This script is from the 2019 season of Beer Notes, which you can listen to at beernotes.org.
Water makes up 90 – 95% of the total ingredients in beer. This week on Beer Notes, we’re talking about the importance and the impact of water in the brewing process.
Basically, water affects the beer in 3 ways.
- First, the character of the water will determine the flavor of the wort, which is the liquid extracted from the mash in the brewing process.
- Secondly, the pH of the water also impacts the perceived bitterness of the beer,
- And finally, any contaminants or chlorine in the water can result in the beer tasting “off.”
There are only five primary ions in water that will positively affect the flavor of your beer. They are Calcium, Chloride, Magnesium, Sodium, and Sulfate. Brewers need to understand the role these elements play, but also what other contaminants do to their beer so they can use water specifically tailored to the beer type and flavor profile.
All good brewers will know, intimately, what is in their water and how to adjust it to make exceptional beer. If you are brewing, be sure to request a water report from your municipality, or get yourself a water test kit, which will tell you the mineral content of your water.
pH matters too. Epson salts, gypsum and baking soda are your new best friends when it comes to changing the pH of your water.
Armed with your report and the style of beer you want to create, you can balance your local water to help your beer reach its full potential — for example, calcium sulfate can be added to the water of your IPA as needed to give it a drier and more assertively bitter flavor.
If you’re intimidated by all this talk of ions and minerals and how they impact your end product, clean surface waters originating from lakes, rivers, streams tend to have fewer minerals than other water sources so you’re “starting fresh” so to speak and can simply add whatever mineral salts you and your beer desire.
Groundwater, or well water, has more dissolved minerals, which again will impact the overall flavor of your beer. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using whatever resources are at your disposal — just get them tested first so you know for sure what you’re working with.
For Beer Notes, this is Anne Neely.