Water is the most important ingredient in beer, making up more than 90% of its content. While it’s easy to overlook the role that water plays in the brewing process, the truth is that water chemistry is one of the most critical factors that brewers must consider when crafting a perfect beer. The chemical composition of the water used in brewing has a significant impact on the flavour, aroma, and appearance of the final product.
In this article, we’ll explore the basics of water chemistry in beer brewing, including the different types of water sources, how to test and adjust the mineral content of your brewing water, and the impact that different minerals have on the brewing process. By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of how water chemistry can affect the flavour and quality of your beer, and you’ll be equipped with the knowledge and tools needed to make adjustments to your brewing water to create the perfect brew.
Where Does Brewing Water Come From?
Water is the main ingredient in beer, wine & spirits and its chemical composition has a significant impact on the final product. We typically use one of three main sources of brewing water: tap water, mineral water, or reverse osmosis/distilled water.
Tap water is the most readily available source of brewing water for most homebrewers. Depending on your location, your tap water can have a wide range of mineral content and pH levels that can greatly impact the flavour of your beer. Before using tap water for brewing, it is recommended to test its mineral content and pH levels to determine if it is suitable for your desired beer style. You can either send this off to a laboratory for testing or contact your water supplier.
Mineral water is another option for brewing water. It comes from natural springs and contains a range of minerals that can add unique flavours and characteristics to your beer. While mineral water can provide some interesting flavour profiles, it is important to note that the mineral content of the water can vary widely depending on the brand and source. Many online grocers such as ASDA’s own natural mineral water publish the water profile on their product page.
Reverse Osmosis/Distilled Water
Reverse osmosis (RO) and distilled water are two other common sources of brewing water. Both of these methods remove all minerals and impurities from the water, providing a blank slate for brewers to add specific minerals back into the water to create the desired flavour profile for their beer. While RO and distilled water can be good options for brewers who want complete control over the mineral content of their brewing water, it is important to note that adding minerals back into the water can be a complex and time-consuming process.
If you’re looking for a simple and compact solution for purifying your brewing water, check out our reverse osmosis products, which are specifically designed to remove impurities and improve the mineral balance of your brewing water.
Understanding Your Water Profile
Understanding the mineral content and pH of your brewing water can really help to improve the quality of your product. The mineral composition of water can impact the flavour, aroma, and mouthfeel of the beer, as well as the efficiency of the brewing process. The pH level of your water can also affect the brewing process and the final flavour of the beer.
There are several minerals and pH levels to consider when analyzing your water profile, including:
- Calcium (Ca)
- Magnesium (Mg)
- Sodium (Na)
- Bicarbonate (HCO3)
- Sulfate (SO4)
- Chloride (Cl)
Once you have your water test results, you can use them to make adjustments to your brewing water, either by dilution or by adding minerals, in order to achieve the ideal mineral balance for your desired beer style.
Calcium is a crucial mineral in beer brewing, promoting enzyme activity during the mashing process and enhancing the perception of hop bitterness. It also contributes to yeast health and fermentation and helps to promote clarity and stability in the final product.
Magnesium is an essential mineral in the brewing process, contributing to the mouthfeel and perception of bitterness in beer. It also helps to promote yeast health and fermentation, which can impact the final flavour and aroma of the beer. However, if present in high concentrations, magnesium can lead to the formation of scale or deposits in the equipment, reducing efficiency and increasing maintenance requirements.
Sodium can help to enhance the perception of sweetness and contribute to a fuller mouthfeel, while in certain beer styles, such as Gose, sodium is an important mineral that contributes to the unique flavour profile of the beer. Too much sodium can lead to salty off-flavours.
Bicarbonate is often found in hard water. It can increase alkalinity and raise the pH of the mash, which can impact the efficiency of the mashing process and the final flavour of the beer. Excessive bicarbonate can lead to off-flavours and cloudiness.
Sulfate can have a significant impact on the flavour and mouthfeel of both beer and distilled spirits. In beer brewing, sulfate is often associated with a drier, crisper flavour and a thinner mouthfeel, and can enhance the perception of hop bitterness. However, excessive sulfate can lead to off-flavours and cause the product to become overly bitter or dry.
Chloride is another important mineral in both beer and spirits production, as it can contribute to a fuller, maltier flavour and a thicker mouthfeel in beer, and affect the perceived sweetness or fullness in distilled spirits. In beer brewing, excessive chloride can cause the product to become too sweet or full and lead to off-flavours.
It’s important to note that the ideal mineral balance will vary depending on the style of beer or spirit you are producing. For example, a hoppy beer like an IPA may benefit from higher sulphate levels to enhance the perception of bitterness, while a malty beer like a stout may benefit from higher chloride levels to enhance the perception of sweetness and fullness.
|Mineral||Role in Beer|
|Calcium||Promotes enzyme activity during mashing process, enhances perception of hop bitterness, contributes to yeast health and fermentation, promotes clarity and stability in final product|
|Magnesium||Contributes to mouthfeel and perception of bitterness, helps promote yeast health and fermentation|
|Sodium||Contributes to mouthfeel and overall flavour, can help enhance perception of sweetness and contribute to fuller mouthfeel in beer, an important mineral in certain beer styles such as Gose|
|Bicarbonate||Increases alkalinity and raises pH of mash, impacts efficiency of mashing process and final flavour of beer|
|Sulphate||Enhances perception of hop bitterness, associated with drier, crisper flavour and thinner mouthfeel in beer, affects perceived bitterness or dryness in distilled spirits|
|Chloride||Contributes to fuller, maltier flavour and thicker mouthfeel in beer affects perceived sweetness or fullness in distilled spirits|
Adjusting Your Water Profile
If you’ve analyzed your water profile and found that adjustments are needed to achieve the ideal mineral balance for your desired beer or spirit style, there are several chemicals and salts that can be added to the water to achieve this balance. These additions can help to create the desired flavour profile, mouthfeel, and clarity of the final product. Here are some of the most commonly used chemicals and salts for water adjustments in brewing and distilling:
- Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate): Used to increase calcium and sulfate levels
- Potassium Metabisulfite (Campden Tablets): Used to remove chlorine and chloramine from water
- Epsom Salt (Magnesium Sulfate): Used to increase magnesium, sulphates & hardness
- Table Salt (Sodium Chloride): Used to increase sodium and chloride levels, which can enhance mouthfeel and contribute to a fuller flavour profile.
- Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate): Used to increase alkalinity and raise the pH of the mash
- Calcium Chloride: Used to increase calcium and chloride levels
- Chalk (Calcium Carbonate): Used to increase alkalinity and raise the pH of the mash
You can shop all of our water chemistry products here.
In addition to adjusting the levels of individual minerals, brewers often consider the ratio of sulphate to chloride in their water profile. This ratio can have a significant impact on the flavour and mouthfeel of the beer, with a higher sulphate to chloride ratio emphasizing hop bitterness and a drier mouthfeel, while a higher chloride to sulphate ratio can enhance malt sweetness and create a fuller mouthfeel. For example, a chloride to sulphate ratio of 2:1 or 3:1 can help to accentuate a more malt-centric recipe. When adjusting your water profile, it’s important to consider the ideal sulphate to chloride ratio for your desired beer style, as well as the individual mineral levels.
This free spreadsheet will help you with the calculations in deciding exactly how much of each to add to your water profile. You can also use this online calculator.
Testing the pH of your brewing water is an important step in achieving the ideal mineral balance for your desired beer style. Our low-cost budget pH meter will help you test and adjust your pH levels.
Weigh your water chemistry chemicals and salts with our high precision digital weighing scale
When to Add the Chemicals
Adjusting the water profile to achieve the desired mineral balance is a critical step in beer brewing. The timing of when to add the chemicals will depend on the specific brewing process, as well as the type of chemical being used.
For beer brewing, it’s common to add chemicals during the mash or sparge stages. This is because the minerals can interact with the enzymes during the mashing process and impact the final flavour and clarity of the beer. It’s important to note that some chemicals, like gypsum or calcium chloride, can impact the pH level of the mash, so it’s important to carefully monitor the pH and adjust accordingly.