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Craft The Perfect Draft - Brewing Water Part 1

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Every successful brew day begins with a well thought out plan based on a recipe using the perfect combination of grains, hops, yeast and the brewer's preferred brewing process. Of course the goal of every brew day is to brew the best tasting style of beer possible and to brew it as consistently as possible each and every time.

Regions Experience Seasonal Changes In Their Water Properties
While brewing the same recipe using the same grain, hop and yeast selections time and time again is easy to do that doesn't guarantee there won't be differences in the finished batches due to other variables. We know that variations in mash time, thickness and temperature change the fermentability of our wort and how differences in sparging will change pre-boil and ultimately post boil volumes and wort gravity.
The length of the boil and the timing of hop additions are other variables we control to influence the taste of the finished beer along with the addition of kettle finings to make the wort clearer. Other variables include the length of time it takes to bring the boiling wort down to pitching temperature, yeast viability, cell count, pitching rate and fermentation temperature are also important variables the brewer controls to influence the taste of their finished beer.
Beer can't be served until it's been conditioned and packaged using any one or all of several different methods like transferring to a secondary, cold crashing or filtering before kegging or bottling. Variations in the conditioning, packaging and storage process also influence a beer's flavor, they are the final variables that the brewer has control over in the life cycle of a batch of beer.
Brewers know it takes years of study combined with a lot of time spent brewing to understand all the variables there are in making beer, and even more time learning how to control those variables in order to produce consistently good beer. With so many variables available to tune and tweak their beer flavor it's not surprising that most brewers brew the best beer possible for years before deciding to understand their brewing water.

Water Hardness Favors Beer Style
Brewing water is the single largest ingredient by volume in any beer recipe and it is the foundation for many different styles of beer. By now we've all read or heard about the relationship of the water in a region to a particular style of beer. For instance Dublin's hard water makes a great tasting stout, Burton's gypsum rich water is great for making pale ale and Pilsen's soft water makes a really good pale lager.
The brewer should also understand that all regions experience seasonal changes in their water properties and to some extent yearly changes too. One notable case for example was the 2013 Sonoma County drought that prompted the Lagunitas Brewing Company to inform their customers that the river water supply that gives their beer it's unique signature taste may have to be replaced with reverse osmosis filtered water from another source. That's a clear example of how much brewers rely on a consistent supply of water in order to eliminate variations that change the taste and quality of their finished beer.
There are basically two approaches to maintaining brewing water consistency year after year and from season to season. If you have the resources needed to check your water source for alkalinity, pH, salt and mineral levels and are able to adjust them as needed to match a specific brewing water profile consider yourself among the most fortunate of home brewers. Since the source water properties can vary greatly over time the adjustments needed to bring them in line with a specific water profile will need to be adjusted too in order to compensate for these changes. Or instead you could use a consistent water source like distilled or reverse osmosis water and adjust the pH levels up with baking soda or down with lactic acid until they are in range of your targeted brewing water profile.

Calcium And Magnesium Levels Affect Water Hardness
This is much easier to do because the water source properties remain consistent over time and in turn so will the amounts of baking soda or lactic acid needed to adjust the brewing water pH levels to a targeted range. The same holds true for the salt and mineral additions, they would always remain constant since distilled or reverse osmosis water removes all traces of salt and minerals. Once you figure out the amounts of acid, base, salt and minerals that make the best tasting beer you simply write them down for next time knowing that future water property adjustments will remain the same time and time again.
So where can a brewer interested in understanding and adjusting their brewing water properties begin? If you're not already filtering your brewing water now's a good time to start. Running your brewing water through a sediment filter and a carbon block filter will greatly reduce the amount of particulates and many other contaminants including chlorine and chloramines which in sufficient amounts have a dulling affect on beer flavor and taste.
With a minimum investment you can install a carbon block filter brew a favorite recipe using filtered brewing water and compare the taste and flavor of the beer to prior batches using unfiltered water. Depending on where you live and the hardness of your water source you may notice that darker colored beers like stouts, porters and browns taste more flavorful, or maybe your lighter colored beers like wheats, pilsners and pale ales taste better.
In either of these scenarios you can take an educated guess on the hardness of your water, if your darker beers taste better you most likely have harder water, if your lighter beers taste better you most likely have softer water. This is a high level observation that can be made without understanding all the underlying chemistry behind what makes water hard or soft. When evaluating water hardness we're really looking at the amount of calcium and magnesium in the water.

Good Water Quality Promotes Great Tasting Beer
The more calcium and magnesium in the water the harder the water is and the less calcium and magnesium in the water the softer the water is. Brewing water with just the right ratio of magnesium to calcium will promote increased wort fermentability and ideal yeast fermentation characteristics including higher attenuation rates and increased cell viability.
"Buffers, moles, ions, cations, anions, acid, base, atomic weights, valence, electrons, Lewis structures, central atoms, bonding sites, mg/L as CaCO3, mg/L, ppm, milliliters, teaspoons. Really? Let me just arrange all that information in a way that's interesting and understandable by the majority of brewers" ~ Screwy Brewer
Vince "Screwy Brewer" Feminella
www.thescrewybrewer.com
[email protected]
 
Nice article Vince. As this is Part 1, you covered just the basic understanding of a water profile. I look forward to the next article!
 
I am just getting into the whole water chemistry using Brun's excel. I look forward to the next article, as this was a nice refresher of what I have learned so far.
 
Interesting. We have a well with super hard water. Calcium, sulfur, iron, the works. I've always wondered what would happen if I used it to brew a batch with the raw unsoftened 112 grain hard water; to see if there's any magic in it.
 
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