Many homebrew newcomers are so excited by the possibilities of trying out various mash and hop combinations, yeast strains, and other minute details of the brewing process that they often overlook the single most important component in beer–water. After all, beer contains much more water than any other substance and the quality of the water you use in your homebrewing process can have a profound impact on the flavor of the resulting homebrew.
Many commercial brewing companies make a big deal out of the source of the water that is used in their brewing process. Ads for commercial beers typically drop words such as “pure”, “mountain stream”, “clear”, “crisp”, etc. when describing the water that serves as the basis of their beers. While the commercials may sometimes over romanticize the water source, there is nevertheless good reason to pay attention to the water that is used in the homebrewing process. Of course, you don’t need to be near a pure mountain stream or other idyllic water source to make quality homebrew, but you still must pay attention to the water that is used, particularly if your tap water is mineral rich or over processed with chlorine or other antibacterial agents.
One common misconception is that the more pure the water used, the better the beer. While this subject is still under dispute, a quick look at some of the most celebrated breweries in the world shows that they use water supplies that are far from pure. The water used in many of the most famous German breweries such as those in Munich and Pilsen use water supplies that are quite high in mineral content, as do many of the ale and stout breweries in the British Isles. In fact, studies have shown that the dissolved minerals that are found in the waters used by some of the famous breweries actually contribute to the distinctive flavor of the beers produced there. Some homebrew enthusiasts have actually gone to the trouble of adding impurities to the water that they use in their process in an attempt to emulate the water of the famous breweries. While this technique is not always effective, it does illustrate that water need not be one hundred percent pure in order to brew high quality beer.
While dissolved mineral content may not have a large detrimental effect on the success of your homebrewing, other chemicals can. One of the most common chemicals used in the municipal treatment of water is chlorine. An excess of chlorine can damage the flavor and aroma of your beer and, worse, can also serve to kill or reduce the metabolism of the yeast used in the fermentation process. If your tap water is highly chlorinated, you may want to consider using bottled water for your homebrew. You can also remove much of the excess chlorine from the water by boiling it and letting it stand overnight. Charcoal filters can also remove much of the chlorine from tap water.
Many homebrew hobbyists worry that the fluorine that is added to tap water in many cities may cause undesirable results when used in homebrewing. While the jury is still out on the question, the answer seems to be “no” for the moment. The concentration of fluorine that is typically added to municipal waters supplies is very low, and homebrewing enthusiasts have reported that beer that has been brewed with fluorinated water has no noticeable effects.
While water is clearly the most prevalent component of beer, the importance of purity has been somewhat overemphasized in beer advertisements. Mineral content seems to have only a minor impact on the finished product and in many cases that impact has been taken to be positive. The only real problem that can occur with using tap water for homebrewing is the unpleasant taste and fermentation problems that can occur if the water is highly chlorinated. Fortunately, it is relatively easy to remove excess chlorine from water with boiling or filtration.
This article was written and submitted by BrewingKB, a brewing community of home brewers.
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