Saturday, March 17, 2012

All in the water ?

As I make mainly meads, and as anyone with any sense, or at least the ability to use google would know, to get honey to ferment, you need to water it down - usually to a gravity level that is manageable to wine yeast (what with honey being natures most anti-bacterial, anti-fungal substance etc etc).

Now it also happens that one of the forums that I post at (which, for manners sake, shall remain nameless), there are a majority of American members, a lot of whom, start off making beers.

One of the questions I see frequently, is about water quality i.e. can I use this kind of water, or should I use ........ whatever.

Now it's fair to point out, that pretty much most domestic, piped, utility supplied water, will contain chlorine/chloramine, but depending on where you are, there will also be some trace elements. Great.

Some mead/wine/beer makers then ask about de-ionised or reverse osmosis or distilled water useage. At which point, a lot of people then pop up and go on about yeasts needing nutrients etc and the water being a valuable source of them.

Fair point, except that water, particularly water designated as drinking water, will not have enough trace elements to suppliment yeast. Hell, to have enough nutrient so the yeast is happy, you'd have to use raw fucking sewage!

There's a number of papers that have been written in connection to various brewing type matters, particularly about water quality for different uses. About the only thing that the research seems to come up with, is that for making fermented products, its best if the water is soft water i.e. water that is either neutral or very slightly acidic, and not hard, calcium or magnesium laden water that's found in my area. As that has been found to produce harsher flavours in among the many so called "off flavours" (sorry for the poor choice of words in that).

Well, ok, not so much off flavours, as minor flavouring issues, but it often depends on what's being made. For example, with distilled beverages, hard water has been found to produce a harshness, sometimes described as almost a bitterness undertone to the taste of vodkas and other "clear" spirits.

Lets face it, this would be mainly a problem with the spirits and beer industries, not "proper" wine (wines made from grapes), because they use 100% grape juice for their product. Whereas the others, including meads and country wines, water is used to reduce concentration of either sugars or colours/flavours.

Oh, and before I finish, so called "spring" water, may actually come from a spring, or it might, depending on where you are, just be a marketing thing. EU regulations state that to be called/labelled as "spring" water, the water must be bottled at the source i.e. the actual spring.

So, the result is like this. If you like the taste of the water you regularly drink, whether it comes from a tap/fawcet/spiggot, or a well, or a spring, then it's probably fine to use. If, like me, you know that your local supply might have brewing/mead making/wine making issues, then it's also fine to use DI/RO/distilled water. Just that those types will have been processed and probably have little dissolved oxygen left in them, so it may be prudent to aerate the hell out of them to get some dissolved oxygen into them (and in any case, if you're like me and making mead, then you should have read the Gotmead NewBee guide, and should be aware about the recommended aeration methods/techniques, along with the usual SNA/staggered nutrient addition as recommended for meads).

It doesn't really matter whether you shake the hell out of it, use a whisk/immersion blender (I tend to mix my honey in a sanitised liquidiser, as that mixes it up well, and also aerates it nicely), airstone for a fish tank, or as you may see some people doing around the bazaars/forums/websites etc, bubbling pure compressed O2 through a stainless steel airstone (but I think that's just a little bit too anal - and the gas isn't easy to get here either)..

As for the nutrients, well those (irrespective of whether you use a branded, combined nutrient like Tronozymol, FermaidK, Fermax or whatever - seemingly known to the US side of mead making as "energiser", or whether you use that and augment it with di-ammonium phosphate/DAP - again, usually referred to as "Nutrient" to the US side) should be added by yourself, to ensure that when making a mead, or whatever else it is that you're doing, that the yeast have enough food from sugars, and nutrients/nutrients and energiser (whatever you call them) to be able to do their thing.....

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