American Hoppy Ales: Two Quick Water Guides


Space-filling diagram of several water molecules. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia.)

Here are a few more details about general water treatment, to go along with the first article in the hoppy beer series. I also present two quick guides to preparing water for a pale, hoppy  ale — the first from tap water and the second starting with distilled water.

Alternate Routes to Acceptable Water

In yesterday’s post, I suggested using water that was low in carbonates (under 25 ppm) and relatively high in calcium (around 50 ppm) to brew these light-colored ales. And, I suggested diluting the water with distilled water to lower the carbonate level, if needed, then adding back calcium, if needed, via gypsum (calcium sulfate) and calcium chloride. This works well, but it isn’t the only possibility.

You can also reduce the level of carbonates by adding acid, but in doing so you are also adding the conjugate base of the acid. For example, if you add lactic acid to your water, you’re also adding lactate. If you use phosphoric acid, you’re adding phosphate — which will react with calcium and remove if from your water as well. (If your water is excessively high in both carbonates and calcium, phosphoric acid is good choice.) Alternately, you can leave the carbonates in your water and simply add sufficient calcium to counteract them. (Burton on Trent water is high in carbonates, but also high in calcium — and frequently supplemented with gypsum.) However, when adding lots of calcium, you are also adding lots of sulfate or chloride and these can cause flavor problems at high levels (over 400 ppm for sulfate and over 100 ppm for chloride).

At the homebrew level, you can easily use any of these options. Also, all the calculations you would ever need to do can be done via any of the many homebrew water calculators out there. I like John Palmer’s water spreadsheet because all of the practical options — dilution, adding acid, adding minerals — are open to you.

Here are two step by step guides to creating brewing water when brewing a pale, hoppy beer.


Quick Guide to Water Treatment

Here’s a quick step by step guide to treating municipal water sources to brew a pale, hoppy American style ale. For this to work, you’ll need your local water report, with the levels of calcium, magnesium, sodium, carbonates (often reported as bicarbonate or alkalinity as CaCO3), chloride and sulfate reported in ppm or mg/L. You will also need a homebrew water calculator. Google “homebrew water chemistry calculator” to find web-based calculators and spreadsheets galore. As I mentioned, I like John Palmer’s spreadsheet. The method I give here is one way to approach your water treatment. There are others, but this is straightforward and gets the job done. 


0.) Make sure your water tastes good

If brewing outside, don’t fill your kettle with an old, musty hose.


1.) Eliminate chlorine compounds

Filter the water through an under-the-sink carbon filter or treat with a Campden tablet and let sit overnight. (One Campden tablet treats 20 gallons (~80 L).)


2.) Adjust carbonate level, if needed

Look at your water report and check your level of carbonates (HCO3). [Note: HCO3 is bicarbonate, the type of carbonate most prevalent in tap water given it’s usual pH range. This is usually what is reported in municipal water reports. Carbonic acid (H2CO3) and carbonate (CO32-) are the two other forms a carbonate.] If your carbonates are over 25 ppm (or 25 mg/L), lower them by dilution. Divide the level of carbonates (in ppm or mg/L) by 25. Call that number X and make a 1:X dilution of your water to distilled water. For example, if you have 241 ppm carbonates, you will make a 1:9.6 dilution or 1 gallon of tap water in 9.6 gallons of water total.


3.) Adjust your calcium levels, if needed

Type the numbers from your local water report into your water calculator and apply the dilution factor. You will also need to input the projected color of our beer (usually in SRM) or a surrogate for the number, such as residual alkalinity (RA). Add calcium, if needed, in the form of calcium sulfate until you hit the proper mash pH, SRM or RA level (depending on what your calculator does). Additionally, check that you have at least 50 ppm calcium. (This will help stabilize some of the enzymes in the mash.)


4.) Re-adjust your carbonate levels, if needed

This is unlikely, but if you ended up with calcium levels that are too high (that would cause mash pH to be too low, appropriate SRM to be way too low or the RA to be way too low), add back some carbonates in the form of sodium bicarbonate. (Don’t add calcium carbonate if your water is already loaded with calcium.)


5.) Adjust the chloride to sulfate ratio, if needed

Subtract small amounts of calcium sulfate from your planned salt additions and replace them with the same amount of calcium chloride until you reach the chloride to sulfate ratio of your choosing. In the unlikely event you need to add sulfate to hit the proper ratio, add it as calcium sulfate, and then check if you need to add more carbonate to counteract the calcium.


6.) Final check

Check that your carbonates are under 25 ppm (unless more was needed to counteract high calcium levels). See that your calcium levels are at least 50 ppm. (And at that level, be prepared to add some more calcium in your boil.) You’ll also likely be happier if your chloride levels are under 100 ppm and your sulfate levels are under 400 ppm, but that’s more of a guideline than a rule.



Pale Ale, IPA or dIPA Water “From Scratch”

Here’s a guide to making 15 gallons of brewing liquor for a hoppy pale ale (SRM = 8, but should work fine for anything in the 4–12 range), starting with distilled water. 


IPA Water (15 gallons)

15 gallons distilled water

1.5 g chalk (calcium carbonate) for 26 ppm HCO3

3 g Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) for 5 ppm Mg2+

6 g gypsum (calcium sulfate)

3 g calcium chloride


Together the gypsum, calcium chloride and Epsom salts yield 50 ppm calcium, 25 ppm chloride and 80 ppm sulfate (for a chloride to sulfate ratio of 1:3.2).

If you enjoy Beer & Wine Journal, please consider supporting us by purchasing my book — “Home Brew Recipe Bible,” by Chris Colby (2016, Page Street Publishing). It is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can also find the nearest independent bookstore that sells it on Indiebound



  1. Eric from Long Island says

    Hi Chris great article. Three questions:

    What is your target water profile for light colored hoppy beers assuming you started with RO water and built up the salts? Ive seen a lot of recommendations to get sulfates up into the 200-350 range which is much higher than the recipe you posted here.

    Is this target profile before or after boil? I notice some calculators (e.g. Brewer’s Friend) don’t consider the effect of boil in concentrating the salts while others do (e.g. Beer Alchemy) so I think you have to specify this.

    Finally is your target profile different for APA, American IPA, or Double/Imperial IPA and how so?


    • Chris Colby says

      Good questions.
      I don’t think you need 200 ppm or more drywall (gypsum) in your water to yield a hoppy beer. In the second water example I give, the concentration of sulfate is 80 ppm (with a chloride to sulfate ratio around 1:3) and this should work well for any of these beers. I know that some people like the “minerally” flavor that comes from tons of calcium sulfate. If so, it’s easy to just add more gypsum. It’s all a matter of taste.

      All the numbers I give are of the water before the boil. For ions that aren’t going to get used up in chemical reactions or become bound to enzymes or other molecules, you can calculate their post boil concentration with the concentration and volume equation — C1V1=C2V2. For example, if you had 80 ppm calcium in 6 gallons of wort and you boiled it down to 5, you’d have 6(80) = 5(X). Solving for X gives you 96. (In reality, who knows what this number would be because calcium reacts with phosphates in the mash and stabilizes amylase enzymes; that’s why I didn’t try to give post-boil numbers.)

      Finally, my water profile for all three of these beers would be the same. The minerals required to hit the right mash pH would be the same because the grists are (usually) so similar. Beyond that, adjusting the chloride to sulfate ratio is a matter of taste and I think a middle-of-the-road profile is a great starting point (and, for me, also a great ending point) for brewing these styles. When I brew my pale ale, my numbers are very close to this (I start with Bastrop water, so they aren’t exactly the same) and I like the malt/hop profile I get — hoppy, but the malt still comes through enough for balance.

  2. For anyone interested, I did a whole series (3 main posts, 2 “bonus” posts) on water treatment on my Life, Fermented blog:

    Chris’ post here is definitely an easier starting point, as mine delves a bit deeper into the science.

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