The Best Water Profile for IPA Beer (Starting Water & Minerals)

IPAs are one of the most popular styles of craft beer in the world today, and homebrewers have been trying to crack their recipe for decades. Since water makes up so much of the recipe, homebrewers ultimately find themselves wondering if their water profile is working for them or against them.

Achieving the right pH is especially important for IPAs, and it should run between 5.2 and 5.4 for most styles. Depending on the particular style of IPA you’re brewing, you will want to raise or lower the amount of chloride and sulfate in your water. Fruitier IPAs should be higher in chloride, while bitter, pinier IPAs should have more sulfate.

Read on to learn more about how to optimize and control the water profile you use to brew IPAs.

What is the ideal water profile for IPAs (India Pale Ales)?

The ideal water profile of IPAs is hotly debated by homebrewers. The water profile that may work best for an Unfiltered New England IPA may not work as well for a Double IPA. 

In general, IPAs should have a pH of 5.2 to 5.4, which is slightly lower than some other beer styles. Juicier, fruitier IPAs should have higher chloride and less sulfate content. More bitter, pinier IPAs should have lower chloride and higher sulfate content.

Water chemistry can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. With some simple water testing supplies and mineral supplements, you can tweak the flavor of the finished product of any IPA.

Should you use a certain city’s water profile for an IPA?

For decades, homebrewers have sworn up and down that honing in on a particular city or region’s water profile is the key to nailing certain beer styles.

It’s important to note, though, that brewers have tweaked and adjusted the mineral profile in their brew water for centuries. So just because a beer is brewed in a certain place, doesn’t mean it’s brewed with pure tap water.

What is the ideal pH?

For most styles, brewers shoot for a pH of 5.2 to 5.6.

The pH for IPAs should be on the lower end of that: usually between 5.2 and 5.4. Other styles of beer can handle slightly higher pHs, but keeping your IPA’s pH on the lower end of that range will help balance out its flavors. 

You can quickly and easily measure the pH of your water or beer using pH test strips, which are affordable and easy to find online.

What’s the ideal mineral content?

The optimal mineral content varies greatly between styles of beer and even among different types of IPAs.

Here are some general rules of thumb about the role the most common water minerals play:

  • Calcium
    • Lowers pH
    • Clarifies beer by helping proteins precipitate
    • Promotes yeast health
  • Magnesium
    • Promotes yeast health
  • Sodium
    • Can accentuate the flavor of beer
  • Chloride
    • Promotes a rich and sweet malty finish
  • Sulfates
    • Highlight hoppy bitterness
  • Metals like iron and manganese
    • Promote undesirable metallic flavors

Use a brewing software like Bru’n Water to determine the right mineral profile for the particular style of IPA you’re looking to brew.

How do you find your water profile?

Before you get started, the first thing you should do is get a sense of the profile of your tap water.

There are three main ways to find out your water profile:

  1. Buy an at-home test kitHome test kits are readily available and are generally very accurate.
  2. Get your town’s water report – Many people don’t realize they can easily that annual water reports are readily available from their local water department. Visit your local water department’s website, or call them for the most up-to-date info. This may not be as exact as testing the water coming straight out of your tap, but will give you a good baseline.
  3. Bring in a professional – It may cost a pretty penny but is likely to be very accurate: if all else fails, hire a certified drinking water lab to test your water.

How important is the water profile in brewing?

Beer is 90-95% water, so the water you use has a significant impact on the finished product of your beer.

Any imbalance in minerals, pH, or other contaminants can lead to off-flavors at best, and contamination at worst. Consider the following when measuring your brew water:

  • Mineral Content – The minerals naturally found in water can greatly affect the flavor profile of beer. Free ions are sometimes desirable and can highlight certain aromas but can also ruin beer with unwanted metallic or bitter flavors.
  • pH – Too high of a pH can lead to harsh flavors and too low a pH can lead to spoilage. For IPAs, the pH should be ever so slightly acidic for the best flavor.
  • Chemical or biological contamination – The most rare but also most dangerous aspect of water quality is the possibility of contaminants. Always use potable water to brew beer.

How do you adjust your brew water profile?

Though it may seem simple, the easiest way to adjust your water profile is by simply adding minerals to your water until it matches your desired profile.

Adding minerals to your water is a safe and easy way to adjust the mineral content of your tap water. Minerals are available in tablets, powders, and liquid tinctures, all of which can be easily added to your water.

Tablets should be crushed into a powder before being mixed in; pre-ground powders and tinctures can be added directly.

To increase pH levels, add gypsum or calcium chloride. For example, in a five-gallon batch, about a teaspoon and a half will suffice in increasing the pH levels. To decrease pH levels, add organic acids, such as lactic acid.

What is the best water to start with for IPAs?

To have the most control over the mineral content of your water, it’s best to start with distilled or reverse osmosis water. This way, you have a blank slate upon which to add the optimal amounts of each desired mineral. 

If reverse osmosis water is not available to you, your next best bet is to use filtered tap water. Store-bought home filtration systems will not filter out as many minerals as reverse osmosis, but they’ll do in a pinch.

What to add to RO or distilled water to make an IPA

The best way to establish the right mineral balance for your recipe is through trial and error. The following profile has been established by other homebrewers.

While this is a great starting point, feel free to adjust as needed.

  • Calcium – 80 mg/L
  • Magnesium – 7 mg/L
  • Sodium – 17 mg/L
  • Sulfate – 150 mg/L
  • Cloride – 55 mg/L
  • Bicarbonate – 42 mg/L
  • Target mash pH – 5.3

To make your IPA more bitter, decrease the chloride a bit and increase the sulfate slightly. For juicier, smoother IPAs, you could try the reverse.

What makes a good IPA?

With the many different varieties of IPAs out there, there’s lots of room for experimentation with ingredients and unique flavor profiles once you have your water sorted out.

IPAs, in general, are defined by their pale color and hop-forward flavor profile.

Hops

Most IPAs use a combination of two or three different types of hops to create a complex hop.

Common hops used in IPAs include:

  • Citra
  • Amarillo
  • Simcoe
  • Mosaic
  • Cascade

Malt

Malts should be mild and straightforward.

The most traditional malt used in IPAs is the domestic 2-row barley malt.

Yeast

Any yeast flavor should be mild in a traditional IPA so most American yeasts work well.

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