From the brew pot to the thermometer, what do you need to brew beer at home? One of the most overlooked materials is quality water. Without it, you could jeopardize the acidity, flavor, and richness of your beer. Hard water contains heavy metals, minerals, and impurities that can make homebrewing more difficult. Luckily, testing your water can give you the results you want (and the peace of mind you need). Here’s everything you should know about how water can affect your homebrew.
The Science Behind Homebrewing
Let’s begin by understanding the science behind homebrewing. Controlling the pH of your solution is critical. But, what is pH? It’s a scale ranging from 0-14 that determines the acidity of a liquid. Pure, filtered water is considered “neutral” at a pH of 7. Anything above is considered “alkaline” and anything below is considered “acidic”. How does this affect your beer? A higher pH (think more alkaline and neutralizing) makes the beer taste dull and less flavorful whereas a lower pH creates a crisper, more acidic taste. Ideally, most homebrewers aim for a pH of 5.2 to 5.5. Even slight differences in pH can greatly affect the beer’s hop and bitterness.
The Effect of Water Minerals
So, how do water minerals affect pH? Minerals found in water are considered “flavor ions” - atoms that are positively or negatively charged. In general, positively charged ions (like Calcium, Magnesium, and Sodium) lower the pH, add more flavor and result in “clearer” beers. On the other hand, negatively charged ions (like Chloride, Sulfate, and Bicarbonate) raise the pH. That said, each of these minerals can affect beer in different ways. For example, calcium affects clarity, magnesium enhances flavor, and sodium sweetens malts. With negatively charged flavor ions, chloride creates a “fuller” taste, sulfate accentuates hop bitterness, and bicarbonate produces a neutralizing taste. By using different combinations of these minerals, you can create your favorite type of beers or your own, unique flavor.
Comparing Different Types of Water for Homebrewing
With homebrewing, minerals added to your solution are measured in parts-per-thousand (PPT). For example, an IPA can be created using 275 PPM of calcium, 40 PPM of magnesium, 25 PPM of sodium, 35 PPM of chloride, and 610 PPM of sulfate. Sounds easy enough, right? Not if you’re using unfiltered brewing water. Hard, unfiltered water is rich in minerals like calcium and magnesium. When used in homebrewing, it can cause your beer to taste too acidic (and undrinkable). This is due to the additional, hidden minerals that go unaccounted for in your flavor ion equation. That’s why many homebrewers use a technique called reverse osmosis - a process that filters water to remove unwanted minerals. In other words, reverse osmosis solutions, like Culligan’s Reverse Osmosis systems, gives you a clean canvas so you can better balance the amount of flavor ions in your beer.
If you’re looking to brew beer at home, make sure you’re using the right water. To find out what minerals are lurking in your water, schedule a free Culligan water test. Unlike store-bought test kits, our at-home tests can detect more impurities in your water. Better yet, they can be sent to a lab for further testing if your results indicate any problems. Culligan helps you get to the bottom of what’s in your water so you can get to the bottom of your glass of beer.