Published: June 14, 2016

    How Different Types of Water Affect the Taste of Beer

    Whether you’re a home-brewing expert or a first-time dabbler in do-it-yourself beer, you’ll know that water is an integral part of the brewing process. You may not realize, however, how drastically different your final brew can taste based on the type of water you choose to use.

    Most people that set out to brew their own brew will likely assume that water is water, and can’t really affect the qualities of their beer (certainly not to the degree of other ingredients and processes). But expert brewers know that choosing the right water is as important as choosing the right hops and grains.

    When characterizing different types of water (either tap water in a given location or, infrequently, brands of bottled water), the components that are measured include calcium, sulfate, sodium, chloride, magnesium, and the overall alkalinity (carbonates and bicarbonates). That’s a lot of scientific jargon, right? Let’s break it down.

    All tap water will contain at least trace amounts of those ions. It is safe to drink, but as you may have heard, the level of these minerals within the water you choose determines its relative “hardness.” Water that contains a fair amount of mineral ions is considered “hard,” and affects the brew in a myriad of ways.

    For example, a higher level of sulfate will make hop bitterness more “crisp,” and the alkaline levels can reduce or increase the acidity of the beer during the mashing process. For a full breakdown of how certain minerals in your water affect your beer, check out this handy water guide for brewers.

    Many famous beer brands have carefully chosen the location of their breweries to utilize ideal local water that’s known for producing tasty brews. The water profiles for many of the world’s most popular brewing cities can be easily accessed for budding entrepreneurs seeking the best water.

    Pilsner, a preeminent and iconic pale lager, derives its name from the town of Pilsen in the Czech Republic, where it was first brewed. The water in Pilsen contained a low amount of the minerals listed above, which directly caused its the signature pale color and clean bitterness.

    On the flip side, high concentrations of certain minerals, like sulfate, calcium, and carbonates, are responsible for strong hoppy flavor. The water in Burton on Trent in the United Kingdom contains a high level of these minerals, and the “hardness” of this water contributes to the unique hoppy bite of English pale ales brewed there.

    If you’re brewing your own batch at home, you may think you’re essentially stuck with the water profile of your local water source. But, for true beer aficionados, some options exist to change the amount of minerals in your water dependent on how you want your beer to taste.

    A reverse osmosis water filter from Pelican Water will add some magnesium and calcium, essential minerals, to your tap water. This adds a dynamism and hoppiness to your brew for a truly flavorful beer. The filter also removes less desirable minerals, making your brew smoother overall.

    Be sure to look up the water profile of your hometown to learn how the mineral content will affect the taste and quality of your brew. Water is an essential beer ingredient, and one that should never be overlooked.