There is no denying that water is fundamental to human’s existence and brewing beer. About 95% of beer is water, 75% of the human brain is comprised of water, and living trees are also made up of about 75% water. This mixture of hydrogen and oxygen is what we are going to focus on today.
Water has different minerals and compounds present in solution throughout different areas of the world. Traditionally, brewing regions of the world used the local water source that was available to them. That makes sense right? This caused characteristics of regional beers to develop very specifically. Two common examples are the soft water of Germany and the hard water of England. Soft and hard is referring to their respective mineral content. Water absorbs different minerals and compounds depending on what type of geological features they are being forced through. There are three intermingled principles of water to keep in mind. The principles are Ph, hardness, and alkalinity. You cannot have one without the other, and changing levels of one of the principles will have an effect on the other two.
Modern day brewing techniques have used water purification to amend the issue of only having one water source. Reverse osmosis water purification is one of the most common. So when the water is “pure” it now does not have the essential nutrients for the yeast to be happy and healthy. This is when the “water amendments” come into play. The brewer will now take a local water source, purify it, then add minerals and organic compounds to mimic a regional water source or create a new mixture specifically for their beer.
Some of the major compounds are:
Calcium – Ca – Available in many forms, these can do everything from helping extract bitterness from hops or lowering the ph in the mash.
Magnesium – Mg – Accentuates beer flavor and is a yeast nutrient.
Carbonate – CO3 – Promotes a rounded malt flavor.
Bicarbonate – HCO3 – Hinders starch gelatinization (less cloudy).
Sodium – Na – May accent sour or salty flavor at lower concentration.
Sulfate – SO4 – Gives beer a full and dry flavor.
Chloride – Cl – Accentuates beer flavor, and enhances palate fullness.
The information above has more intricacies than the average person would suspect. It is quite daunting to soak up all the information about water quality all at once. These are the basic building blocks of mineralized water. And for that matter, I must share that water destined to become beer is not referred to as water. The correct terminology is liquor! I’ve read stories before of brewing apprentices being scolded and even fired for using the wrong terminology.
Next time you see a brewer around, make a splash, and remind them of your appreciation for water!