Use Distilled Water instead of Tap Water?

Discussion in 'Homebrewing' started by KPlen, Jan 6, 2022.

  1. KPlen

    KPlen Initiate (55) Apr 19, 2017 Colorado

    I'm not at the point yet in my Noobie brewing hobby to manipulate water chemistry (will get there eventually). That being said, would it be better to use Distilled Water over Tap Water for brewing?
    riptorn likes this.
  2. riptorn

    riptorn Zealot (518) Apr 26, 2018 North Carolina
    Society Trader

    Distilled, or reverse osmosis.
    If you'll eventually want to adjust the water profile. get a jump start on services and/or home testing kits. Having your tap water tested and getting the report, you might find it to be suitable as is for certain style/s, and not so much for others.
    KPlen and budsNpils like this.
  3. VikeMan

    VikeMan Poo-Bah (2,004) Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania

    If you're asking in the context of doing no mineral additions whether it would be better to use distilled water over tap water...
    All Grain: Almost never.
    Extract: Usually.

    If doing All Grain, you need some calcium (either in your source water or added) for yeast flocculation (and enzyme cofactor). If doing Extract, the extract already contains the minerals from the extract manufacturer's mash.

    If you're asking in the context of when you'll eventually get around to doing water chemistry, then distilled (or RO) water gives you the most flexibility to tailor your water to be exactly what you want it be. But a lot depends on what your tap water looks like. Very soft, low alkalinity tap water can be used as a starting point for most syles. My own tap water isn't a great starting point for many styles, so I hardly ever use it.
    dmtaylor, Lukass, Davl22 and 6 others like this.
  4. Beer_Life

    Beer_Life Initiate (24) Dec 5, 2020 New York

    One thing I'd add to what VikeMan said is that if your tap water is chlorinated you'll want to get rid of that. It's very easy. Just dissolve a Camden tablet in your water before it hits the grain (or DME or whatever). You actually need a good deal less than a tablet if I recall correctly, but a tablet is not going to hurt. [Edited to add: You'll want to grind the tablet up into powder before adding it to the water. It will not dissolve very quickly if you don't.]

    Here's a crude flow chart:

    1. Are you using DME (with or without steeping grains)?
    • if yes, use distilled or RO water - no need to treat for chlorine - skip to step 5
    • if no, proceed to step 2
    2. This step is for all grain brewing. Look at your water report. Is your water high in alkalinity (let's say over 150 ppm alkalinity (if reported as HCO3) or 183 ppm alkalinity (if reported as CaCO3))?
    • if yes, proceed to step 3
    • if no, skip to step 4
    3. This step is for all grain brewing with high alkalinity water. Are you brewing a stout?
    • if yes, proceed to step 4
    • if no, dilute your tap water (treated for chlorine) 50/50 with distilled or RO water and add a few grams of calcium chloride, calcium sulfate (gypsum), or both
    4. This step is for all grain brewing with low to moderate alkalinity water, or for brewing a stout with high alkalinity water. Use 100% tap water (treated for chlorine) for brewing. Proceed to step 5.

    5. Always use yeast nutrient in the boil according to the manufacturer's instructions. Educate yourself about the risks of using urea:

    Or simply avoid it (so don't buy LD Carlson yeast nutrient).
    PapaGoose03 and KPlen like this.
  5. billandsuz

    billandsuz Devotee (498) Sep 1, 2004 New York

    Do as @VikeMan advises.
    Since you don't know your water profile, or at least it's usefulness for brewing, consider looking it up from your municipal supply or if a well, have it tested by Ward labs for brewing. It's pretty cheap.

    Then, without any adjustments at all, compare it to the classic styles. You'll be happy to find that if you brew a style that matches your water supply, it will be that much better. And it requires almost no chemistry, no special knowledge, no adjustments.

    Beer was made for centuries without any lab analysis. Not even a thermometer. And the style evolved as a result of the local water.

    My artesian well makes a very good London Ale btw.

  6. riptorn

    riptorn Zealot (518) Apr 26, 2018 North Carolina
    Society Trader

    Is the 'almost never' suggestion based on the presumption that tap water might have some calcium?
  7. deadwolfbones

    deadwolfbones Devotee (444) Jun 21, 2014 Oregon

    Yeah. Most tap water contains at least some calcium, whereas distilled definitely does not.
  8. deadwolfbones

    deadwolfbones Devotee (444) Jun 21, 2014 Oregon

    Not knowing the composition of local tap water, however, I'd be more inclined to use bottled drinking water for which you can find a spec sheet.
  9. KPlen

    KPlen Initiate (55) Apr 19, 2017 Colorado

    When requesting the water profile, what should I all ask for? What are the "important" factors needed to adjust the water for brewing?
  10. VikeMan

    VikeMan Poo-Bah (2,004) Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania

    Basically, yes. In fact, I've never seen a natural water source that didn't include some calcium.
  11. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,440) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    When I called up my municipal water supplier my first statement was I needed a Lab Report which listed the mineral content. The person on the other end asked: are you a homebrewer? And I replied yes. The sheet that was mailed to me was entitled: "Laboratory Report". It list a whole bunch of stuff but all you need is the contents for: chloride, sulfate, sodium, magnesium, calcium and Alkalinity (or Bicarbonate). You can read more in the article that I provided a link to you.
    Get the above minerals into a range that you select for the brewing water.

    And if you brew all grain in all likelihood you will need to acidify things to obtain a proper mash pH (read the article).

    KPlen likes this.
  12. riptorn

    riptorn Zealot (518) Apr 26, 2018 North Carolina
    Society Trader

    A water analysis from Ward Labs is $30 + shipping of your sample to Ward. It’s a one-time fee for a single report. Select Water Package test W-501.

    Lamotte has BrewLab test kits available at MoreBeer (and probably elsewhere) for $130 and up. According to the HomeBrew Finds "BrewLab Plus" review in 2018, the Plus version ($199) has enough reagents to run 50 in-home tests. (HomeBrew Finds is a good site for lots of other brewing stuff, too).
    I’m not sure which kit would be best for starting out, and I don’t know if the reagents have a shelf life. I’m guessing others here might be able to offer guidance on those when the time is right.
    MrOH likes this.
  13. beershrine

    beershrine Aspirant (251) May 29, 2004 Idaho

    I would cut out all the jargon and brew a batch with what ever flows out of your supply city or well water. Yes, filter the water with a carbon block filter. Lab tests are overkill for most home brewing. You don't need to go there yet, Great beer can be brewed from garden hose water.
    Davl22 likes this.