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How’s the tap water at home for brewing?

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How’s the tap water at home for brewing?

Someone once said:

Water is a deceptively understated and underrated force in the making of any beer.

In any brew session, just like cooking, there are a zillion factors that can affect the success of your efforts: temps, grain crush, fresh ingredients, sanitation and water quality, etc. Colorado has pretty good water but even as good as it tastes, in Denver specifically, there are two factors that are going to have an impact on the taste of your beer, Chloramines and pH.

I’ll get to pH levels and its effects in a minute, but water disinfectants are a big problem. Chlorine is easy to get rid of with a simple 10-minute boil or by letting it evaporate. Do this with all the water you use, and you’ll take care of it. However, Chloramines are different, and you need to check with your water supplier to see if that’s what you’re getting.

A good indication your water is chloramine treated is if you are getting any medicinal or plastic-like flavors in your beer. They can be very subtle—and a trained tester will pick them up.

Locally, our Denver Water Department publishes annual water quality reports. However, they don’t tell you what they put in the water for treatment. A quick check of the FAQ page gets us this…

Q:    How do I treat the water for my fish?
A:   Always use a dechlorinating agent for chloramine.

Why would we subject our beers to the stuff the government says isn’t good for the goldfish?

Remove Chloramines.

I use Campden tablets (also called Sodium Metabisulphite): For home brewers, the easiest way to remove chloramines is to add crushed Campden tabs (a chemical often used by winemakers as preservative). This chemical convert chloramine to ammonium and chloride ions, both are good for beer (ammonium ion is a yeast nutrient and chloride ion enhances mouthfeel). Unless your chloramine levels are higher than 3mg/L, one tablet per 20 gallons of water should be plenty. Crush the tablet and add it to your mash water and boil for a few minutes. Make sure any additional water is treated as well.

If you can’t find campden tabs or Sodium Metabisulphite then Potassium Metabisulfite will do, just increase the dose by 30%.

pH Levels:

There is always a lot of differing positions on pH with homebrewers. Actually, only two: I don’t care or I do care. Water is by far the BIGGEST component in beer. Why is it the one ingredient most often ignored by brewers?

Most home and craft brewers use the water most readily available to them, untreated, to brew all styles of beer. They may add gypsum to an IPA or stout recipe, but do little else to alter the profile of their brewing water. This approach can result in good individual beers, but is not the best way to produce consistently great beers brewed to style. Keep track of your water chemistry and it pays off with outstanding tasting beer!

There are several very good sources of information regarding the science of, and effect of pH levels, if you are interested. I can't do it justice here. The subject is enough for books. Let’s focus on the key numbers important to beer.

Different steps in the brewing process require different pH ranges. Brewing water, for example, is best kept at a pH range of 6–7. The mash should be kept within pH 5.2–5.5 (at mash temperature) for optimal enzymatic action (alpha- and beta-amylase are proteins and will denature if the pH veers much outside this range). In wort, proper pH is important for coagulation of proteins; during fermentation, the optimal pH will promote a good environment for yeast, but fight off bacteria. The finished beer pH should fall between 4 and 5.

The average homebrewer can’t control the numbers this way. Our water here in Denver has a pH range of 6 – 7+. At this point, I’m looking for a baseline consistency and I focus on getting my mash pH to the 5.2 - 5.5 range. And so far, it’s made a big improvement in my beers. 

Lactic Acid works great.

Cheers,

Steve

p.s. If you have soft water and are brewing a hop forward beer, you’ll want some Gypsum on hand. Gypsum (calcium sulfate) is used to add permanent hardness to your brewing water in the form of calcium ions, which will increase the hop perception in your beer.

 

  

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