Brewing SolutionsDemystifying the Role of Water in Brewing

Usually, when we pen an article, we are at our buzzing office. Since the Covid-19 outbreak, things have been a little different around here. We’re practicing social distancing just like the rest of the world.

We’re at home, our pets are thrilled, and our families are safe. And, of course, we’ve got beer. But, it still feels weird as we are separated, and we cannot do what we love – talking beer with beer manufacturers and entrepreneurs.

So, we’ve come up with a few ideas to maintain a connection with our clients and fellow beer lovers during these difficult times. We will be publishing new articles over the coming weeks, which will hopefully bring some light in these dark times.

We’re working on compiling useful information and resources to help you better your brewing game, once you get back on the job. We’re also putting together streaming recommendations and other resources to help you. If you have suggestions on what we should cover, or just want to say hello, drop us a line. We are all in this together.

And, thanks for being a part of RJBS! Let’s dive into this week’s topic.

Demystifying the Role of Water in Beer

Water, water everywhere. It’s in our beers too. Nearly 90 to 95% of beer is made up of water. Yet, it’s the least talked about ingredient in the world of craft brewing. Here, in this guide, we help you understand the role of water in brewing amazing brews.

First, let me give you must-follow water rules.

  • Always remove chlorine/chloramine from water
  • Know thy water profile – hardness and alkalinity

Rule No.1: Removing Contaminants from Water

The water you use for brewing plays a crucial role in determining the taste of your brew. For instance, if your brewery is located in a locality with iron-rich water, then your beers will have an unpleasant metallic and bloody aftertaste if you don’t remove the iron from the water.

So, the first step is to analyse the water supply in your area. Generally, most municipal water suppliers add chlorine to underground/river water to make it safe for human consumption. While it’s good for our health, using chlorinated water for brewing is not a good idea.

Water with chlorine/chloramine reacts with the malts in your brew to add plasticky, clove-y, and nasty aroma to the beer. This is a result of the formation of a type of chemicals known as chlorophenols.

Even if you don’t do anything else with your water, make sure to remove chlorine/chloramine.

The easiest way to remove chlorine compounds is to invest in a good quality UV/RO water filter. Look for water filters with activated charcoal. Alternatively, you can also chemically separate chlorine from water by using potassium meta bisulphate or Campden tablets.

Following this single rule improves the taste of your brews significantly.

Rule No.2: Know Thy Water Profile

Water hardness and alkalinity are two critical factors to consider. Water hardness is the amount of dissolved magnesium and calcium in the water. Water that has high concentrations of these minerals is known as hard water. On the other hand, water with low levels of these minerals is known as soft water.

Water that is good for brewing should be moderately hard.

Alkalinity is the concentration of carbonate and bicarbonate salts in water. Water with a high level of these salts is known as alkaline water. Water with high alkalinity has a higher pH value. This is a problem for brewing, as water with high pH is not suitable for brewing, especially for the paler style of beers.

You can alter the pH of the water by using the right grain bill. For instance, using dark roasted malts can neutralise alkaline water to achieve the correct pH. Besides knowing the pH of the water, you need a good understanding of the effect of the wort on the pH levels.

Beer brewed with higher pH water has a dull taste. On the other hand, a beer brewed with low pH makes it lose complexity. Aim for water with neutral pH.

How does water impact the taste of the beer?

The water you use for brewing affects the beer in three significant ways:

  • It determines the pH of the beer – which in turn, impacts how beer flavours are expressed
  • It provides seasoning to the beer – depending on the sulphate to chloride ratio
  • It can cause off flavours due to the presence of chlorine and other contaminants

How do different minerals in water impact the outcome of your brew?

Choosing the right water for brewing is not as simple as choosing hard or soft water. There are several minerals and ions in water that come into play. Let’s take a look at how different minerals in water impact the outcome of your brew:
Calcium – Calcium plays a huge role in determining the hardness of the water. Calcium in the water can help in lowering the pH of water during mashing. It also adds stability and clarity to your final brew.

The preferred range of calcium in water is – 50 mg/L to 150 mg/L.
Magnesium – It’s another main mineral that determines the hardness of the water. However, it doesn’t affect the pH as much as calcium. Too much magnesium in water leads to a bitter aftertaste.

The preferred range of magnesium in water is – 10 mg/L to 30 mg/L.
Carbonate and Bicarbonate – These impact the alkalinity of the water and the acidity of the mash. When the carbonate salts are too low, the mash will become highly acidic, which in turn makes it inefficient. The right levels of carbonate depend on the type of beer you’re brewing.

The preferred range of carbonate salts in water is – 25 mg/L to 50 mg/L for pale beers, and for darker malts, the preferred range is – 100 mg/L to 300 mg/L.
Sodium – In minimal amounts, sodium has little to no effect on the brew. Sodium contributes to the mouthfeel and the body of the beer. Too much causes a tangy metallic taste. This is the reason why soft water is not preferred for brewing.

The preferred range of sodium in water is – 10 mg/L to 70 mg/L.

Chloride – Like sodium, chloride contributes to the mouthfeel of the beer in the right amounts. It makes the beer taste sweeter and fuller. However, too much chlorine hurts the finished beer.

Sulphates – It helps in bringing out the hoppy flavour of the brew while lowering pH. It does the opposite of chloride.

Reverse Osmosis (RO) Water is your Friend

If you consider brewing an art, then you need a blank canvas to create a masterpiece. The best way to go forward is to use Reverse Osmosis water. Reverse Osmosis filters out most contaminants and minerals giving you baseline water. You can now use this water to adjust hardness, pH levels as per your preferences.

If you still have doubts about the water to use your brewing experiments, you can always reach out to our beer experts at RJBS, leading beer equipment manufacturers in India.

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