Using Water Quality Report Parameters in Homebrewing

Determine what the appropriate concentration of contaminants is in order to brew tasty, impurity free beer.

| July 2019


Getty Images/Zoonar RF

Many minerals and compounds occur naturally in water, dissolving into solution from various environmental sources. Some manmade compounds can also be found in water, but these are usually unwanted and referred to as contaminants. Contaminants can be natural as well: molds, bacteria, nitrates, etc., are all naturally-occurring water contaminants. The main purpose of water treatment is to remove these contaminants and the purpose of a water quality report is to inform the public about the types and levels of these substances in the water supply.

We will start our review of a water report by identifying the key constituents—the main ions, chemicals and compounds in typical water supplies. Next, we will show you where to find them on an example of a typical (USA) water report. Actually, there really is no such thing as a typical report. In the USA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act mandate the testing and disclosure of a specific list of harmful contaminants, which does not include the ions that brewers are most concerned with—calcium, etc. Often these ions are included in a water report, but that decision is up to the water supplier.

Typical water quality reports focus on how the water complies with safe drinking water laws for contaminants like pesticides, micro-organisms, and toxic metals. These items are regulated by maximum contaminant levels (MCL) and referred to as the Primary Drinking Water Standards in the United States. MCLs are legally enforceable standards for water quality that protect public health. While the primary standards are important for assuring water quality, as brewers, we are usually more interested in the Secondary or Aesthetic drinking water standards. Secondary Standards are guidelines for parameters that affect taste, pH, and carbonate scale and are often specified by secondary maximum contaminant levels (SMCL) that are not legally enforceable in the United States.

In many areas, the source of the public water supply can change seasonally, and can often make a big difference in brewing character. Brewers should contact the water department at least monthly to get current information. The water department is usually happy to supply information on the Secondary Standards for brewers. However, not all utilities test for all the parameters brewers are interested in. In that case, the brewer may have to test the water at an external laboratory or perform inhouse testing of the parameters. The cost of equipment and reagents for such in-house testing can, however, be prohibitive.



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