There are four main components of beer: water, malt, hops and yeast. This article is the first of a four part series that will be covered in that order.
You've doubtless seen and heard beer ads that claim the beverage in question was brewed using, "pure, fresh mountain water." However, just how important is it that ingredient? Obviously, you have to have water to brew beer, but what role does it play in the brewing process, other than giving the yeast, malt and hops a nice aquatic environment in which to do their thing? Water is one of the four main ingredients here, and the type and quality of the water you use is very important. To see just how important it is, let's dig a little deeper into the subject.
First, you need to take a look at some of the more well-known styles (and brands of beer). Part of their particular character and flavor actually comes from the water used in the brewing process. Consider Bass Ale – it's made with hard water. Bohemian beers are made with soft water. Each type of water lends the finished beer a particularly set of characteristics. Therefore, it pays enormous dividends to pay attention to the water that you're using to brew beer.
If you're brewing beer at home, you're probably getting your water from one of two sources. Either you have a well, or you're on city water. Both of these can be problems. Well water frequently has very high iron content. It might also contain other minerals. The problem here is that they can flavor your beer in an unpleasant way. The same can be said for city water where there is chlorine present. Chlorine can actually create even more foul tastes and smells than well water (what are called chlorophenols). Alternatively, your city water might contain a considerable amount of sulfur. That's also undesirable – sulfur is not something you want flavoring your beer.
This might make you think it's time to invest in some bottled water. That can be an excellent solution to your needs. However, you need to avoid distilled water. While it is pure, it's actually a bit too pure. The yeast in your batches needs more than just sugar to live on – the minerals in bottled water provide extra nutrients for your yeast. Distilled water lacks these minerals and will result in problems with yeast growth.
You can invest in a filtration system for either well water or city water, to help keep your mineral content viable but reduce problematic scents and flavors. Carbon filtration is a good option here, and boiling your water beforehand can help reduce the amount of chlorine in your water, as well.
As you can see, the quality, purity and flavor of the water used to brew beer can have an enormous impact on the finished product.
In our next article we will cover the importance of malt and it contribution to beer.