Adjusting Your Brewing Water in Charlottesville

I’ve recently become more aware of the importance water has on brewing beer.  I’ve been brewing for four years now and have never really thought twice about the water I’ve been using and its effect on the final product.  As it turns out, water quality and profile has just as big a part in making good beer as quality malt and hops.  I’m going to leave yeast out of that statement, because I still think that yeast is the most important ingredient to making great beer.

First thing to do is get a water report from your local water company.  Ours posts a report online each year and can be found here

But after looking through the report, and reading about different profiles and minerals here

I was still thoroughly confused.  I couldn’t find the Calcium levels.  Or the sulfate levels.  Or anything really that I could plug into my BeerSmith program to figure out what kind of water I had coming out of the tap.  So, I sent an email to the water company asking these questions.  They were happy to help me out, and had all the specific levels I was looking for.  So if you can’t work your way through your water report, try giving them a call or email, and hopefully they will be as helpful as they were to me.

For those of you in Charlottesville (Albemarle county in particular), here are the numbers I was given for the 2014 report, which is due to come out online in a few weeks.

Calcium – 15.6 ppm – brewing range 50-150.  So adding calcium is recommended for our water, especially if you are brewing all grain, as it helps with enzymatic activity during the mash.  But it also plays roles in clarity during the boil and yeast activity as well.  Use Gypsum (CaSO4) or CaCl (if water is low in chloride) to adjust.

Sulfate – 28.9 ppm – brewing range 50-350.  Sulfate is what lends bitter beers the crisp hop bitterness.  I feel that my bitter beers have always lacked that, and am excited to see how adjusting this changes those beers.  The more bitter your beer, the higher sulfate level you want.  But above 350 and you will be flirting with harshly bitter flavors.  Use Gypsum or Epsom Salt (MgSO4) to increase levels.

Magnesium – 1.7 ppm – brewing range 10-30. Similar to Calcium, also a yeast nutrient.  I don’t plan on adjusting this right now.

Sodium – 7.9 ppm – brewing range 0-150. In high levels can cause beer to taste salty.

Chloride – 8.7 ppm – brewing range 0-150.  Accentuates flavor and fullness in the beer.  In high amounts can lend medicinal flavor to the beer.

HCO3 – 17.0 ppm – brewing range 0-250 (low end for pale beers, high end for dark beers) The concern here is more for brewing pale beers with high levels of carbonate, which we don’t have to worry about here.  The higher the carbonate level, the higher the pH.  Dark malts are more acidic than pale malts, so the darker beers can tolerate higher pH water.

I have only just started studying brewing water, so please do your research to figure out what your water needs.  I plan on using gypsum (CaSO4) and CaCl to adjust my calcium and sulfate levels.  I could use just gypsum, but I would end up with pretty high levels of SO4, and since our water is low in chloride, I can also use CaCl to get the Ca levels up even more.  I will add it to both the mash and sparge water to reach my targeted levels.  In commercial brewing, it is all added to the mash, since most often the sparge water comes directly from a hot liquor tank.

I’d like to hear any suggestions that might increase my knowledge of brewing water, so please add any comments!

Keagan loves riding the free trolley around town!

Keagan loves riding the free trolley around town!

Jameson hanging out in his favorite shirt

Jameson hanging out in his favorite shirt

Published in: on February 12, 2015 at 2:11 PM  Comments (3)