Asking yourself what brewing salts do I need; is a question every brewer should ask. Brewing water is extremely important to how your final beer will turn out.
In all honesty understanding brewing water chemistry from water profiles to brewing salts can take your beer to the next level. The water out of your tap can taste great. However it doesn’t mean you’ll end up with good beer.
Many municipal water sources contain chlorine and the more stable chloramine. These are additions added by the water supply company to make the water safer to drink. Chlorine and Chloramine though, can negatively impact beer flavor.
Furthermore, water that’s high in bicarbonate or iron which may lead to undesirable flavors in your finished brew.
Iron is undesirable in brewing as it’s easily detectable in finished beer. Leading to a “metallic” or blood-like taste. Iron levels should be under 0.1ppm (parts per million) in your water.
Furthermore, a higher level of bicarbonates in water can lead to greater tannins extraction of you grains. This may lead to an unpleasant bitterness in your final beer (will be discussed later in our water treatment series).
Please note: water is a big part of brewing and too complex for one article. Therefore, this is to be the first in a series of articles about water and water additions for brewing.
What Brewing Salts do I Need? – Reverse Osmosis
A lot of brewers (especially in Asia) overcome having water unsuited to brewing with their own RO (reverse osmosis) machine.
“Reverse osmosis (RO) is a water purification process that uses a particular permeable membrane to remove ions, unwanted molecules and larger particles from drinking water”Wikipedia – Reverse Osmosis
It is similar if you use bottled water (not mineral/spring water). Normal bottle water has been treated often via reverse osmosis. If you use bottled water treat it like a blank slate too.
This allows brewers to work from a “blank slate”. So, they can add the brewing salts and other water additions needed to have water suitable for brewing a particular beer style.
However understanding your water source, adding the correct water additions and controlling mash pH can lead to better brewing results.
Know Your Water
With this in mind the first place to start is with a report from your water company, if you are using municipal water. Your local water provider should be able to provide you with some of the information you need.
They are required by law to test the water for safety as well as report any contaminants and pesticides. However, not all reports will provide all the data you require as a brewer.
Although in some US towns they do provide special water reports taking into account brewer’s needs.
What Brewing Salts do I Need? Getting your Water Professionally Tested
You can send your water off to be tested by a lab. This is what I have done before in China using Pony Testing International Group based in Beijing. In the US you can use a company like Ward Labs.
With this in mind you run your tap water for around 5 minutes, collect the sample and ship it the lab for analysis. Furthermore depending on the service; costs can start at around US$50. It’ll take about a week for you to receive the water report.
Testing Your Water by Yourself
It’s possible to test your brewing water yourself with companies like LaMotte offering water testing kits. Furthermore, self-testing along with a pH meter will allow you to test your own water.
Every brewer should have a pH meter and calibrate it regularly. The pH storage and calibration solutions are almost as important as the pH meter if you want accurate readings.
What Brewing Salts do I Need? What’s in my Water?
When you have your water report; the main items below are what we’re interested in:
- Sodium (Na)
- Sulfate (SO4)
- Chloride (Cl)
- Magnesium (Mg)
- Calcium (Ca)
- Iron (Fe) – remember under 0.1ppm
- Total Acidity
If you know the values of the above items with their levels and amounts; you can asses whether you water is good for brewing. In our next article we will explore the reason why knowing the amounts and levels of the above are so important.
For part two in our series of brewing with salts click here now.