W is for Water
Water – by volume, the biggest ingredient in your favourite beer. But you probably knew that.
What you might not have known is the impact good water can have on a brew. Not all water is created equal, you see. And it takes a bit of science, knowledge and commitment for a brewer to create the perfect platform on which to create his masterpiece.
So what’s in water?
As brewers, there are several ions we’re concerned with when evaluating our H20. These are Calcium (Ca+2), Magnesium (Mg+2), Bicarbonate (HCO3-1), Sulfate (SO4-2) and Chloride (Cl-1).
Each of these ions plays a crucial role in how a beer ends up tasting. Let’s take a look at each one.
Calcium – This ion is in charge of water hardness as well as many reactions within the brewing process. These include enzyme, yeast and protein reactions in the mash and boil. Sometimes brewers have to add calcium if their available water is lacking.
Magnesium – In small amounts, Mg+2 acts as a yeast nutrient and helps those magic little cells do their job. If the amount present is too high, it can cause a bitter or sour taste in the beer. Less than ideal!
Bicarbonate – The range of recommended levels of HC03-1 in brewing water changes depending on the type of beer. Pale ale likes 0-50ppm while dark, roasted malt beers prefer the 150-250ppm range.
Sulfate – S04-2 contributes most to a beer’s bitterness. If you’re looking for a dry, crisp beer with accentuated hop bitterness, sulfates are where it’s at. Careful though, if the levels are too high, the resulting beer can be astringent and unpleasant.
Sodium – Salt is important! It helps to even out flavours in a beer and give that malty sweetness a bit more punch. However, anything over 150ppm can generate a harsh bitterness and even salty flavours.
Chloride – Cl-1 can help to bring about a fullness in beer, but too much can give a medicinal vibe. Less than ideal for a quality beer. 250ppm is at the top of the range for acceptable levels.
A seasoned brewer will take all of the above factors into account when they’re preparing for a batch. It’s the small details that separate good beer and something truly exceptional.
Just because water comes from a spring, doesn’t mean it’s ready to make your next masterpiece. Have it tested and learn to make the necessary adjustments. You’ll be glad you did!
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