Importance of Water Quality in Beer

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Understanding the quality of a brews’ starting water is critical to determining the brewing process which will be followed. This includes whether or not to use a reverse osmosis system, which chemicals to add and how much, how the grains will affect the water pH, and if the waste water produced needs to be treated.

At the heart of every cold beer is the world’s greatest resource, water. It not only affects the flavour but also impacts the amount of chemicals necessary in order to achieve the 5.2 pH in mash, and throughout the entire brewing process. Understanding the quality of a brews’ starting water is critical to determining the brewing process which will be followed. This includes whether or not to use a reverse osmosis system, which chemicals to add and how much, how the grains will affect the water pH, and if the waste water produced needs to be treated.

Below are some of the critical control points for brewing water, why they are important and how you can test. 

pH

As pH is the foundation of all beers, understanding the starting pH of your water will help you to understand what process you need to follow in order to achieve the ideal 5.2 pH in your mash. In some cases, the combination of the acidic grains and the water will alone be able to achieve this. In other cases, lactic acid can be added to help reduce the pH. pH can be tested digitally in three ways:

Alkalinity

PLEASE NOTE: Alkalinity and pH are not the same. pH is the amount of acid or base present in a sample and alkalinity is the strength of those bases. As you begin adjusting your pH during mash it is important to understand the buffering capacity of your water. For example, 5mL of lactic acid in low alkaline water may be enough to adjust the pH. However, in water with high alkalinity, this may not adjust the pH at all. Sometimes, a brewer will add a basic chemical (such as NaOH) to build a buffering capacity to hold throughout the remainder of the brewing process. Below are three ways to measure alkalinity:

Hardness

The hardness of water refers to the amount of calcium carbonate present. This is important to beer for a few reasons. For starters, calcium carbonate can lead to rusting and corrosion – something you don’t want to occur in your transfer pipes. Secondly, hard water not only has a different texture, but it also has a distinct flavor impact that will negatively impact a beer. Like alkalinity you can measure hardness via the following:

Other parameters are relevant in water quality testing as well, depending on the breweries source water and common issues. These can include chlorine, iron, and other metals. Most of these parameters can also be measured using a Checker colorimeter, or titrator. While the water testing needs will differ for every brewery, it is important to be aware of what testing you could implement to help improve your beer quality and save chemicals, time and money.

While the water testing needs will differ for every brewery, it is important to be aware of what testing you could implement to help improve your beer quality and save chemicals, time and money.