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I live in a region where the water is very hard, so I am considering spending a little more on bottled water to have more of a choice.

Supposing that one can choose the water to use, but he doesn't want to get too fancy (becuase it knows very little about chemistry...), what is the one most important chemical parameter to look at in water?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

The most important parameter in water is residual alkalinity. It's the thing that determines what kind of beer you can brew and what adjustments you need to make for beer styles that aren't suited to your untreated water.

"How to brew" explains how to calculate it, how it is related to beer color and how to correct it.

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RA isn't something that's printed on the side of a bottle of water - it has to be worked out from a number of variables. See howtobrew.com/section3/chapter15-3.html – mdma Apr 25 '13 at 16:47
You're correct and I missed that. But it IS the most important parameter. – Denny Conn Apr 26 '13 at 0:50
+1 I agree. It is the most important thing assuming the minerals are within appropriate levels. – mdma Apr 26 '13 at 8:38

I suppose if you have to boil it down (sorry) to a single factor, I'd say the one thing is to ensure the water includes 50ppm of calcium. pH is no use since it may change or not change once you add grains depending upon what other ions are in solution.

The water may be devoid of trace elements needed by the yeast, so use yeast nutrient blend to ensure these are present.

No to be harsh, but taking a fairly complex subject such as water chemistry and asking for a single piece of advice to guide a decision is at best misguided. Without knowing what you stand to gain (and loose!) from switching water, you would be better off sticking with your existing water until you have the knowledge to make an informed decision about why you would want to switch. If you have specific problems with your water, try to address those first so you get some insight into what brewing salts you can add.

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I think you should brew beers with the resources at hand. If your water is very hard, you may try dark ales like stouts rather than trying to modify your pH...

Here is a usefull link to some US cities water profiles

Hope this helps!

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