malt will effect your mash pH. If water has higher alkalinity the pH will be higher and out of the desired range. If so you can brew dark beers as the acidity in the dark grains brings the pH down. For more information on this see this link: http://howtobrew.com/book/section-3/understanding-the-mash-ph/balancing-the-malts-and-minerals
Top tip: The yeast drives the final beer pH down during fermentation so creates a bit of lee way if the the mash pH was high.
Finally: When altering your water there is a chloride/sulphate ratio depending on what you want from the beer. The ratio to use is 2:1:
Calcium chloride is good for maltiness
Calcium sulphate is good for hoppiness
Water chemistry online tools:
There are numerous tools available on the internet to help when you’re altering the water chemistry of your water. Play around with them to see which is suitable for you.
I hope you have found this article useful! Happy brewing!
Sources used: John Palmer: How To Brew,