The importance of water in brewing beer
I am not going to lie to anyone here. Water is one of the most important aspects of brewing a quality beer if not he most important aspect. I could write about water composition and adjustments all day if we were to dig deep into it. In Fact there is an entire book devoted to just that written by John Palmer and Colin Kaminski. I haven’t read it but I have reviewed the contents and it is an in depth view of water composition and it’s effects on creating your desired beer style. If your desire is to learn all you can about water and it’s effects on beer production check this book, Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers out it has a ton of information on how to do that.
Water composition is not top priority when starting out
You don’t have to be a water chemist to produce great home brewed beer how ever. In fact while you’re learning the process of brewing it isn’t as important when you start. The more important things to learn, understand and perform are listed below.
- Sanitation vs cleaning
- Calculations and measurements of grain, water, yeast and hops
- The basic brewing and fermentation process
The quality of water is important don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t of the utmost importance when starting out. You need a good clean source of water free from to much chlorine and any impurities. City supplied water maybe high in chlorine in certain towns and cities and is probably not the best to use without treating it. Well water is usually good but can be high in minerals and other compounds. The simple solution when first starting out is to use spring, distilled or purified water. These types of water will be neutral in PH and will not contain heavy amounts of minerals. Some beer styles call for higher mineral or hardness but I suggest you don’t worry about these types of things until you have a few brew sessions under your belt.
My first year of water use brewing
Honestly when I first started out I had well water and no filtration system. I am sure it contained a larger amount of minerals and other compounds then any distilled or purified version I could have purchased. You know what? It didn’t keep me from making damn good beer. I would recommend trying your water source whether it is well or city supplied just to see how good the beer is produced with it. The only time I would say don’t try this is if it’s city water and you have a perceptible amount of chlorine. What I mean is you taste or smell the chlorine then you would not want to brew with it as it will probably affect the finished beer negatively.
Brewing with reverse osmosis filtered well water
Presently I brew at home with water that comes from my well and is filtered through a reverse osmosis system, RO for short. RO water is filtered through double chambers each with filters that remove particles from the water all the way down to microns in size. This is microscopic in size and removes minerals, chlorine, calcium etc.. The water is very neutral in PH and generally devoid of hardness and minerals. To this day I still brew great ales with no adjustments to the water. I will be running some analysis in the near future and will start to make adjustments to refine my process to learn how it affects my beer. For the last ten years though I have created really great batches of IPA, Pale Ale and even German styles using wheat malt with no water adjustment at all.
Just brew with what you have or used distilled/purified water
Get out and brew with the water you have available. The worst case scenario is your beer will have a softer mouthfeel or may ferment out with slightly less alcohol. It won’t be undrinkable unless there is something really a miss. Like I mentioned before the only common thing that could negatively affect your beer is an abundance of Chlorine. You could boil the water for fifteen to twenty minutes which should boil it off quickly. Or just buy purified or distilled water from the grocery store and you will be fine. Get familiar with the process of cleaning and sanitizing your equipment, getting water and temperature calculations down, the basic brewing process, the basics of fermentation and storage and also working with pre-formulated kits/recipes.
What’s next once you accomplish a few brew days
Once you have a three to a half dozen brew days under your belt and have produced quality drinkable beer then it’s time to start learning finer adjustments like water composition if you want to. If you are happy with the quality of your beer then it is unnecessary. Water composition is one of the most alterable factors in a beer composition. It is very important in beer cloning beer as water composition is highly different around the world. Water can vary in PH and hardness as well as other things.
Where to get more information and material needed to adjust water
Your local brew or online shop will have all the things necessary to adjust PH add or hardness. Like I stated before water adjustment is highly variable per context and your base water. The book Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers covers just about everything you would want to know about it. If you want to be a relative expert start with that book. Other than that just get out and brew with what you have and see how it suits your taste and desired style. Good luck with it and let me know if you have any comments, questions or disagree with my assessment in anyway. Comments that spur quality discussions are very welcome. Thank you for dropping by and reading my thoughts on the matter.