Use of Water Salts in Brewing
by Byron Burch

Most brewers don't worry about the fine points of water treatment until they become somewhat advanced. However, those who do venture into this area often find the rewards significant.

Assuming that your water tastes reasonably pleasant, you can normally use it in making beer. Obviously, such problems as a high iron or salt content might require getting water from an alternate source, but in most situations, your water is probably okay. Different types of water supplies, however, will affect your results, either positively or negatively, depending on the type of beer you're trying to make. Often the reason a particular city became renowned for a certain type of beer was because the water supply was especially suitable.

If you're starting with de-ionized or distilled water in your brewing, this table gives you some guidelines for treating the water to make ten gallons of several types of beers. If using tap water, as most of us do, you should test your water, or have it tested, and adjust these amounts accordingly. Note that if you're working with harder water than is appropriate for the style you've selected to brew, you may need to adjust with a percentage of de-ionized, or distilled, water.

If you're on a municipal water system, getting the statistics on your water is relatively easy. You can usually call your water company and get figures on both the permanent (sulfate) and temporary (carbonate) hardness, as well as the salinity (salt content) of your water. If you're working with well water, you can get approximate hardness figures with a water hardness test kit. Figures in the following tables are expressed in parts per million (ppm.).

  • One tsp. Gypsum (calcium sulfate) = approximately 100 ppm. in 10 gallons.
  • One tsp. Salt (sodium chloride) = approximately 140 ppm. in 10 gallons.
  • One tsp. Powdered Chalk (calcium carbonate) = approximately 150 ppm. in 10 gallons.
  • One tsp. Epsom Salts (magnesium sulfate) = approximately 130 ppm. in 10 gallons.
Beer Type Salt Gypsum Chalk Epsom Salts
Classic Pale Ale or IPA
50-75
350-450
0-130
0-30*
Bitter
40-70
200-350
0-130
0-30*
Altbier
70-80
100-150
-
-
Light Ale
20-40
250-400
0-50
-
Cream Ale
20-40
50-100
0-50
-
Mild Ale
70-100
80-150
50-100
-
Brown Ale
100-150
50-100
50-100
-
Scottish Brown Ale
60-80
75-125
80-125
-
Sweet Stout
30-50
50-80
150-200
-
Porter
30-50
50-80
150-200
-
Dry Stout
30-50
70-100
150-200
-
Classic Pilsner
5-20
5-20
10-20**
-
Pils
20-30
40-80
**
-
American Lager
20-40
60-100
**
-
Light Lager
60-90
120-180
**
-
Dortmunder Export
50-70
200-300
175-180
-
Vienna/Okt./Maerzen
75-100
100-200
90-110
-
Munich Light or Dark
10-30
75-125
130-150
-
Bock
100-150
50-80
150-200
-
Hellesbock
30-60
60-90
50-100
-
Dopplebock
100-180
50-80
150-200
-
Rauchbier
50-75
100-150
100-150
-
Steam Beer
20-50
75-125
75-130
-
Weizen (light)
20-30
50-100
**
-
Weizenbock
70-80
50-100
125-150
-

* Optional.
** If water is high in temporary hardness, boil for 5-10 minutes, and remove from the settlings before use.

Copyright © 1986, 1988, 1990 Byron Burch. All rights reserved.

Brewing Articles and Info > "Use of Water Salts in Brewing"