Are You Using The Worst Water To Brew Beer?

90% of beer is nothing more than water. Use good water and you’ll get good beer, but use bad water and no combination of tasty malts and aromatic hops will help the bad water. It’s like buying a 3000 watt amplifier for your car and using the factory speakers… you need to make sure you use good water…

That is why some brewing companies talk about using nothing but Rocky Mountain water, the Pilsen soft water, Burton’s hard water, or water from the Midlands.

All these waters are different yet they all make great beers!

So what exactly is the best water to brew beer?

Well, I hate to put it this way but there is no single answer to that question… instead I’ll let you know how water affects beer, how to get rid of flavors and things you can do to water so you can improve the taste of your water to get better tasting beer.

Here’s the deal… when you are brewing beer using all-grain, then the water needs to have a pH of 5.1 to 5.5 at mash temperature in order to convert starches into sugars. When you are brewing extract, pH doesn’t matter since the sugars have already been converted.

So what you really want to look for in your water when brewing extract is bad odors (and tastes).

When I used to live up in Washington state, I could drink water straight from the faucet. It was tasteless, odorless and colorless… the way water should be. Refreshing!

Then I moved down south to Arizona, and the water is not at all like Washington’s. Water down here is hard and would not make beer nearly as good as water from the Northwest. Heck, it doesn’t even do laundry nearly as well as water from up north.

I’ve also been to places where the water is somewhat Chlorinated and it makes it smell like water from a swimming pool. If your water has this problem, a simple boiling session will get rid of this smell. If your water doesn’t taste good even when you boil the water, you may have Chloramine and not Chlorine. This will give your beer a medicinal-like taste and unfortunately a simple boil won’t rid your water from that horrible taste.

The solution?

Campden Tablets…

These are mostly used in wine-making, but you can take a tablet and treat up to 20 gallons of water if you have that problem.

Another common problem with water is giving your beer a harsh astringent bitterness when brewing highly hopped beers. This is caused by high alkalinity levels in water. If you pour yourself a glass of water and it bubbles away, it is probably suffering from this. To fix this carbonated water, you’ll need to use calcium or gypsum salt depending on the hardness of your water.

Personally I now have a water softener at home, plus a reverse osmosis system, which gives me water similar to distilled water. This water doesn’t have much minerals and that’s OK for extract brewing, but not so much for all-grain brewing.

The extract will add the needed minerals for yeast to live off, but you’ll need to add minerals when brewing all-grain in order to get a good mash going.

If you don’t have a water softener, you can dilute your tap water using distilled water to soften up the water a bit and get better tasting water. If that is too much trouble, then bottled spring water could very well be the best water you will use to brew beer with. Make sure it is spring water, not purified.

Last, you could get a filter using activated charcoal to remove most odors and tastes from water.

Ok, so soft water, Reverse Osmosis, filtered, or spring water is some of the best tasting water and perfect for extract brewing. Can we improve our water to get better tasting beer?

Absolutely…

In some of my videos you’ll see me add brewers salt… why? It improves the malt flavor profile of beer. It’s like adding salt to watermelon when it’s not as sweet. The salt makes it ‘seem’ sweeter. It’s a similar reaction….

However, keep in mind, that I have a water softener and use RO on top of that. If you have tap water, you may not need to add brewer’s salts at all. It would be like over doing it.

So, keep it simple… for extract brewing, as long as the water tastes good your beer will turn out good… if you get some of the symptoms above you now know how to fix them… and if you are brewing all-grain, then you’ll need to dive further into this water topic…

4 Comments

  • carl

    Reply Reply July 14, 2010

    do you still need priming sugar for carbonation ?if you already use coopers carbonation tablets?

    • Jorge

      Reply Reply July 14, 2010

      Carl,

      You don’t want to overprime your beer. You may substitute corn sugar for the cooper’s carbonation tablets, but not use both… that may lead to bottle bombs…

  • Does using a water purifier or a activated carbon to remove unwanted smell substance to the water is a good practice? Can this help to make the beer taste much better?

    • Jorge

      Reply Reply September 10, 2010

      Beer is mostly water, so if your water has some sort of unwanted smell substance, then yes, you definitely want to treat it…

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