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The Importance of Brewing Water

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You may have noticed by now, that beer is over 90% water, so saying that brewing water is important is an understatement of galactic proportions. There are many books on the subject, but they are so in-depth usually that most home brewers either lose interest or mental capacity in the attempt. So, I searched and searched and saw that there is a site or two that does discuss generalized water profiles, but not a “catch all” type of formula. There is a good reason for this…
All pro-brewers will tell you that each recipe should have its own water profile, each construction of malt, hops and yeast needs its profile fine-tuned to be perfect. This is seriously hard to get your head around in the beginning, I do understand, but ,similarly, you need to realize that while I am going to be giving water profiles for many styles, they may never be optimal for your particular recipe, so keep playing with it until you get it right – it takes on average 2 or 3 brews of the same recipe with different profiles to get it right in a commercial setup where we know our stuff – home brewers may take longer, but don’t get disheartened.
The plus side is that you will get your beers to the level where they don’t taste like homebrew anymore and will taste like commercial examples of the style – this is the final frontier after you have mastered the rest, including yeast control. You will most likely be shocked at the quality of even your first attempts.
One last note would be that this is a beginner guide to brewing water, I have left out much information, but it is by design… I don’t want newbie’s to get put off and I don’t want to get stuck writing a thesis either.

What is the Importance of Brewing Water Anyway?



So, I’ve come up with the following analogy to explain this –
Say you have a beautiful painting of a ship on the sea, lots of beautiful blue hues, brown and beige from the ship and oranges and pinks from the sunset in the sky. Pretty with all its masterful brushstrokes and swirl techniques…this is your beer’s flavor in all its perfection, with all the right highlights and hues and a perfect arrangement of water chemistry.

Now, you take a pair of those John Lennon-type round glasses with bright red lenses and – for dramatic effect – you take a stick of butter and rub them on the lenses. Now you put these on and you look at the aforementioned painting. All the colors are wrong, the artwork distorted and bent beyond recognition and you actually can’t make out what it originally was. The muddy lenses won’t allow you to see the beauty for what it actually is. This is the same beer recipe with the wrong water chemistry – and yes the results are just as dramatic between the two. Don’t believe me? Take an imperial stout water recipe and try to brew a pilsner with it – you’ll end up drinking a pale beer with the mineral profile of a granite quarry.

What are you doing? When you balance your water chemistry vs your recipe, you are performing a similar function of a sound engineer at a sound board. The sound engineer shifts the hundreds of keys, ensuring each note is either amplified or muted so that the overall composition is a marvelous piece of art – the difference between a platinum selling artist and your pot-head buddy in his garage!

The Aspects to Consider in Water Chemistry


This is the bit about the different elements in brewing water – I’m going to keep this as simple as absolutely possible.
Calcium – 50 to 200ppm (Added generally through Gypsum or Calcium chloride). This is the most important item on the list. This element is responsible for actually lowering mash pH in the first place. It’s also crucial for yeast health and a clear beer. The higher the amount, the more easily the yeast flocculates. It is also essential for enzymatic processes in the mash.
Magnesium – 0 to 30ppm (Added through Magnesium Sulphate). This is another element that is one of the primary contributors to lowering mash pH, although not as well as calcium. It is also a yeast nutrient. The minimum amount is zero in the mash water because all barley wort contains loads of this stuff, but I can tell you from experience that adding even a small amount of magnesium (in the form of Epsom salts or MgSO4) to your mash does great things for the flavor of your beer.
Sulphate – 50 to 400ppm (Added through Gypsum or Magnesium Sulphate). The first major flavor component, many brewing software types will tell you this increases “bitter” in a beer, but it’s a little more complicated than that. It’s a combination of either sharpness, bitterness or dryness in the flavor perception, as well as increasing the hop character in beers. The only time I would go over the 250ppm limit is if I’m looking to do a “to style” Dortmund export or something similar. You’d be forgiven for thinking an IPA needs more, but it doesn’t, as it is one of the contributing factors to an IPA’s bitterness sticking to your tongue. Most award winning IPA’s have a flash of skull-rattling bitterness and a clean hoppy finish that encourages you to drink more = less than 200ppm. If it lingers on the tongue too long, you’ll lose on drinkability. Another point to ponder, is that despite it saying that the minimum requirement is 50ppm, I forget it altogether if I’m brewing continental pilsners and other similar lagers, due to the fragile flavor profile of those beer styles and the hops implemented.
Chloride – 0 to 200ppm (Added through Calcium Chloride or Salt). This is the other major flavor component – it provides a fuller, rounder or sweeter perception to the beer, and is used to either increase malt flavor perception or to temper the effects or sulphates (known as the sulphate to chloride ratio, which we will discuss shortly). There are brewers who take the levels of chlorides up to 300ppm or more, but I would not for various well-informed reasons, so I recommend you don’t either. It’s a very important element for malt forward beer styles.
Sodium – 0 to 150ppm (Added through Salt or Bicarbonate of Soda) Sodium, sodium, sodium – what to do with you? Sodium is an element that is sometimes unavoidable when correcting water chemistry and can lend a sweet quality to certain beers, but can become salty when you approach or exceed 150ppm. It does lend a certain well rounded character to pale beers as well, but much better to keep the concentrations lower than 100ppm unless you are absolutely sure of what you’re doing.
Bicarbonate – 0 to 250ppm (Added through Bicarbonate of Soda, usually) This is the primary ingredient that stands between your stout being wonderfully chocolatey and rich and a one-dimensional cold espresso disappointment. When you need an alkalinity buffer, this is your go-to addition. It does make hops overly bitter in a harsh sort of way, so avoid it completely in highly hopped beers as well as pale beers (it can taste harsh on its own too in beers below 7 SRM).

Sulphate to Chloride Ratio


This is the ratio between the two major flavor ions we discussed earlier. To keep matters simple, suffice it to say that you actually really need at least 50ppm of either for a noticeable difference and never max out both values as it will cause a minerally taste in your beer (super strong beers can handle this, but most won’t). The subject of whether to make a beer sulphite forward, chloride forward or balanced is highly dependent on what kind of beer you’re trying to make. If hops play a starring role, go for sulphites. If it’s malt, go for chlorides. If both hops and malt are to be highlighted a balanced profile is preferred. It’s the level of the ratio that makes all the difference in which aspect is going to shine, but remember that adding, for example sulphur, won’t just highlight hops, but also make the beer seem drier. It’s one of those things you have to play with to get it right. When I wasn’t sure - back when I started asking these questions - I simply added small amounts of a solution of either gypsum and water or calcium chloride and water to a glass of beer to figure out which way to go the next time I brewed the same recipe.
To illustrate the difference between the two, let’s look at 2 different recipes for the same beer style and figure out which way to go. I usually use a beer like cream ale for examples, as it’s an easy beer to make and can be interpreted many different ways:
Recipe 1: Cream ale with corn meal
• 80% 2 row malt
• 20% corn meal or flaked corn
• 20 IBU hops (dry hopped as well)
• 64.4°C mash temp
With the above recipe, I have the fact that the corn will lend an element of sweetness, but I want this to be a cream ale that has a definite hop character. I have to drop to the mash temp and make this beer sulphite-dominant to make sure I end up with that fresh hop character and typical crisp finish required of cream ales. Sulphite/chloride ratio of about 1.5 (slightly bitter)
Recipe 2: Cream ale with rice and sugar
• 80% 2 row malt
• 15% rice flakes
• 5% sugar
• 15 IBU hops (bittering only)
• 66°C mash temp
This recipe, on the other hand, is already going to be very dry and crisp due to the sugar and the rice. In this case I might opt to increase the mash temperature and to make the beer a malty chloride-dominant brew. Sulphite/chloride ratio of about 0.6 (very malty)
As you can see, there is no one-rule-fits-all scenario. You have to think about what you want to create and there are no wrong answers as long as the beer tastes good when you’re done.

Dealing with Mash pH



Dropping the mash pH is as simple as either increasing the calcium content, or actually adding acid to it for paler styles. For the purposes of beginners (and this article) I would ask that you do 2 things:
1. Stick to the amount of calcium in the recipes / formulas given for now.
2. BUY A (%#[email protected]!) PH METER!!!...and measure your mash pH 10 minutes after doughing in.
ONLY add acid if absolutely required.
3. When it comes to using acid, try using orthophosphoric acid if you can get hold of it. Lactic acid if you can’t.
4. Buy another pH meter – you can’t work without these things.
PRO TIP: Only pale and amber beers benefit from a pH of 5.2 to 5.4. To get your brown ales and stouts to have that rich flavor, aim for a mash pH of around 5.6 to 5.8. Along with residual sugars, it’ll help the final beer pH finish higher, softening that roast element into something luxurious and wonderful.

Water Profile Recipes



I have opted to use the 2008 BJCP guidelines, as they are more familiar to most than the new 2015 version. Coupled with that, Jamil Zainasheff’s book “20 Classic Styles” can be used along with the following guidelines. If you brew it and it doesn’t come out the way he describes in the book, the water chemistry is wrong and you should try again. Also, dodging the subject of alkalinity and residual alkalinity like a plague, I have expressed alkalinity as a value of bicarbonates, easily added to soft or RO water through the addition of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). If you have water that exceeds this amount for the style you are trying to make, ditch it for a few bottles of RO or distilled water and either dilute or build from scratch. This will however bring up the subject of sodium – if so and in doubt, just try to aim for a sodium level below 100ppm unless stated otherwise.
A note on calculations and water additions:
• I am assuming you are using software to calculate your water – no one in their right mind would start off trying to manually calculate water chemistry. For this simplified version, I have opted to use BeerSmith 2 water profile calculator.
• Due to the low volume of the water homebrewers use and the fact that brewing water chemistry generally uses the same sorts of compounds, you are going to be scraping around so many small amounts of powders, it would make even the most hardened cocaine addict squirm. If you are struggling with getting the measurements right, increase the volume of water you are treating to make it both easier and more accurate – it is far easier to treat 50 gallons of water than it is to treat 5.
• Always look at the ABV and color range of your intended brew, if it’s on the higher side of the style, aim for the higher mineral content specified below, if it’s lower, aim lower.
• On many forums I have seen people arguing over the amount of residual minerals actually going into the beer and enhancing the flavor, due to boil off, mash absorption, etc, etc.
One golden rule: Less minerals is always better. When you calculate, calculate for the batch size alone i.e. you want to make 5 gallons, so you calculate on 5 gallons of water alone and never mind about the sparge. The reason is that when you boil, you concentrate everything. I’d rather you learn to err on the side of caution and get the hang of it first, instead of overdoing it and being unhappy with your result. You beer will taste great, I promise!
Let’s work through a few examples to help you to use these water profile recipes.

Scenario #1: I Want to Brew an American IPA, and I Want to Use Reverse Osmosis Water.


So I want to make a beer with, say, 70 IBU’s of bitterness, about 6 to 7% abv and the color is roughly amber. The alcohol content, firstly, and the color, secondly, ensure that I can aim for the high side of the IPA spectrum.
Reverse Osmosis (Starting Water)
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
000000
American IPA (Target Water)
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50001000*50
MAX1501050400100*150
*These are recommended norms, but I would omit them entirely for this style.
My Preferred Additions for 5 Gallon (19 liter) Batch:
• 5g Calcium Sulphate (Gypsum)
• 1g Magnesium Sulphate (Epsom Salts)
• 2g Calcium Chloride

My Water After Treatment
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
90.35.20160510
This water profile makes sure all bases are covered for an American IPA.

Scenario #2: Munich Helles With Normal Tap Water (Dechlorinated, Quite Hard)


So you have water that’s not ideal for a Munich Helles…what now? Let’s have a look. Remember that everyone's tap water is different, so you will need to add your own numbers for your tap water.
Tap Water in Antwerp, Belgium
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
901137845776
1D. Munich Helles
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50000500
MAX7510305010050
First thing to do, due to the bicarbonates, it to dilute the tap water with reverse osmosis water 40% (RO) to 60% (Tap) - that will get us to:
Tap Water Diluted
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
56.36.923.152.535.647.5
My preferred additions after dilution for 5 gallon (19 liter) batch:
• 4g Calcium Chloride
My Water After Treatment
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
92.16.923.152.599.10
This water will complement a Munich Helles quite nicely – the little bit of sodium still in the water will barely be noticeable, if anything will give it just a hint of sweetness.
Use store bought water if your tap water is too far gone.

Scenario #3: Bohemian Pilsner with Normal Tap Water (Dechlorinated, Very Hard)


You’re sitting with water that’s more suited to a strong stout than anything else.
Tap Water in Dublin, Ireland
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
1154125519200
2B. Bohemian Pilsner
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN30000500
MAX505105010050
Step 1: Dump the bucket of tap water on the lawn
Step 2: Go to the shop and buy reverse osmosis water
Step 3: Continue as in first example.
I’m sure you get the general idea by now. If not, feel free to post in the comments section and I’ll help you out with a few more. Highly recommended further reading:
WATER: A comprehensive guide for brewers (John Palmer & Colin Kaminski)
I hope these formulas assists all those yet to take the plunge into the final frontier in the quest for the perfect pint. This really is the last step in perfection and is absolutely essential to those wishing to go commercial. I wish you the best of luck…

Light Lager


1A. Light American Lager
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50000500
MAX5010305010050
1B. Standard American Lager
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500050500
MAX75103015010050
1C. Premium American Lager
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500050500
MAX75103015010050
1D. Munich Helles
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50000500
MAX7510305010050
1E. Dortmunder Export
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN7500505050
MAX1501030150100100

Pilsner


2A. German Pilsner
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN300050500
MAX75101015010050
2B. Bohemian Pilsner
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN30000500
MAX505105010050
2C. Classic American Pilsner
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN300050500
MAX75101015010050

European Amber Lager


3A. Vienna Lager
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500005050
MAX751030100150150
3B. Oktoberfest Lager
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500005050
MAX751030100150150

Dark Lager


4A. American Dark Lager
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000050100
MAX7510050150150
4B. Munich Dunkel
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000050100
MAX7510050150150
4C. Schwartzbier
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000050100
MAX7510050150150

Bock


5A. Maibock / Helles Bock
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500005050
MAX752050100150100
5B. Traditional Bock
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000050100
MAX1002050100100180
5C. Doppel Bock
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000050100
MAX1002050100100180
5D. Eisbock
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000050100
MAX1002050100150180

Light Hybrid Beer


6A. Cream Ale
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000000
MAX100102050100100
6B. Blonde Ale
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000100500
MAX1001020200100100
6C. Kolsch
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000000
MAX100102050100100
6D. American Wheat or Rye
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000000
MAX100102050100100

Amber Hybrid Beer


7A. Northern German Altbier
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50001005050
MAX1001030300100150
7B. California Common
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50001005050
MAX1001030300100150
7C. Dusseldorf Altbier
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50001005050
MAX1001030300100150

English Pale Ale


8A. Standard / Ordinary Bitter
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000100500
MAX1501030200100180
8B. Special / Best Premium Bitter
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000100500
MAX1502050200100180
8C. English Pale Ale
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000100050
MAX1501030400100150

Scottish and Irish Ale


9A. Scottish Light 60
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50001005050
MAX1502050200100180
9B. Scottish Heavy 70
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50001005050
MAX1502050200100180
9C. Scottish Export 80
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50001005050
MAX1502050200100180
9D. Irish Red
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50001005050
MAX1001020300100150
9E. Wee Heavy (Strong Scotch Ale)
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000505050
MAX15030100100100150

American Ale


10A. American Pale Ale
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500010000
MAX1501020400100150
10B. American Amber Ale
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50001005050
MAX1002030300100150
10C. American Brown Ale
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50005050100
MAX753050150150200

English Brown Ale


11A. Mild
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50001005050
MAX1502030200100150
11B. Southern English Brown
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50005050100
MAX753050150150200
11C. Northern English Brown
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50005050100
MAX753050150150200

Porter


12A. Brown porter
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN501005050100
MAX753050150150200
12B. Robust porter
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN501005050100
MAX753050150150200
12C. Baltic porter
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000050100
MAX1002080100150250

Stout


13A. Dry Irish Stout
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50005050100
MAX7530100150150200
13B. Sweet Stout
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5010205050100
MAX7530100150150200
13C. Oatmeal Stout
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5010205050100
MAX7530100150150200
13D. Foreign Extra Stout
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5010205050100
MAX7530150150150250
13E. American Stout
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5010205050100
MAX7530150150150250
13F. Russian Imperial Stout
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5010205050150
MAX7530150150150250

IPA


14A. English IPA
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50001005050
MAX1501050300100150
14B. American IPA
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50001000*50
MAX1501050400100*150
*These are recommended norms, but I would omit them entirely for this style
14C. Imperial IPA
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500010050*50
MAX1501050300100*150
*These are recommended norms, but I would keep them on the low side for this style

German Wheat or Rye


15A. Weizen
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50000500
MAX100203050100100
15B. Dunkel Weizen
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50005050100
MAX7530100150150200
15C. Weizen Bock
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN501005050150
MAX7530150150150250
15D. Roggenbier
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000505050
MAX753030150150200

Belgian and French Ale


16A. Witbier
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50000500
MAX100203050100100
16B. Belgian Pale Ale
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000100500
MAX1502020300100150
16C. Saison
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500010000
MAX1502020300100150
16D. Bier De Garde
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000505050
MAX10030100100150150
16E. Belgian Specialty Ale: No recommendation as it is too varied. Look at your recipe, note the colour and alcohol level and pair it to a beer you think is the most similar – then use that beer’s water profile.

Sour Ale


*Minerals don’t have a huge impact on sour beers, due to all the bugs we add in there. Your concentration should be on enough calcium to get your mash Ph down and that’s about it. If you are still not sure, generally aim for the lower end of the spectrums provided.
17A. Berliner Weisse
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000000
MAX10050501000
Aim for the lower end of the spectrum.
17B. Flanders Red
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000000
MAX100100100100100
17C. Oud Bruin
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5000505050
MAX1001050100150200
17D. Lambic
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50000500
MAX15010201001000
17E. Geueze
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50000500
MAX15010201001000
17F. Fruit Lambic
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50000500
MAX15010201001000

Belgian Strong Ale


18A. Belgian Blonde
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500050500
MAX100103010010050
18B. Belgian Dubbel
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN5050505050
MAX1002050100150150
18C. Belgian Tripel
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500050500
MAX100103010010050
18D. Belgian Golden Strong Ale
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500050500
MAX100103010010050
18E. Belgian Dark Strong Ale
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50005050100
MAX10030150150150250

Strong Ale


19A. Old Ale
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50100505050
MAX7530150150150250
19B. Barley Wine
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50100505050
MAX10030100100150150
19C. American Barley Wine
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN50100505050
MAX10030100100150150

Fruit Beer


Look at the base style of the beer and use the guidelines associated with that beer.

Spice Herb or Vegetable Beer


Look at the base style of the beer and use the guidelines associated with that beer.

Smoked or Wood Aged Beer


22A. Rauchbier
CaMgNaSO4ClHCO3
MIN500005050
MAX751030100150150
All other beers in this category need to be assessed by their base beer style.

Specialty Beer


Have a look at the beer you are trying to create. Match the colour, bitterness, alcohol content to another beer on the styles list. Use the one you think fits closest to that style.
 
Fantastic article, and timely. I've done a little bit with water chemistry but without much specific practical knowledge. Thanks for making this approachable, sensible reading for a typical homebrewer who wants to take the next step.
 
marvelous article. in your sample water profiles section, what unit are the starting and finishing water measurements in? (ppm?) I've not used beer smith's water calculator (nor any other for that matter -- bad me) but I assume if I'm starting from RO or tap (with a water report?) I can just tell it what I want the final values to be and the batch size and it will tell me how many grams to add?
 
Thanks for the article! I never fully understood the impact of these small additions on the final product. My understanding was that these additions were mostly important for getting the mash PH right.
Do you treat (add chemicals) to your mash (strike) water, sparge water, or all water?
I would rather deal in volume measurements that do not require a super sensitive scale, like teaspoons.
Do you have a conversion table for grams to teaspoons for each chemical?
 
All this is way beyond me. I understand the need for water chemistry but I just can't seem to get the hang of the so called "water chemistry calculator's". I need one does the additions for me. punt in my starting water profile, put in my target profile and let the calculator make the addition's.
 
I add my acid additions directly to the water, since it will uniformly mix. Powdered salt additions may not mix as well and can settle to the bottom and not make it to the Mash, so I sprinkle powdered additions directly to the mash and then dough-in. Sparge water I only add acid if the water pH is above 6.0, since tannin extraction is related to high pH rather than sparge temperature.
I use google for conversions as needed, since it is so convenient .
 
Great article! I use to freak-out trying to understand water additions. Now that I have gotten comfortable with them based on expereince and reading a lot, my primary focus is getting the pH right and salts are secondary. I say secondary since they tend to be about the same depending on style, but mostly vary based on the pH.
 
Great article. Couple more questions. When do you add your water treatment additions and what is the starting PH of the reverse osmosis water you used for the american IPA in scenario 1?
 
I love the write up, but just have a question on the concept of water addition volumes tailored to your batch volume (not your total water used). I'm about to a high gravity amber rye IPA. Expected grain absorption alone will be about 2 gallons, plus probably about a half gallon of losses to equipment dead space, etc.
If I were to treat my mash/sparge per a final volume of 5.5 gallons wouldn't my water profile be around 30% lower than it should be? For things like SO4 it probably is not that big a deal, but for something like CA it could push me down to 30-40 ppm which would definitely affect the beer negatively.
Note: My CA would be low because I'm starting from 60 ppm for both SO4 and CL so I don't need to add anything but gypsum and a little epsom salt to get to where I want to be.
 
Thanks you for spending the time to write this great article. I hated chemistry when I was in college, but now that I'm obsessed with brewing I wish I had paid attention a lot more. When I read most water books/articles, my brain just goes numb, but the way you wrote it is very concise and cuts out the BS. The example water profiles are super useful too: I've been searching for a brown ale profile to use to christen my new electric BIAB setup, and I'm going to try your profile this weekend. Keep up the great work,
 
Great article and will chime in for those who are all-grain brewers that are missing that "it" in their beers..check your water profiles. Too many times folks just "assume" water is water and live by the motto I have heard many times here that "if its good enough to drink, its good enough to brew with". Starting out, that's fine, but if you ever want to achieve beer nirvana and win awards for what you are making, you need to learn about water chemistry. I also see WAY too many local craft breweries that dont do anything but carbon filter their brewing water which to me is crazy (but then I am OCD about this stuff). I want my beer to be as good as it possibly can be. No exceptions. Learn it, Live it, Love it.
 
Excellent article. I have recently become serious about my brewing water chemistry and have read many articles. This is very to the point and succinct. I recently obtained the "Water" book as swag at a contest but haven't quite got around to reading it. This article does a great job of explaining what the various additions do for you and may let me put it off for a little while.
I really appreciate the style guidelines at the end.
One additional thought, and maybe I missed it in the article. Every municipal water company in the US must publish their water quality reports, quarterly I believe. These are a great place to start. You are right about using software to do the calculations. You just create a base profile in Beersmith's water profiler from your water report, punch in the target numbers and it figures out the rest.
Hopefully your local water lets the adjustments be made for the most important categories. Once in a while the local water has more of some stuff that it needs. It is better to add and harder to subtract or counter act some chemicals. Otherwise, RO is the way to go. There are vendors on HBT that sell them at a reasonable cost. That is going to be one of my next brewery purchases.
Thanks again!
 
Really enjoyed this article as I also have just started playing with water on my last 4 brews and the difference in them is amazing . Up until now I have just been brewing beers to suit my water . As with anything though there are many variables and also it is very much dependent on ones tastes as to what you do. All the guidelines that you laid out though for the particular styles are great and it gives a lot of room to play around with them to find what you like .

I have to say though I myself use beersmith and love the program but when it comes to the water tool I find it not so accurate compared to others available. I may be doing something wrong with it but I find a big difference in the predicted pH for my beers using beersmith compared to my go to water calculator.
Great read Thankyou.
 
Very Nice Article! As an emphasis to this, I've been getting great efficiency and winning beers by paying attention to water, one of the final and most important steps to quality brewing (after fermentation temperature, of course).
I have not been measuring my pH until lately, as the spreadsheets would always put the pH right where I wanted it and the beers came out great. HOWEVER, a record setting winter, I think, has changed my well water profile significantly. I was using my baseline water specs from a Ward labs test done during the drought years many years ago, adjusting water profile for every style. But in a recent mash of a stout, instead of a 5.4 pH that I usually get I had 6.1! The extraction was poor, and I would up doing everything I could to salvage the brew. It's drinkable, but was not what I was looking for, and would not win any awards.
Another Pale Ale I did recently did not turn out great. I did not check pH on that, unfortunately.
So yep, check mash pH. Every brew! Even when you think you have it wired.
 
Hey helterscelter, everything is in ppm. Usually most calculators will allow you to put in your starting water and allow you to specify your target water - then pump out the numbers of how much of what to add.
 
Hey mredge73,
In terms of your questions:
"Do you treat (add chemicals) to your mash (strike) water, sparge water, or all water?"
All 3 can be done, but for the purposes of a beginner, I would ask that you only add chemicals to your mash.
"Do you have a conversion table for grams to teaspoons for each chemical?"
This is a very bad idea - you can eyeball all aspects of brewing, except water chemistry. Take the plunge and get the scale and Ph meter...it's that important!
 
That's why I have used BeerSmith 2 - it is the easiest to use water calculator out there. You literally put in your starting water and you can either put in your required target water, or you can mess around with different amounts of minerals in the sidebar until you are happy with the overall values. Try it out.
 
Thanks for the feedback - I really just wanted to make it easier for guys to come to grips with the whole aspect of water chemistry.
 
Reverse Osmosis systems always are calibrated to make the water Ph a solid 7 - it's only in breweries you'll find an RO system that pushes out acidic water of Ph6 to 6.5. Similarly, the Ph for the IPA RO water was 7 and my recipe turns out a beer that has an SRM of between 12 to 14
 
This is heavily dependant on your brewing system, so saying "around 30%" isn't ideal. But the answer is simple - don't overthink this. You want to do a high alcohol rye IPA? Use the measurements for an imperial IPA. That will sort everything out. Your calcium content for an amber beer should be sufficient, but you could up it to around 80 or 90ppm with gypsum. Remember, a high gravity beer can handle a lot more minerals.
If you're still unsure, drop the ABV, colour, IBU and your starting water here and I'll calculate for you as an added example.
 
Sounds wicked - so funny as I sucked at chemistry in school, was more of a physics guy myself. When you do bottle and taste your first attempt, please comment and tell how it tastes with the new mineral profile.
 
Absolutely - I was in Europe this year and you won't believe how many IPA's I had that just had their water chemistry completely wacked, negatively affecting the beer.
Like I said, this is the final frontier in brewing and most people don't realise the power of a few seemingly small additions to their water. Their loss lol!
 
I personally use RO at all the craft breweries I consult to, as you just can't beat the power of being able to engineer water from scratch each time. You will be shocked at your first attempts if you follow the above style guidelines (to start at least). Thanks for the thumbs up!
 
There are so many variables when it comes to water chemistry, especially if you are using tap water and building on that. A mistake you may be making is to use the tool and input the target water Ph (which you would get by mixing it up for a brew, then measure the Ph before doughing in). Anyway, it's a simple tool that will at the very least get you into the ballpark of where you are shooting usually. I use RO water exclusively, so it is almost dead accurate each time. If I'm doing something complicated, I must admit I switch to other calculators like Bru 'n Water
 
Lol - I did mention to buy a Ph meter twice! You just can't let control slip for even a moment. I learnt that the hard way too whilst homebrewing. Thanks for the reply!
 
Lol – I did mention to buy a Ph meter twice! You just can’t let control slip for even a moment. I learnt that the hard way too whilst homebrewing. Thanks for the reply!
 
Awesome. I'm going for a RyePA that will end up at 9% ABV, 17 SRM and 100 IBUs. Base will be CNC 2 Row (8#) with 5.5# total of Wheat, Rye and Flaked. Color will come from a small dose of black patent (2 oz)
My Current water is in (ppm):
Ca: 18; Mg: 2; Na: 46; Cl: 68; So4: 15; Bicarb: 29; pH: 7.8
My plan was to add 2.5g Gypsum and 1mL of 88% lactic to mash. Then add 1g Gypsum and 1g Epsom salt to kettle pre-boil. Reduced down to 5.5-6 gal post-boil, I figured this would get me to:
Ca: 50, Mg: 9, Na: 56, Cl: 82, So4: 100
This is my target for accentuating hops and remaining drinkable with such a substantial grain bill.
 
Great article! One thing one might consider is using multi-color matching pH strips. They are very accurate and can be had at most scientific supply places. Meters are great but they are only useful when calibrated correctly with buffer solution. Strips are probably more suited for the average home brewer.
 
I think European styles tend to emphasize the water and minerals. I noticed this when I was in Reading(UK), at first it was pretty good, but then everything tasted the same, tea, ale ... tap water. Later on I was at a wine tasting, comparing Californian, Australian, South African, Chilean etc. ... European wines had this earthiness, no water involved, but that granite came through on roots. Whereas the other styles emphasized the fruitiness or yeast selections. Then again in Austria, yep earthy beer. Just saying, I think I prefer the mineral content to highlight these other features, and not to be an undertone on its own. Having said that, I didn't realize how soft my municipal water was, looking at a report.
 
Ok - in the spirit of this article and drastically simplifying your brew day, consider the following:
1. This is a really big beer - it can handle a more assertive mineral profile and benefits from it.
2. It contains adjuncts, so drinkability is already taken into account.
3. Your water Ph is already alkaline = need calcium on priority basis.
4. This water contains bicarbonates, so 1ml of lactic acid is probably not going to work anyway.
Therefore, I would ask you do the following (I am assuming a 5 gallon batch):
Ca: 93.9; Mg: 12.4; Na: 46; SO4: 203.6; Cl: 93.5; HCO3: 29
You'd get there by adding:
- 5g Gypsum
- 2g Epsom Salt
- 1g Calcium Chloride
Add it all directly to your heated strike water in the mash tun. Stir. Dough in. According to my calculations, you'd need around 6ml acid, but you should base it on your actual readings.
I believe this will do wonders for your beer - as well as your understanding of the impact of minerals in beer. It still won't be perfect (you always need to tweak), but it will be a lot better than what you were planning. Please remember to post the results here in the comments so everyone can benefit from it.
 
Super interesting information here - its a lot for anyone to take in, but definitely eye-opening whether you're a veteran or a beginner! Thanks for taking the time to write this up, and share all these details. Water is such an important thing to understand in home brewing, but something so many people can overlook. Thanks again!
 
I've heard may people give similar suggestion for additions, so I'll give this a try. However, I'm not sure how to really look at different recipes and come up with these additions without the help of Bru'n water. I just entered your suggestion into Bru'n water and it says that my mash would have the same water profile you suggested with one difference, the pH. If I add no lactic it says I'll be at 5.4, with 6mL of lactic I'd be a 4.8 as the bicarb level of 29 is not too high and doesn't buffer very much acid (I'm assuming). This is why I was thinking only using 1mL as Bru'n water states that will get me to 5.3.
 
Hmm, interesting. I've had good luck with Brun'water so far, but I hadn't heard the 5.6-5.8 for darker beers before. May have to give that a try.
 
Nice write up and yes, many start on the path of not knowing and trying to figure it out along the way, Not understanding water in the beginning took me down a great number of paths. All of which went to marginal or bad beer land. The biggest mistake I started off with is a water softener in the house I purchased. Having radical experiments with off the shelf "buffer" solutions at least got me to the point of realizing the problem but not a full understanding. Reading and understanding are our tools to overcome this.
Today I am on the other end of the extreme. 100% RO/DI water and custom water builds for each recipe. The beer is always on point and have more successes than fails by a long shot. One thing this also leads to is repeatability. Knowing your equipment and ingredients (especially water) leads to reproducible beers. Once I figure out a rounded recipe that works (grain, hops, water make up, and temperatures) I can make it over and over again. I have a good friend that also does the same and he almost always has a beer on tap that is great (I am just not a fan of smoked beers which he really likes. Call it the great Rauchbier debacle of 2007 which was a kit supplied by my LHBS with my initial brew equipment purchase. Traumatized since then.)
Thanks for the great article.
 
Just wanted to comment that RO systems are not "always calibrated to make the water pH a solid 7". While theoretically true, it's bad advice. Reverse osmosis membranes do not remove gasses, such as carbon dioxide in water. Also, when RO water is exposed to the air it will pick up small amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and dissolve in the water. This acidifies the water, and thus since RO product water has the buffering alkalinity chemicals removed and the acid-causing gasses remaining, the pH should come in closer to 5.7-6.0.
 
FYI- with water reports, in certain areas the water source plays a big roll in the stability of the data- In Houston where I live, the water can vary significantly (as seen with water composition spread sheet over collection intervals), so one shot reports can be misleading, look for most current, average the report data, or control the water quality
 
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