Water is the least sexy ingredient in beer, yet it is arguably one of the most important ingredients because it makes up 90 to 95 percent of beer’s mass. Brewing water also directly influences the taste of the finished beer.
Since I began brewing many years ago, I have often heard the advice, “If your water tastes good, brew with it and you’ll be fine.” For the most part, this is true. But different cities have different water profiles, even from one year to the next, and one water profile can be good for one style of beer but bad for another.
Water can be hard or soft or somewhere in between, it can have different pH levels, it can contain a variety of minerals (and different amounts of those minerals), and it may or may not have unwanted additives such as chlorine. All of these factors can enhance or diminish flavor in finished beer.
Minerals, in particular, can affect beer’s flavor, as well as the chemistry of brewing. Calcium helps with enzyme activity in the mash and with protein coagulation in the wort, plus it’s good for yeast, but too much of it can be harmful. Sodium can help with flavor at low doses, but too much of it can make a beer excessively salty or sour. Chloride enhances sweetness, making it good for malt-forward beers, but it might not be ideal for hop-forward beers. Sulfate intensifies bitterness and dryness, making it great for IPAs, but using too much of it can create sulfury off-flavors. At low doses, magnesium enhances sourness and flavor, but it can be astringently harsh at high doses. Chlorine, by the way, can create chlorophenolic or medicinal off-flavors.
A new product called Beer Dust eliminates all the confusion and guesswork – for homebrewers, at least. Beer Dust is a water-conditioning agent formulated to produce high-quality brewing water for specific beer styles.
Recently, there have been a number of beer-related products flooding the market, and many of them are silly or gimmicky. Beer Dust, however, seems like the real deal. Most commercial breweries (craft breweries included) adjust water before brewing with it, and this product makes it easy for homebrewers to do the same.
Full disclosure: I did not receive any freebies from this company and I am not a paid spokesman; I just came across an ad for Beer Dust in Zymurgy magazine, got excited about its potential, and wanted to share it with others.
In my opinion, beginner brewers should probably focus more on getting the basics of brewing dialed in, rather than worrying about water chemistry, and advanced brewers probably already have water-adjusting procedures in place. But I think there’s a huge group of intermediate brewers who could really benefit from this product. I consider myself an intermediate brewer, plus chemistry bores me to death, so I’m one of those people.
Brewing beer is part art, part science, and I am definitely more of an artist than a scientist. I’m well aware of the fact that water chemistry plays a crucial role in brewing, but I just don’t have the know-how, time or drive to fiddle with water for every batch of beer I make.
I also don’t know the profile of my tap water and I’m too lazy to research it. And even if I did, I wouldn’t know how to tweak it to the particular beer style I wanted to brew – factoring in the volume of water I’m brewing with, of course. Did I mention that I hate math, too?
Basically, what I’m trying to write is that if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can do more harm than good. Adding too little of any mineral could have no effect, and adding too much could be detrimental. And if you over adjust your water, your beer could end up tasting like soapy Alka-Seltzer.
HOW TO USE BEER DUST
To use Beer Dust, simply add the contents of one packet ($4.95 each) to distilled water or reverse osmosis water (both of which have been stripped of all minerals and are neutral in ion content) for a 5-gallon batch of beer. All-grain brewers can just add it to the mash water, and extract brewers can add it to their water before adding the extract or introducing the steeping grains.
So far, this new company has only released “IPA Profile” packets, but they’re currently working on recipes for other beer styles.
For those interested, the IPA Profile packet contains pre-measured amounts of calcium sulfate, calcium chloride, sodium chloride, magnesium sulfate, calcium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate.
If you brew with any Beer Dust, please share your results here, or start a thread on our forum. We’d love to hear (and taste, if you’ll share) how your beer turns out.
For more information, visit BeerDust.com.