A question I get asked about from time to time is what is the best water for brewing beer. Considering that water make up at least 90% of your homebrew it is a great question and an extremely important part of the brewing process and something you should learn about if you want to make the best beer you can.
Now when it comes to the answer itself it can be quite simple or it can be quite detailed.
Meaning the basics of what water to use when brewing is very straight forward. However if you want to get very detailed and dial your water in to replicate the type of water you should be using for each style of beer you are brewing; well then things can get a little more complicated. (Although very do-able).
In this post we are going to look at both the basics and also the more complex components of this subject.
I will say from the get go that I am not what I would consider to be an expert on water chemistry; and this is Make Beer Easy so I do like to keep it simple; but I do have some knowledge on this subject and I make pretty good beer so I’m going to tell ya what I know, so buckle up.
So first let me give you my thoughts on this subject and how much of your tie I think you should focus on or worry about this topic.
For many years when I first started making beer I never gave this any thought at all, I just figured everyone used their tap water for brewing; so that is what I did and I was happy as a pig in shit as they say. I was making homebrew and I was enjoying drinking what I made.
As I started diving into the subject just a little bit I came to realize that perhaps I could improve my homebrews some by giving this topic some attention.
Now when I was brewing malt extract kits all this meant was that from time to time I would grab some spring water from the grocery store and brew with it instead of my tap water. Did I notice a big difference in the quality or taste of the beer, to be honest no.
And as we will talk about today when it comes to extract kits most of the brewing has been done for you and the water they used to manufacture the kits would have already been treated; so with kits you really don’t have to worry much about this topic. The best water to use for brewing with kits would be filtered water, RO (reverse osmosis) or Spring water (grocery store stuff).
When I first transitioned into all grain brewing I also did not focus much on worrying about water chemistry; it was not until I decided to open my Brew Pub that I figured it was time to dive into this topic as I obviously wanted to make the best brews that I possibly could.
So I very quickly learned how to treat my water to make the ideal beer, and yes the quality and taste of the brew did improve. So there is validity in researching and learning about this topic.
Now having said that I have recently moved and I have no idea what my water profile is, so I have been brewing the old fashion way of just using my tap water and again I am happy with the quality and taste. Will I go back to worrying about water chemistry some day? Most likely but in the mean time I am not sweating it in the slightest.
So long story short, if you are enjoying the taste of your homebrew with the water you are using then don’t worry about changing a damn thing. If you want to up your game a little bit then start researching this topic. Simple as that.
OK let’s start out with the basics…
The Basics of Brewing Water
The first thing you can do is make sure the water that you are using is good. See told you “the basics”!
So If you are using your tap water, make sure it does not have any odors or funny tastes, because if it does so will your homebrew.
My father is on a well and there is lots of sulfur in this tap water. It smells like rotten eggs, it has a slimy feel to it and I do not like the taste (he thinks its great mind you). There is no way I would ever brew up a batch with his water, because the beer would end up with those characteristics and probably taste like hell.
If you are on municipal water make sure that it does not have chlorine in it. If it does you can use Campden tablets, as they are used to remove chlorine and chloramine from brewing water. Simply add half a crushed tablet to the water for 5-6 gallon batches and will get rid of the chlorine and chloramine nicely.
If you are getting a medicinal type off flavor in your home-brew then it is likely as a result of chlorine being in your water.
Quick Video on Basic of Water
Tune in as I give my thoughts on this topic.
The Best Water to Use
Let’s quickly take a look at the different sources of water you could use…
From Your Tap – This is obviously the easiest source of water to use. It’s right there in front of you.
So as I said above, if it tastes good and it does not smell then by all means use it. Give it a go and see what you think. As we get into the more “complicated” components of this topic you will learn how to adjust your tap water to be ideal for brewing.
RO Water or Reverse Osmosis Water – I would only use Reverse Osmosis water when brewing if I am making malt extract kits or if I am going to be treating my brewing water.
The reason for this is that RO water is basically a blank canvas. It does not have much in it, because most everything has been removed. So it is great water if you are going to build it up by treating it with chemicals and salts to achieve the exact profile you are looking for in the style of beer you want to make. (more on how to do that later).
But if you are not treating your water the RO is not so great to use as it will be lacking flavor ions like chloride and sulfate that are found in water and these ions affect the character of your homebrew. As well Reverse Osmosis water will not have the required minerals in it that are also important in the beer making process.
But again it is ok to use with a mat extract kit because all of the required minerals will already be in the malt extract.
Filtered Water – Filtered water would be water that is filtered through a single filter.
This would be as good as spring water in my books. If you have some sort of filter system set up on your kitchen sink like a Brita filter then by all mean go ahead and filter the tap water. The only hold up I could see with using a filter on your tap is some of them take quite a while to even fill up a glass of water let alone pouring enough water to brew up a 5-6 gallon batch of beer.
Spring Water or Bottled Water – This is probably the best water to use if you are not going to treat your water or maybe even if you are.
I consider this to be the water you buy in the grocery store. I would not go out and buy a bunch of 500ml water bottles, but where I live you can buy 5 gallons of water from the store and the water is of good quality and works well for brewing using malt extract kits and all grain.
Alright so you have now picked the type of water you are going to use to brew with… Now the choice is whether or not to adjust it further with water chemistry.
One thing to keep in mind is if you are brewing with malt extract kits, the kits themselves contain most of the minerals required in brewing so there really is no reason at all to get into changing your water profile.
Now if you are into all grain brewing that is a different story. If you want it to be. Again sometimes I change my brewing water profile, others times I don’t bother. I know some people who do it every time and I know other people who never do. And guess what, in all cases they love the homebrews they make.
So the choice is yours…
OK let’s get into some Water Chemistry.
Know Your Brewing Water Profile
Step number one is to know what you are working with. If you use Reverse Osmosis water then you are starting with a blank canvas as it contains no minerals. So you just build up your water to the profile required in the recipe by adding the minerals, chemicals and salts that are required.
If you are using tap water or spring water they are both going to have an existing profile. They both will already contact minerals. So you need to know exactly what minerals are in your water.
There are two ways to get your water profile tested:
Send it to a Lab to get it Tested – In my home town there is a lab who will test the water for you. If you do not have one in your town then you can send a sample of your water to an online company like Ward Labs.
In both cases the lab will provide you with a test kit. You take it home and make sure your faucet is clean, run the water for about 5 – 10 minutes, fill up the bottle they gave you and send it back to the lab.
They will send you your water report in about 7 days.
Make sure the lab is performing a test for brewing water and not just a regular test.
Regular water tests do not include tests for sulfate, bicarbonates, chloride, calcium, sodium and magnesium. So make sure the test you are getting includes these.
Test it Yourself with a Kit – Lamotte has a kit that is perfect for testing your water profile. This method is more expensive then sending a water sample in at the outset, but you should get your water tested at least once a year as the makeup of it can change. So having your own testing kit will pay for itself over time.
Plus this kit also comes with a PH meter which as you will see in the next section you will need to have one anyway. So all in all it’s a good way to go.
You can check out their kit by Clicking Here
Now let’s take a quick look at pH
Adjusting pH in Your Mash Water
I am not going to get all technical on you when it comes to understanding pH and alkalinity in this post. There are many good articles out there that go into great details on the science behind pH and alkalinity.
In this post I am just going to cover the basics and what you as a brewer need to do if you are looking to dial in your pH and improve the quality of your beer.
pH is important when it comes to the flavor and quality of your homebrew. You test the pH during the mash. It should be in the range of 5.2 – 5.6. By dialing it into this range it will help with the conversion of sugar from the grain, allow for ideal hop utilization, as well as other desirable characteristics.
Measuring Your pH
As we briefly discussed you are going to need a good quality pH meter. Do not even play with test strips, they are not worth it. Get yourself a good digital pH meter.
If you get the water test kit we talked about from Lamotte it will come with a pH meter. If you are getting your water tested at a lab then you can check out the pH meter we recommend by Clicking Here!
Using the pH meter is simple. As soon as you have started your mash and have given it a good stir, dip your meter directly into the top of the mash to get your reading. Remember a good pH for your mash is 5.2 – 5.6.
If your pH is too high you add lactic acid to bring it down. If your pH is too low you can add baking soda to bring it up.
The Minerals in Your Water
Let’s take a quick look at the minerals you will find in your brewing water.
Sulfate – Sulfate makes dry brews. The more there is in your water the more the bitterness from the hops will be noticed.
Chloride – If you like malty beers chloride is your buddy. It allows for the malt flavours to really come through.
Magnesium – this is one of the minerals that determines the hardness of your water. The harder the water the more the yeast is going to flocculate.
Calcium – this is the other mineral in your water that will determine how hard it is.
Sodium – And of course sodium is salt. When in moderation it is good. Too much and your beer gets a salty taste.
How to Adjust Your Water
So if you want to have the best water for brewing beer you can have you are going to need to adjust it. In order to adjust it you are going to need to add chemicals and salts to it.
The following are a list of the chemicals or salts you will want to have on hand.
You want to keep a handful of chemicals and salts on hand to build your profiles.
Campden Tablets – we already talked about these and if you have chlorine in your water these are a must.
Gypsum or calcium sulfate – This will increase the calcium and sulfate levels of your water. It can also lower your pH a bit.
Calcium Carbonate – This is chalk actually and is used to increase the hardness and can raise the pH.
Calcium Chloride – can be used instead of Gypsum if you do not want sulfate additions. It also lowers your pH.
Epsom Salts – is used as an addition if you want to increase the magnesium and sulfate levels. Epsom salts are the same salts they put in your bath. So make sure you get the non-scented plain old Epsom salt for brewing.
Lactic Acid – As discussed this is used to decrease your mash pH.
Baking Soda – As we also already covered you will want this to increase the pH of your mash
You an order all of these Chemicals and Salts by Clicking Here!!
Tools to Help With Your Brewing Water Treatment
OK so you do not need much in the way of tools or equipment to adjust your water.
Outside of the digital pH meter all you are really going to need in the way of tools is a small jewelry scale.
You need a small scale like this as it needs to measure in grams and you need it to be accurate. You can also use it to measure your hop additions as well.
Anvil Brewing Equipment makes the perfect scale, you can also use it for weighing your hop additions and speciatly grains.
Outside of that I am going to recommend you get a software to help you with the actual adjustments you will be required to make.
It is much too complicated to try and figure it out on your own, or at least it is for this guy.
I use Brewer’s Friend to help me adjust my water profile. It is a simple software to use and it does all of the work for you. It is also a great place to store and modify your recipes as well as perform a bunch of other helpful tasks when it comes to brewing.
It is the only software for adjusting your water that I recommend because it is the only one I use. I did try some of the online excel sheets but I did not find them as user-friendly.
You can check out Brewer’s Friend for yourself by Clicking Here!
When to Add the Chemicals and Salts
OK so after you have used Brewers Friend to determine how many salts and chemicals to use, you then weigh them out on your jewelry scale.
Now you add the salts and chemicals to the water before you start your mash (dough in). Take your mash paddle and stir them up good, some of them are harder to dissolve then others.
And that is it you have adjusted your water profile. Pretty simple when you use a software like Brewers Friend. Without it you are going to be dealing with a ton of math and a serious headache.
There You Have It
And there you have it my friend all you ever need to know about the best water for brewing beer.
Use some of this information or use all of it, the choice is yours, it’s your hobby. Just remember to keep it fun.
If you want more help with brewing I recommend you check out this post: How to Home Brew – The Complete Guide
If I can help you out in any way do not hesitate to ask. Drop a comment below and I will do what I can for you.
Cheers, Big Robb is out!
P.S. for more trainings, tips, and recipes on homebrewing be sure to sign up for my newsletter on the side of this blog.