Water profile is one of the most undervalued, yet important aspect of your home brewing beer. Each water body contains its unique flavor and ecology elements which makes it unique. Yet recipes on the internet hardly talk about it.
Wort or Water Chemistry is getting the most of your hops and malt by minutely tweaking the ions in your water. Most amateurs start with RO water for their brewing and are pleasantly surprised with their experiments. Calcium Carbonate/acid blend to alter the pH is good enough for 90% of the brewers.
It’s only after you get into the zest of perfection, do you realize the importance of water chemistry. Which is a subtle but powerful tool for any brewery arsenal.
How to fix Brewing Water:
- IPAs are not hoppy enough. (add sulfate: Calcium or Magnesium)
- Your light beers are great but dark beers not so much. (need to use hard water—- Calcium Ca, Magnesium salts Mg)
- Water is too acidic: Add some Calcium Carbonate to increase the pH. Right pH is important for the best enzyme action
- pH is too alkaline: Usually, this is a sign that the water is hard and rich in minerals. Adding some food-grade acids like Malic acid, Citric Acid or tartaric acid would solve the problem. I prefer to use malic acid for fruit wines and fruit ales as it is naturally found in fruits and hence improve the flavor profile.
- Adding a bit of Table Salt (NaCl sodium chloride) can improve the flavors of your fruit ales and fruit cider wine. In Gujarati salt is called મીઠું (Mīṭhuṁ) because of its power in enhancing the flavor balance (sweetness)
- Most municipalities use chloramines to purify drinking water. The old method of boiling water or allowing it to sit overnight for chlorine to dissipate will not work for you. Using Campden powder is the best solution to take out the chlorine. (the product page FAQ & video to help you with the procedure)
- Point to be noted is that one needs to regulate the ph at each stage/step of brewing /mashing and also before adding the yeast. Enzymes and biochemical reactions are very susceptible to optimal pH levels.
Temporary vs Permanent Hardness
With so much of Ca, Mg and SO4 salts being added, brewing water especially for IPA are definitely hard. However some home brewers often ask if they should focus on temporary hardness (by adding CaCO3) or permanent hardness (epson and gypsum salts)?
Temporary hardness is called so, because Calcium (or magnesium) bicarbonate when boiled precipitates into a white deposit. If you have seen inside of your water heater or coffee machine, you can recognize this white deposit of calcium on your vessels. Wine makers love Calcium carbonate because it reduces acidity in wine and improves flavor profile.
However, the last step of beer brewing is boiling the wort. You don’t want to get your beer chemistry go haywire due to sedimentation of the calcium salts. Hence most beer brewers use CaCO3 for the sole purpose of regulating wort pH only.
The permanent hardness is due to sulfates of calcium and magnesium salts. These sulfates don’t react with the acids in your wort. Hence don’t alter the wort pH so much. Secondly, sulfates are stable during boiling. Thirdly, the SO4 on their own also adds to the hoppy characteristic of the beer. Therefore food grade Epson and Gypsum are more heavily used to make the brewing water hard.
Warning about Chemicals:
- Keep your brewing water salts and chemicals away from kids & pets. Always label and store in airtight containers away from sunlight.
- Be sure of the molarity (strength) of the salts before you add. Calcium chloride will soon turn into an aqua solution once opened. So I dilute it to a known strength the moment I open the packet. Similarly, some salts hydrate lose water during storage and hence become stronger. Check the storage instructions and if needed make a solution of known strength when fresh.
- Some brewing salts have varying degrees of hydration. Google for adjustments in the ratios (molar weight) to tweak your recipe.
- Keep logs records and notes.
- Although recipes call for de-ionized water/distilled water. I found that RO water is typically good enough. But do your experiments beforehand.
- Most chemicals are available in four different grades. Technical grade (cheapest), food-grade, Laboratory-grade, and Pharmaceutical grade (called IP which is the most expensive). Understand the difference between % purity, permissible levels of impurities, and nature of impurities between the four before you go on a scavenger hunt to find your missing reagent.
- Most chemicals have a simple titration based method to test purity. But unless you have a chemistry background or you are planning to pursue this commercially, it will be an overkill.
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Please do yourself a favor and avoid using RO water (unless your water supply is tainted with Arsenic, heavy metals or chemical pollutants). RO water machines waste 1 L of water to produce one glass of RO water. Also by stripping away the minerals, not only your water taste goes down but it also weakens your bones.