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For instance, will hard water really change the taste that much?

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This answer is quite different if you are brewing all-grain vs. extract. This is a good primer: howtobrew.com/section1/chapter4.html And if you don't already have Palmer's book, it's worth picking up a copy: amzn.to/ruYsEl –  Dustin Rasener Dec 20 '11 at 0:23
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3 Answers

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Short answer: yes.

Longer answer is more complicated; sufficiently hard water will cause all sorts of hilarity during the brewing process. Remember, this is dealing with organic chemistry and living things doing our bidding, therefore difficult (for me) to fully understand. There's a great resource available from the Brewer's Friend that I'd strongly advise reading.

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Hilarity? Please elaborate. –  PMV Nov 11 '10 at 21:29
    
I think he means when people drink enough of the beer, hilarity will ensue. So switching to filtered water will result in less funny beer. –  spoulson Nov 12 '10 at 13:14
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Yes, definitely.

A good resource on water chemistry is sections 15.0 to 15.4 of Palmer's How to Brew: http://www.howtobrew.com/section3/chapter15.html

Generally speaking:

High bicarbonate (CO3) water has a higher alkalinity. Using water high in bicarbonates to make a pale beer such as Pilsner will yield a 'harsh' bitterness. This type of water tends to favor dark beers made with roasted grains - the roasted grains are acidic, and balance the alkalinity (think Dublin water for Guinness).

High sulfates (SO4) (such as in Burton on Trent) tend to accentuate hop flavor and perceived dryness.

Sodium (Na) adds 'roundness' and accentuates malt flavors.

More reading:

BJCP: http://www.bjcp.org/study.php#water
DOZE club page on water: http://www.clubdoze.com/talks/waterchem.html

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Absolutely yes. There is a reason why breweries tend to be located at specific places, and there are examples of breweries that relocated changing the taste of their beers as a result.

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