Ask The Experts: Water Testing for Beer Recipes | Craft Beer & Brewing

Ask The Experts: Water Testing for Beer Recipes

Homebrew expert Brad Smith, author of the Beersmith homebrewing software and the voice behind the Beersmith podcast, answers an important question about water testing.

Brad Smith 10 months ago

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A Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine reader recently asked us the following question:

What is the best way to get my water tested for beer brewing?

Water, which makes up more than 90 percent of beer, is very important for beer brewing. It’s so important that many commercial brewers select brewery locations specifically for the water.

For brewing, you are primarily concerned about the “big six” water ions: calcium, magnesium, sulfate, sodium, chloride, and bicarbonates. In addition, a pH measurement is handy—though not required—and often you can estimate bicarbonates if you have the total alkalinity measurement. Once you have these numbers, you can put them into your brewing software or spreadsheet to aid in estimating mash pH and acid adjustments and to match other waters using salts.

In some cases, you can get these measurements from your water provider, although unfortunately, many of the published water reports don’t have all of the ions listed. Another option is to send your water to a lab and have it measured there. Some labs, such as Ward Laboratories, can measure a sample for less than $30, which is a great option if you have a consistent water source and need to make only a single measurement. When choosing a lab, make sure you get a “brewing water test” and not a regular water test because many regular water tests do not include the “big six” ions.

Some water sources change over time because some municipal water plants pull water from different sources during the year. If you need repeated water measurements, you may want to consider a water test kit, which costs a bit more than a single lab test. Water test kits are also great options if you can get a group of brewers to share the cost or perhaps buy one through your brew club.

Companies such as Industrial Test Systems, LaMotte, and others have affordable test kits designed specifically for brewing use. These are the kits you should look for to make sure you can measure the “big six” ions. Many also have an optional pH meter you can purchase with the kit for pH measurement, which can also be used for measuring mash pH.

A final option if your water supply is inconsistent or really not appropriate for brewing is to simply use distilled or reverse-osmosis (RO) water, which has zero mineral content, and add some salts to bring the water up to the desired ion content. This is obviously more expensive since you need to purchase distilled or RO water for brewing, but it is a good option if your water supply is poor or changes often.

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