Recipe Design for Brewers…Simplified (Part 4: Water)

This series by Tom Ayres, explores recipe design. Brewing creativity and the factors that makes each beer style worthy of celebration. All segments in this series can be read here.

Now that we have a structure, spice and a catalyst for our beer, we need to finish developing our recipe. In this episode we’ll explore designing water profiles for your beer.

A quick review of our design plan…

As we discussed previously, we’re going to tackle beer recipe design in parts. You can embrace the whole series or take an “a la cart” approach if you already understand specific aspects. Here are the areas we will focus on, the four major components of beer; malt, hops, yeast and water.

Simplified Beer Recipe Design Part 4: Water

Ultimately water accounts for 90-95% of your beer recipe

Yes, it’s true and it’s equally as important as the other recipe components for making a successful beer recipe. To keep things simple, we will focus on choosing the right water profile to enhance the other ingredients in your recipe designs. I’m going to assume you already know your existing water’s profile; either you tested it yourself, sent it away for analysis or you are using distilled / RO water. I’m also assuming you own a pH meter, a scale to measure out your added brewing salts and a graduated syringe/dropper to measure liquid acid additions. As with Parts 1, 2 and 3, I’ll provide a few different approaches to consider when choosing a water profile for your recipe.

Brewing Water pH

Water pH can be a complicated topic. Suffice it to say it’s a very important consideration if you hope to brew a great beer. To keep things simple, I encourage you to use these ranges for adjusting your pH to match the beers you plan to brew.

*Source: Bru’n Water

Beer color design approach to choosing a water profile

Another one of my favorite brewing books is John Palmer’s book, Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers. The book provides a ton of in-depth brewing water information. In the name of simplification, I borrowed a high-level view of John’s water guidance, for brewing various beers based on color.


*All values are ppm


*All values are ppm

This approach includes the brewing salts ranges for various beer styles. Think of these as general guardrails for developing water profiles. Ultimately, you can use these as a starting point to experiment with profiles you prefer for specific styles of beer.

Brewing Software Basic Water Profiles

Brewer’s Friend, a free and popular brewing software offers a pretty slick assortment of general water profiles based on a mix of historical and descriptive guidance (i.e. beer color, character, est.). It’s simple and easy to understand. Here’s their water profile guidance:

*All values are ppm

This simplified approach gives us a basic set of water profiles to choose from, including several profiles from historic cities. Incorporating these profiles into our recipe designs should prove successful.

Bru’n Water is a free and popular brewing water software for those of us that like to “geek-out” about dialing in our water profiles. It offers in-depth means for getting at every detail of your beer water profile. For those who are less geeky about their water, the software offers some very helpful general profiles.  To guide your choice it uses finished beer color descriptors.  Here’s what they look like:

*All values are ppm

Since we are discussing brewing software, it’s important to note that these and many other brewing software offer helpful tools for adjusting your water profiles. Some of the more popular ones include the two listed above as well as BeerSmith, and EZ Water Calculator. Some are even free!

Using these approaches to build on our example beer…

In Parts 1, 2 and 3 we started developing a black beer, more specifically a Porter. We envisioned something that features chocolate, coffee and graham cracker flavors. Then we added hop varieties to specifically get some spice along with some floral and herbal flavors/aromas. We settled on using American Ale yeast to keep the character clean, neutral and smooth.

According to BeerSmith, here’s what our Porter looks like:

To finish this recipe, we need to design a water profile. Using the first water profile design approach above, we would consider using the Brown/Black profile since our 30 SRM falls in the specified range for a brown beer. Several porter styles are referenced for this profile as well (see highlights).

Water Design Approach 1:

Water Design Approach 2:

Using the second water profile design approach above, the choice is pretty straightforward. Since porters largely originated in England, we should consider choosing the London water profile. In addition we see that this profile specifically cites that its best suited for porters (see highlighted text below). The “watch-out” for using any profiles for historic cities is that we don’t know if the breweries there actually treat their brewing water or use as they are.

Water Design Approach 3:

Using the final water profile design approach above, we should consider which of the three Brown profiles to use.  Personally, I’m looking for a fuller tasting porter, so I think we should lean toward that choice. Balanced would be fine as well. I hesitate to use the Brown Dry profile since I worry about over emphasizing the hops.

What to do?

Any of these choices would likely be a good one for our beer. My choice would be Approach 3, as I like the “full” description and it falls on the lower side of the ranges listed in Approach 1. The London approach worries me a bit for the reason cited earlier.

Yes! We are finally finished!

I hope you found this series helpful. Hopefully, the simplified learning from these great brewing experts has given you the confidence and tools to take-on designing your own beer recipes. Unleash your newly found knowledge and creativity to design your next brew. Good luck and good brewing!

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