Generally, water can be ignored until you have somewhat mastered the other hot and especially the cold-side of brewing. Adjusting your water can turn a good beer, into a great beer. This is geared to All Grain brewing, generally extract brewers will not need to worry too much about water.
Water SourceThe first thing a brewer needs to figure out is where their water is coming from. Talk to the person who pays your water bill and navigate to that water companies website. A lot of water treatment companies will post a water analysis which details the low, median, and high ranges of different minerals in the water. I live in Montgomery County, MD and my water company Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) posts yearly tap water analysis. If you get your water from a well, or your water company does not provide you with the details (if its not online try to call), you may need to send a sample away for testing with a company like Ward Labs (W5).
Additional note: If your water company treats your water with chlorine, I recommend using campden tables to treat your water at 1 tablet per 20 gallons of water.
|(My water originates from the Potomac River, which looks like this as it gets close to D.C.)|
What to Look for:I recommend you read John Palmer's Chapter 15 from How To Brew on Water for more information. Below are the minerals and my water sources average values which I use to plan my water adjustments.
Calcium (Ca) - 38ppm
Magnesium (Mg) - 9ppm
Sodium (Na) - 21ppm
Chloride (Cl) - 41ppm
Sulfate (SO4) - 40ppm
Hardness/Alkalinity - Alkalinity (CaCO3) 82ppm
Why Care About It?
How to Make AdjustmentsSince, I don't have a firm chemical grasp on how all these minerals work with each other in the mash, I choose to use the EZ Brew Water Caclulator. The Calculator takes my mineral concentrations above and allows me to input other salt additions to raise/lower my mash pH while also telling me my total mineral concentrations for my water. To lower the mash pH you use Gypsum - CaSO4, Calcium Chloride - CaCL2, Epsom Salt - MgSO4, or lactic acid in the form of acidulated malt, or liquid lactic acid. To raise the mash pH you can use Slaked Lime - Ca(OH)2, Baking Soda - NaHCO3, or Chalk - CaCO3 (note chalk will not dissolve in water and will need to be added to the mash)
Most of the time, with my water, I am trying to lower the pH to get it into the desired range based on the EZ Brew Water Calculator. If I am brewing a pale ale or IPA I am going to use some gypsum to bring down the pH and accentuate the bitterness in the beers. If I am brewing something lighter, like a blonde I may use some Calcuim Chloride. If I think too much of a salt addition is necessary, I will then turn to acid malt to get me where I need to be. I plan to brew a Czech Pilsner here soon, and I think I am going to need to cut my tap water with some RO water to get it soft enough.
So for any water guru's out there...let me know if I am doing something glaringly wrong with my water adjustments in my recipes! I am currently just going by taste and taking good notes, and unfortunately I do not have any pH testing equipment, so I am really trusting that spreadhseet - for better or worse.
For More Understanding...John Palmer's How to Brew - Chapter 15 - explains each mineral, their recommend ranges
AJ DeLange - Local (DC Area) brewing water legend has a ton of good info hosted here
Brewing Networks Brewstrong - Water Shows - about 5 hours of audio on the subject (may contain some language)
Water - New book by Brewer's Publications coming out soon
The Mad Fermentationist's Blog Post on Water - Does a good job regarding recommend ppm mineral values
Brukaiser - Especially some of his documents like pH Targets