What Makes Water So Important in Brewing Beer

Did you ever have great-tasting Beers and wondered why some of the best beers from around the world come from places where the water is purest and of higher quality. Beer is 90-95% water, so shouldn’t it be the most important ingredient. What makes water so important in brewing Beer? 

In its purest form Beer consists of 4 raw ingredients, Water, Hops, Yeast, & Grains. Water being of equal to or more important than the other ingredients because of its chemistry & characteristics that make it specific to its location around the world.

How many times have you heard that source of great-tasting beer is directly the result of the water source. Coors from the crystal clear water of the Rocky Mountains to your lips or German Beers like Beck that is advertised as containing “only 4 ingredients: hops, malted barley, maize and water” all being equal in importance. The Art of Brewing Beer on all fine quality beers depends on the source of raw materials that are used in the process.


Best Water For Brewing Beer


Water quality and its characteristics can make the difference between a good beer and a great beer. Different types of beer need different types of water characteristics. But first Water that is used in great breweries needs to be:

  • Fresh & Clean
  • Free of odors (caused by source and Chlorine) and Contaminates 
  • moderately hard and have low-to-moderate alkalinity.
  • If the water tastes good then it will probably make for a good-tasting beer

Water comes from two sources Surface and Groundwater. Groundwater sources normally have higher mineral content than Surface-water. Not always, but in general.  Drinking water from a Well that has to be softened, has too much mineral content for use in the home. In Brewing beer, it may not be a bad thing.

Mountain Spring water although pure in quality and taste, may not be a good type of source water that is needed for a certain Beer. The Brewery will add their ingredients to the water like minerals or adjust the PH to create the type of characteristics in the water that are required to make the type of beer they are making.

In Beer making the fact that the source water is hard or soft has to go one step further. In the Chemistry of brewing Beer, you need to understand Ions and their job in Water Chemistry and how they can affect what kind of Beer you brew. In Chemistry, an anion is an atom or a group of atoms that has a net positive or negative charge due to the loss or gain of an electron.

The ions in brewing water are the cation (positive) and the anion (negative) components of the minerals dissolved in the water. The principal cations we’re interested in Water for Brewing Beer are calcium (Ca+2), magnesium (Mg+2), and sodium (Na+1). The principal anions are bicarbonate (HCO3–1), sulfate (SO4–2), and chloride (Cl–1).

Calcium is the main mineral that dictates the hardness of the water. In beer making, it can promote clarity and stability but also can lower PH values. In Brewing Beer a Calcium range of 50 mg/l – 150 mg/l is desired.

Magnesium is the other mineral that creates hardness in water. In source water, 10-30 mg/l are desired.

Carbonate & Bicarbonate Impacts the alkalinity of the brewing water and the acidity of the mash. When levels are too low, the mash will be too acidic, too high and the mash will be inefficient. Desired levels of carbonate depend on the type of beer you’re brewing.

Sodium has a minimal effect on the flavor of the beer. Levels of Sodium should be 10-70 mg/l and the source water should not be adjusted or softened because it will interfere with the taste.

Chloride in water can have effects of fullness and sweetness in Beer flavor.

Chlorine will have a negative effect on the process and should not be anywhere in the Brewing Process.

Sulfates help to bring out a hoppy flavor with the secondary role of lowering pH. It has the opposite effect of chloride.

Each year your Municipal Water Distribution Company through the EPA will publish a Yearly report that you will be able to find all the information on the quality of your Drinking Water. It’s called The Free CCR Report. You can also request the most updated information through the web. 


How Does Water Effect Beer

First, the most important part about brewing water is that there are no contaminants in it. Ions such as calcium, magnesium, sodium, and chlorine are all dissolved in water. Every ion dissolved in water plays a role in your beer whether good or bad.

Here is a  list of what each ion will do when brewing a batch of beer.

Ion – Contribution
Bromate – Disinfection, and contaminant
Calcium – Fermentation, clarity, mash pH
Chlorine – Disinfectant that causes off-flavors

Copper–Oxidation Catalyst
Chloride – Beer flavor that emphasizes malt character
Iron – Off flavor, scale, and corrosion risk
Magnesium – Fermentation, clarity, mash pH (supplied mainly by malt)
Manganese –Off  flavor, scale risk

Nitrate/Nitrite – Poisonous to yeast (more applicable to nitrites, but nitrate will turn into nitrites)
Silicate – Scale
Sodium – Beer flavor, less is better
Sulfate – Beer Flavor, adds hop character and dryness

In the history of brewing beer, many types of beers were developed based upon the water sources that had certain special characteristics for that region of the country. This led to types of Beers that were developed in small villages in Europe that became the Best Beer in the world. In those villages, it starts with a water source and laws that ensure standards of quality.


Purity laws

In Germany they have Purity Laws that were developed to keep the standards of Beer making that started centuries ago, making them the best at their craft. Written by Bavarian noblemen in the year 1516, the law says only water, barley, and hops may be used to brew beer. Yeast was added to the list, known as the beer purity law when scientists discovered the fermenting agent centuries later.

Today these standards are still used in Germany with breweries that follow that code which says that the only ingredients in Beer are Water, Barley, Hops, and Yeast.  Or what Brew masters call Raw Materials.

At the Beck Brewery in Germany, it means that because of the Purity Standards only the best raw materials can be used. That includes the biggest ingredient, water. the quality of water is fundamental in the process and the regional taste that comes from it is a part of it.

Pilsner Beers are signature beers in countries like the Czech Republic that have low mineralized soft water chemistry but higher bicarbonate and higher alkaline that is beneficial in the Beer brewing process, especially making IPA.

The West Coast IPA’s “Our water is perfect for brewing very hoppy beers,” says Green Flash Brewmaster Erik Jensen. “I think that’s one reason you see so many great IPAs coming out of San Diego.”The local water, about two-thirds of which is sourced from the Colorado River, has a high mineral content that echoes what made Burton so successful. “We don’t really treat our water at all,” says Jensen. “It’s sort of in the tradition of the world’s great styles, where brewers worked with the water they had and brewed beer that complemented it.”

About 600 miles to the north, Bear Republic Brewing Company brews the highly decorated Racer 5 IPA, an archetype of the West Coast style. And the approach echoes that of Green Flash. “We’re fortunate to be part of the Russian River aquifer, so our water is high in mineral content,” says Brewmaster Richard Norgrove.

A lot of Brewers back here in the states that want what the Europeans have within authentic taste and character of beer will try to mimic mineral content in their water source. That works both ways in that the Breweries in Dublin can do the same if they are looking for a great IPA from their water source.  It’s a brand new world. A way of doing this is to strip chemistry all down and build the water chemistry back up.

Seltzer Water Vs Club Vs Tonic Vs Sparkling Water

Brewing Water Treatment

Lots of Home Brewers are considering starting with a blank canvas when it comes to water chemistry and characteristics. This, when there is no special water source that is different from anywhere else or the water the Brewer is using, is not recognized as a healthy source for their Beer.

Maybe you want to chemically adjust the water to create your own recipe that will make your recipe of Beer completely unique. You can. There is distilled water OR  you can take advantage of the new technologies that are available like purification filters when you start your recipe.

Another fine product that will test everything you need in accomplishing Brewing water is the exact iDip Photometer 486101-SB2 Smart Brew Starter Kit without Meter will test all commonly tested Ions involved in Home Brewing. This is used with the eXact iDip Smart Photometer System     I have been around water testing for a long time this is testing made easy. Results are critical for success-“don’t beat around the bush”

Most Tap Water is Alkaline in Chemistry and has a higher than neutral PH. Well, water will normally be harder in Chemistry and contain higher amounts of Calcium and Magnesium. What kind of water is best for brewing beer would be up to the type of  Beer and the person making the Beer but there is no doubt about the importance of water chemistry in the recipe for Beer Brewing around the world.

Minerals in the water affect pH, and their presence largely depends on the geology of a region. For example, in areas with limestone, the water is more likely to pick up alkaline substances that neutralize acids. Higher alkaline water is water, with a pH of above 7.0 or higher. Few minerals that are picked up in places with more volcanic rock, can make the water more acidic and has a pH under 7.0. Water chemistry is complicated and the source you are using for Brewing can constantly change.

On this website, Eight European cities are associated with distinct water profiles that led to the rise of eight very different, beloved beer styles. From Ireland to Germany the source water of these beers can be reproduced to mimic recipes from the smallest Home Brewery in The United States.

In Brewing Beer, the recipe might not be tested according to taste anymore. Don’t need a degree in Chemistry either, the information and technology are here, so use them.

Fastest Way to Cool a Beer

Related Questions:

What is the best pH for brewing beer? Calcium is the key ion able to overcome the buffering capacity of the malt phosphates and lower the mash pH into the acceptable 5.2 to 5.5 range

Is Beer acid or alkaline?  Most of what we eat and drink is around 7, The pH scale runs from 0 to 14, with the range of 0-7 being acidic, and 8-14 being more alkaline Beer, however, usually scores around 4 on the pH scale

Does beer cause stomach acid? Put simply, alcohol irritates your digestive system. Drinking – even a little – makes your stomach produce more acid than usual, which can, in turn, cause gastritis (the inflammation of the stomach lining).



JimGalloway Author/Editor



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