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Water profiles - Important or Not?

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  • Water profiles - Important or Not?

    I have sort of a basic question for brewers. How important and what approach do you take with the mineral content in water for making your beer? Now I know what you're going to say "it makes 99% of the finished product, of course it's important". But I've seen brewers just use RO or use whatever comes out of the tap.

    So I guess what I'm attempting to get a read on is...

    Do you use water reports and build water profiles of famous water sources?
    Do you just use what you have?
    Do you approach salt additions as you would any other ingredient to impact desired flavors (Ex. Higher SO4 to impact bittering or Cl to impart softness)?

    Thanks

  • #2
    To "build" your water by profiles of various "beer metropolises" you'll need RO plant, but it is not that common due to its cost and complexity. In my homebrewer times RO was great way to manage my water profiles, but on larger scale carbon filters are what most people are using. What system will work for you depends on your water quality and mineral profile.

    I am using minerals primarily to adjust my mash and sparge pH, and then suit it into desired profile in terms of taste (eg chloride/sulfate ratio). For you, it will depend on your municipal water so I would get water profile sheet an start from there.

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    • #3
      Should you emulate the water of famous brewing centers? Probably not exactly. However, you can review the concentrations of flavor ions from those profiles to help understand what those brewers MIGHT have been dealing with. The most important thing that a brewer can do is to make sure that their water is adjusted to produce a desirable wort pH. The flavoring from the water can be consideration based on the brewer's preference and perception of their finished product.
      WaterEng
      Engineering Consultant

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      • #4
        The first step is to get your water report from your local water district. Thatíll tell you whatís possible without advanced filtration. If your lucky, like we are in Portland Maine, the water is basically (but not actually) distilled...meaning the mineral content is below 10ppm across the board. This allows us to successfully make many different water profiles by adding certain salts. However, not everyone is lucky enough to have municipal water drawn from a massive lake filled with surface runoff.

        Essentially, get your water report, download some water software and figure out what your able to do. Then worry about what your trying to achieve by altering your existing water.


        Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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        • #5
          Find out what you have in your existing water supply, pull a sample and get it analysed so you know what you're actually getting from your faucets. Make sure you have adequate filtration in place to deal with disinfectants. You will probably need to add salts depending on the beer your brewing to hit your flavor targets, but most importantly make sure you're hitting your mash pH and holding it reasonably steady during sparging. Once you've got mash pH in line, boil pH should follow, and then you can experiment dosing salts even into the finished beer to fine tune it.

          Don't bother looking at so-called historical or geographic water profiles, they are not useful in the least. People cite things like Burton water analyses, but brewers in Burton didn't use the local well water straight, focus on using water salts to get a beer which you (and your customers) like

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          • #6
            Originally posted by PSkelton View Post
            Find out what you have in your existing water supply, pull a sample and get it analysed so you know what you're actually getting from your faucets. Make sure you have adequate filtration in place to deal with disinfectants. You will probably need to add salts depending on the beer your brewing to hit your flavor targets, but most importantly make sure you're hitting your mash pH and holding it reasonably steady during sparging. Once you've got mash pH in line, boil pH should follow, and then you can experiment dosing salts even into the finished beer to fine tune it.

            Don't bother looking at so-called historical or geographic water profiles, they are not useful in the least. People cite things like Burton water analyses, but brewers in Burton didn't use the local well water straight, focus on using water salts to get a beer which you (and your customers) like
            That's the approach I'm leaning towards as well. PH has always been the main objective but for flavor targets, the only impactful salt additions seem to be tied to Cl and SO4 ratios. Historical water profiles only seem useful if it's part of your niche or marketing approach for your product (ex. authentic german lager brewery).
            I was curious if anyone ever added salts to finished beer for sensory comparison/fine tuning. Not as an approach to a finished product but as a means to test mineral impact.

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            • #7
              Adjusting the municipal water profile with salts to get the wort pH to the desired level was half the reason we adjusted our water. The other reason being the water plays a large role in overall flavor and more importantly mouthfeel and the perception of flavor.

              Historical brewing profiles can give you an idea of what those brewers had to work with and can be a fun starting place for experimenting within a style using your own water.

              We couldn't really get our mash pH quite right if we added too much acidic malt for example because we basically had a Pilsen water profile in NC.

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              • #8
                Don't forget that more often than not historical brewers were not using unadulterated water without doing anything to it either. They used other tactics in addition to salt additions, such as pulling water from multiple sources such as wells and rivers and also pre-boiling water. Just because a single point in time analysis gives you one set of results for an area's water it doesn't mean that that's all there is to it.

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                • #9
                  One other thing to keep in mind is that in many municipalities, water comes from more than one source. It can suddenly change without warning, as they route water from various sources to various holding tanks and urban reservoirs, and the brewery a few blocks away might have a completely different source than you.

                  For example, here in the northwest I noticed a spike in hardness one summer, and inquired with the water district. They explained that the stream level went below a certain point, and due to salmon restrictions they could no longer draw water at the same rate, so they supplemented with well water.

                  So whatever you figure your water profile to be (assuming you use the water without extensive pretreatment), you might want to monitor TDS and if you see a sudden change, investigate or perhaps retest your water. TDS by itself isn't that useful, but it might clue you in to a change.

                  I wouldn't rely on municipal water reports either. Use Ward Labs or another provider to do analyses that are useful to you.

                  Regards,
                  Mike Sharp

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