Learn just enough to get yourself into trouble.
Much like how the famed limestone water of Kentucky makes their bourbon so special, what is in your water (or not in it) could make or break just how good your beer ends up tasting. Water, being the largest of the main ingredients in beer, holds an important role to the final outcome and using the right water source for the right beer may be what tips your beer from so so to great or from great to outstanding.
I often see many of the same questions popping up over water source and brewing beer at home, so I thought for the benefit of the home brewing community (and my future reference) I’d go ahead and list them all here, in one place. If you have a question I didn’t get to, please ask in the comments.
The Home Brewing Water FAQ
I’m an all extract brewer, does any of the following apply to me?
No and also Yes.
No, in the sense that any water you use (assuming your water is free of bacteria and contamination that is) will get you to the “I made beer” finish line. With extract brewing, your starches have already been converted to sugar so the interaction with your water source isn’t going to stop that from occurring.
Yes, in the sense that water makes up the majority of the beer, so if your water tastes bad, your beer will probably taste bad. When given a choice, I will always use the freshest and best ingredients that I can find no matter what I am making, naturally this extends to the water I use in my beer.
Can I just use my tap water?
I don’t know, can you?
Sorry, childhood jokes aside, like everything else in life… It depends. Does your water taste good? Smell funny? Is it hard or soft? Heavily chlorinated? Is it salty? If you just want to brew your first beer and you think your tap water is great, go for it. If it smells weird, tastes bad and can be viewed on youtube catching fire, you already know the answer to that question.
At the very least I would suggest using some campden tablets to clear out the unwanted chlorine and chloramine. If you plan on exclusively brewing with your tap water you may want to also invest in a water test to analyze exactly what dissolved solids are in it so you can better prepare your recipes for possible interactions with your barley, wheat, yeast, hops, etc… Also, if your water is high in iron, you could end up with a metallic taste to your beer and that would make me a sad panda.
Brewing with tap water may or may not be a problem for you, keep on the lookout for off tastes though and if you find you have a consistent off taste with every batch, consider changing your water source to something else.
I did a partial boil, can I just top it off to five gallons with tap water?
Yeah, I guess so. It isn’t ideal but neither is the partial boil, so your probably not worried about it. There is a small chance that you will be adding a harmful bacteria to your beer but I’d say 99 times out of 100 this won’t cause any issues. Water has a great affect on the conversion of starch to sugar but once the sugar is already converted water has much less of an affect. Related pro-tip, have some water chilled in advance to top off with and this will help cool your wort down to pitching temperature as well.
I have hard/soft water, is that OK to brew with?
Yeah! Well maybe… Ok, it depends. Some great world famous brews owe at least part of that fame to the local hard or soft water they use. What you want to keep in mind is what style of beer you will be making in relation to that soft or hard water and if that water is suitable. Soft water can be no good for all grain brewing as you need particular minerals for a successful mash for some beer styles but with other styles like a Pilsen, very soft water is a plus. Other styles like an IPA can really benefit from hard water.
So my tap water sucks, what water should I be using?
Well, that is going to be decided by what beer you are brewing and how determined you are to have the “perfect” water for that style of beer. Personally, I just like to keep things simple so I use whatever spring water is currently on sale at my local supermarket. My only real requirement is that I’m not just buying some other cities filtered tap water. I don’t really know what’s in it but I assume it has “enough” of whatever I need for whatever style of beer I am making. My results may not always be world class but I have enjoyed them all and they all have tasted great or at the very least, fine.
If you are after complete perfection in your brews however, you are going to want to get water that contains zero dissolved minerals and then add to it the minerals needed for your perfect version of that style. In that case you want distilled or reverse osmosis water. Be careful when doing this though, just because a world famous brewery is located in a place that has a specific hard water, doesn’t mean they don’t soften the water before brewing beer with it or the other way around for that matter.
The great thing is, I guarantee you won’t be the first person to replicate the style so make the internet your friend and click this link and replace the ____ with the style of beer you wish to brew. A little research will go a long way.
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