The Best Water Profile for Oktoberfest Beer (Mineral Additions)

Oktoberfest beer has been brewed for hundreds of years in Bavaria and throughout Germany as the style gained popularity. The water profile has varied from town to town, and homebrewers can embrace this variation when brewing their own Oktoberfest.

The best water profile for Oktoberfest beer is soft water, free of excess calcium and magnesium. To promote the sweet maltiness expected in an Oktoberfest, homebrewers will need to add chloride and sodium to soft, distilled, or reverse osmosis water.

Keep reading for more on the ideal water profile for Oktoberfest, experimenting with water profiles, and more in-depth information on mineral content and pH levels.

What is the ideal water profile for an Oktoberfest?

Opinions vary between homebrewers concerning the ideal water profile for an Oktoberfest. Largely, the consensus is that soft water is better than hard water to brew with, and that water that tastes good on its own is key.

The most important facet to pay attention to is the pH level of your Oktoberfest in order to promote yeast health in your mash. Adjust minerals like chloride and sodium for a richer, maltier flavor. 

As you experiment with your water profile, you can use one of these online calculators to determine the best water profile and mineral additions to brew your Oktoberfest.

A brief history of the Oktoberfest beer style

The name ‘Oktoberfest’ for a beer is a little misleading.

Oktoberfest is a yearly beer celebration that is also associated with specific beers. The focus of this article is American-style Mӓrzen/Oktoberfest, which is a medium-bodied beer with sweet maltiness and mild hop qualities. Original Bavarian Mӓrzen, by contrast, is full-bodied and only seasonally available. 

Mӓrzen dates back to the 16th century when brewers were prohibited from making beer during the summer months due to the risk of fire. The beer was made in March and stored until the fall, with its relatively high ABV and greater hop addition contributing to its longevity. 

For more on Oktoberfest beer and its history, check out this great article.

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

Whether you should use a certain city’s water profile for an Oktoberfest is a matter of debate amongst homebrewers. The first assumption is that you should match your water profile to the one of its origin; however, Munich’s water is hard, and the ideal Oktoberfest has a base of soft water. 

Conversely, there’s evidence to suggest that brewers have always toyed around with their water profiles in order to achieve the taste they wanted. It wouldn’t be a new concept to start now.

The general consensus is that you should use the water you enjoy drinking in order to brew your Oktoberfest and experiment with minerals.

Keep reading to learn more about which aspects of the water profile should be tailored to the beer style, and which ones you have some wiggle room with.

What is the ideal pH?

The ideal pH of an Oktoberfest/American-style Mӓrzen is between 5.4 and 5.6.

There is some room for variation as Oktoberfests can be soft and malty, malty and dry, or malty and bitter and still be correct in style. 

What’s the ideal mineral content?

The best water for brewing an Oktoberfest is soft water, as discussed below. Once you’re familiar with your water profile, you can adjust for the ideal mineral content for an Oktoberfest. 

While you’ll need to experiment with your specific water profile, recommended parts per million (ppm) of certain minerals for an Oktoberfest include: 

  • Calcium: 109 ppm
  • Magnesium: 21 ppm
  • Bicarbonate: 171 ppm
  • Sulfate: 79 ppm
  • Sodium: 2 ppm
  • Chloride: 36 ppm

Each of these minerals has a part to play in contributing to the taste and mouthfeel of your Oktoberfest. Sodium, for instance, can accentuate the flavor of the beer, and chloride develops a sweet and malty profile. 

How do you find your water profile?

There are a few easy ways to find out your water profile.

  1. Ask your town – You can request the most recent water quality report of your town.
  2. Use an at-home test kit – Easy to use at-home tests, like this one from LaMotte, will give you a detail of your water conditions.
  3. Professional testing – You can collect and send a sample of your water to be precisely analyzed in a certified lab

For the most accurate results, get your water professionally tested or use an at-home test kit. The water quality can vary largely throughout a town.

How important is the water profile in brewing?

Beer is made of approximately 95% water, so it is critical that the water profile is sound in order to make great beer. 

The profile of the water used while brewing contributes to the taste and overall mouthfeel of the finished beer. Contaminants like iron can lend a metallic taste and a wonky sulfate-to-chloride ratio can negatively influence the beer’s enjoyability. 

Critical components of a water profile include: 

  • pH level (the measurement of acidity and alkalinity)
  • Contamination sources
  • Mineral content

Each of these and more can be found in a water quality report, whether you tested the water yourself or sent a sample to a lab. You can make appropriate adjustments once you know what’s in your water.

How do you adjust your brew water profile?

The first step of adjusting your brew water profile is to obtain the profile, either by testing it yourself or sending it to a lab. Once you’ve identified your profile, you can tinker with it to perfection.

You can adjust your brew water profile by adding minerals to it. Adding minerals to your water until it tastes the way you want it to is a safe, easy, and cost-effective way to change your brew water profile.

You can add the minerals to water right before the mash, so the heat will kill anything that may have been trying to tag along with the minerals. 

What is the best water to start with for an Oktoberfest?

Munich’s water profile may be hard, but using soft water for an Oktoberfest is optimal. This gives the brewer room to add minerals to taste.

You can start with distilled water in order to have better control over the mineral content.

Using your tap water and adjusting the mineral content is totally acceptable, as well. 

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

Reverse Osmosis (RO) water is a blank canvas in which a brewer can add minerals to taste.

Like distilled water, all minerals, contaminants, salts, and other components are removed. In the case of RO, the water is passed through a semi-permeable membrane to purify, whereas water distillation happens by capturing steam, leaving all else behind.

As such, you can add the below-recommended minerals in order to make ideal water to brew an Oktoberfest: 

  • Calcium: 109 ppm
  • Magnesium: 21 ppm
  • Bicarbonate: 171 ppm
  • Sulfate: 79 ppm
  • Sodium: 2 ppm
  • Chloride: 36 ppm

What makes a good Oktoberfest?

While an ideal water profile is a great way to start making a good Oktoberfest, the rest of your ingredients are just as important.

Oktoberfest beers are known for their slightly sweet, rich malt character with a medium body and moderate hop bitterness in balance. The beer should be clean and smooth with notes of toasted bread, caramel, toasted nuts, and brown sugar. It should have a solid, off-white head and finish clean. 

Using Munich and Maris Otter malt to complement one another is recommended; aim for a 50/50 blend. Low alpha acid hops, like Saaz and Hallertauer, work to balance the rich maltiness without making an overly hoppy beer. Choose a Bavarian yeast strain, such as White Labs Oktoberfest/Märzen WLP820. 

Oktoberfest beer usually sits between 18-25 IBU with a 5.1-6.0% ABV.