Essential not only to life, but also to great beer. Over 95% of beer’s composition is, you guessed it, water. It must be viewed as one of the core ingredients in beer, alongside malt, hops, yeast, and of course, water.
In fact, water is the first ingredient you should consider when making beer, whether you’re using a prepared ingredient kit or designing your own recipe.
When a brewer selects the malt for a specific recipe, it may seem like something that could be contemplated for days or even weeks. However, it’s important to understand that water deserves just as much consideration. It serves as the foundation for your brew and will greatly impact the final product, regardless of whether everything else is done correctly and other quality ingredients are used.
So, what are the main types of water available for brewing? You can likely obtain distilled water, purified drinking water, tap water, and maybe even rainwater if you have a barrel for collecting it in your home garden or for other purposes. Let’s explore these different types and how they relate to brewing.
First things first, using distilled water is not recommended for brewing beer. Through the process of distillation, water is boiled and then condensed back into liquid form. This removes all impurities from the water, which may sound good at first, but is actually detrimental to brewing. By removing these impurities, essential minerals are also stripped from the water, which can have negative effects on the beer. Certain minerals are necessary for fermentation, and without them, yeast cannot ferment the sugars into alcohol.
While distilled water is definitely not suitable for all-grain brewing, some argue that it’s acceptable for extract brewing because the necessary minerals are present in the malt extract. However, it’s generally recommended to choose a different option. That being said, distilled water can be used for dilution purposes. For example, some brewers use it to balance out high mineral content in hard tap water.
Speaking of tap water, if you choose to use it for brewing, it’s important to do your research. While tap water is safe for human consumption, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ideal for brewing beer. Depending on your location, there may be additives in the water such as chlorine or other disinfectants. These additives are used to make the water drinkable and safe for people, but they can introduce off flavors to the beer, which is undesirable.
This doesn’t mean that tap water should never be used for brewing; it just means you should gather information first. If you have a good understanding of chemistry, you can analyze the chemical and mineral profile of the water yourself. Otherwise, it’s advisable to contact your local water department and request the most up-to-date water analysis for your area. They should be able to provide detailed information about all the minerals mentioned in this article.
Purified Drinking Water
Using bottled water from the store is a great option. This water is sourced from natural springs and has the necessary mineral content for brewing excellent beer. However, similar to tap water, it may be worth contacting the bottling company to obtain a water analysis.
While it may seem excessive to pour numerous half-liter bottles into your brew pot, purified drinking water is available in larger containers that are more practical for brewing purposes.
For all the eco-friendly brewers out there, collecting rainwater for your garden is a wonderful idea. The garden will receive rainwater sooner or later, whether naturally or not, so it doesn’t make much of a difference, right? Well, when it comes to brewing, it does.
Rainwater contains contaminants, debris, and other pollutants. These can come from the collection system itself, but most of them are introduced as the rain falls from the sky. Essentially, anything present in the air, such as carbon monoxide from cars, lead, and particulate matter, can be found in rainwater. Unless you plan on purifying the rainwater yourself, it’s best to keep it in the garden and not use it for brewing.