The important role of water in the creation of different classic beer styles
In the past, the villages or cities in the European beer belt used to produce their own beer. At that time, the water consumed by the population was infected and dirty; it did not receive without any treatment. Beer, on the other hand, had the advantage of going through a boiling process, and, therefore, people would not get sick from drinking it.
Back when there was no running water, the best locations to build a brewery were close to springs, rivers, clean-water streams, or wells drilled in groundwater areas with dependable volume and quality. Most old famous brewery cities developed in monasteries near areas with abundant cultivation of barley, hops, and access to quality water.
Long before learning about the influence of different waters in the production of beer, those cities promoted cultures with different forms of production. Thanks to that, areas with varied processing techniques and consequently types of beers with particular styles appeared. This is true for Budweis, Pilsen, Munich, and Dortmund, as well as for London, Burton, and others.
Nowadays, a brewery can count itself lucky when it has its own water supply, with the necessary physico-chemical characteristics for the style of beer it produces. Currently, that is good in terms of costs, but even the water from the city supply could be used, and minerals added or removed as needed, to obtain the type of water appropriate for the desired beer style.
Are all waters the same?
It is worth remembering that the chemical composition of water varies. Not every water is the same, and every water has a distinct taste. This can be verified when identical
beers are brewed using the same ingredients, the same recipe, but waters from different areas, with different physico-chemical compositions. The flavor of the beers can be similar, but never the same.
Water makes up for approximately 90% of the beer composition in weight.
What makes water get hard (rich in minerals)?
Water hardness influences on the variation of water flavor. Soft water from the rain and springs passes through many layers of soil, where it becomes saturated with mineral salts. Those salts can be carbonates (calcium and magnesium) or several other types of minerals, and they give the water hard composition and characteristic. According to the amount of salts with which the water combines, it becomes more or less hard, or soft. When the minerals absorbed by the water react with the carbonic acid contained in it, the formation of carbonate hardness occurs. The combination of calcium and magnesium salts with sulfuric acid causes the formation of non-carbonate hardness.
Water hardness (total hardness) is composed of carbonate hardness and non-carbonate hardness. It is officially measured in °dH (German degree), which corresponds to 10 mg of calcium oxide (CaO) per liter of water.
Acidic or alkaline pH?
The pH level determines the level of acidity, which depends on the type and amount of salts existing in the water.
An acceptable pH level for brewery water is a little below neutral pH, somewhere between 6.0 and 6.5. Optimal pH for mashing lies in the range of 5.4 to 5.6, where the enzymes exhibit optimal performance.
pH level table
What is total hardness?
Water hardness is formed through calcium and magnesium dissolved in the water. Hardness is composed according to the table below:
Total Hardness Carbonate hardness
= Non-carbonate hardness
What is total alkalinity?
Total alkalinity of water is determined by the concentration of carbonate and bicarbonate ions. It is also called carbonate hardness.
What is residual alkalinity?
RA = residual alkalinity
Alkaline elements neutralize water acidity. Residual alkalinity is defined as the difference between carbonate hardness and non-carbonate hardness.
The higher the residual alkalinity, the stronger the carbonate hardness acts, and the higher is the pH level (alkaline). For Pilsen beer, residual alkalinity must not be higher than 5°dH.
Miscellanea for better understanding
- Ions that increase the pH level hinder the progress of the process and affect the quality of the beer. Carbonates and bicarbonates increase the pH level.
- The ion content of carbonate and bicarbonate is called carbonate hardness or total alkalinity.
- Ions that acidify the environment (decrease the pH) are calcium and magnesium, forming compounds such as calcium sulfate (CaSO4), calcium chloride (CaCl2), magnesium sulfate (MgSO4), and magnesium chloride (MgCl2). These salts are considered non-carbonate hardness.
How to remove hardness from water
Removal of carbonate hardness through heat.
Ca(HCO3)2 è CaCO3↓ + CO2↑ + H2O
After heating the water to 80°C, the calcium carbonate (CaCO3) precipitates and releases carbon dioxide (CO2).
- Saturated lime:
Addition of saturated lime in the water.
Ca(HCO3)2 + Ca(OH)2 è 2CaCO3↓ +2H2O
This method causes the formation of insoluble calcium carbonate.
- Ion exchangers:
· Cation exchangers – remove cations from the water, Mg, Ca, Na, etc., decreasing hardness.
· Anion exchangers – remove anions from mineral acids.
Water treated with anion and cation exchangers theoretically becomes free of salts, practically turning into distilled water.
- Other methods:
Reverse osmosis and filtering
The water for the process of beer brewing needs to comply with the country’s potability standards.
In order to remove contaminants from the water, the following elements can be used:
· Active chlorine – dosage of up to 0.12%;
· Ozone – dosage of up to 1%;
· Filtering – removal of spores using filter batteries until the last filter reaches 0.45 microns;
· Ultraviolet – microorganisms are killed using ultraviolet rays;
· Silver ions – for spore removal.
It should be noted that water must not contain heavy metals or nitrates.
Kunze, Wolfgang. Technologie Brauer und Mälzer. Berlin: VLB.
Heyse, Karl-Ullrich. Handbuch der Brauerei-Praxis. Nuremberg: Hans Carl.
Schimidt, Hans. Katechismus der Brauerei-Praxis. Nuremberg: Hans Carl.