Experts agree that the quality of the water that you start with will affect your final product, so take the mystery out of making great tasting beer. Trust LaMotte, the water analysis experts since 1919, to help you control your most important ingredient ... water!
Alkalinity is generally a problem in brewing water. Alkalinity is the carbonate and bicarbonate content of the water, and acts to raise the pH of the mash and beer. Water hardness can offset the alkalinity, and for that reason both parameters are typically measured as “Calcium Carbonate” in order to determine the net effect.
The chloride ion acts to bring out the sweetness and fullness of the malt flavor, much like table salt does for food. Craft brewers often add calcium chloride to brewing water for Pilsner and other lagers.
Dissolved oxygen can have both a positive and negative impact on beer, depending on the brewing stage. While fermentation itself is an anaerobic process (occurs in the absence of air), yeast cells do require oxygen for growth. Excessive DO can lead to rapid fermentations and excessive yeast growth, resulting in higher ester production, giving fruitier flavors. It can also lead to permanent chill haze, increased beer astringency, and an increase in color intensity, largely due to the oxidation of polyphenols.
Water hardness is a brewer’s friend because calcium and magnesium are important ions in many biochemical reactions during mashing and fermentation.
Calcium: Helps prevent enzymes from denaturing and extends their activity in the mash, promoting clarity, flavor, and stability in the finished beer.
Magnesium: In small amounts Mg is an important yeast nutrient. The better the “yeast ferment”, the cleaner the alcohol produced.
The chemistry of brewing and cooking is complex, and while knowing the mineral content of the water is a critical first step to predicting the impact of the water to the beer, the best way is to measure it, and that is where pH comes into the picture. The mineral content of the water directly affects the pH of the mash, and the pH of the mash affects the entire brewing process—both in process performance and beer flavor. In order to consistently brew great beer, the pH of the mash, wort, and beer should be monitored at every step.
Sodium acts in concert with chloride to enhance the sweetness and fullness of the malt, but just as in food and cooking, too much can oversalt the beer and result in salty or metallic flavors. Sodium is ubiquitous in water supplies and mineral additions, so it is important for the brewer to know how much the water has before any treatments are planned. Sodium can be easily determined by calculation from the results of the other tests.
Sulfate and chloride ions in water affect the flavor balance of the beer, from hoppy to malty. The sulfate ion acts to accentuate the hoppiness and dryness of the beer, making it more crisp tasting. Craft brewers often add calcium sulfate to their brewing water for pale ales and IPAs.
Total Dissolved Solids:
The measurement of total dissolved solids allows the brewer to quickly determine if there has been a shift or change in a water source or brewing process by measuring all solids in solution. It can also provide a valuable quality assurance check on demineralization processes and waste treatment effectiveness.