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My brother and my father both brewed the same beer at the same time in the same general area. General area being each at their own home, but separated by about 20 miles and they are in different counties.

They used the same bag of yeast, the same bag of grains and everything, just to try to make it consistent. The equipment was essentially the same, my brother being newer at homebrewing than my father. They both used the same recipe for beer. It was a simple lager, forget the actual recipe name, but nothing dark or complex with tastes.

Both had measured to the same specific gravity and ended at the same within a small margin. When the beer was finished, they had two different tasting beers. Same general or basic taste, they both tasted like a simple lager, not a light beer, but just simple. The only difference that we could think of was the water source. Both are from the same river, but the two different counties process the water differently.

Is there a different reason for this taste difference you would think? Is this that plausible? How important is water content (sulfites, hard vs soft water, water acidity, water akalinity, etc.)?

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Different water profiles can change the taste of your beer. Especially when you brew a beer with - as you say - "nothing [...] complex with tastes". When there is no big hop aroma or lots of alcohol in the beer, the subtle influence of the water shines through.

The water chemistry can accent the hop bitterness, and it can also support the malt flavours.

Even though the "breweries" aren't so far apart from each other, they can have complete different water. Even within a city the water can be from different sources. When I lived in Heidelberg, Germany, the water in the old town of the city was known for its soft water, that came from the mountains behind the castle. The rest of the city had harder water from a different source.

Try to get a water report for both breweries or even better buy a water testing kit like the iDip or the BrewLab from LaMotte. You need to know how your water is before you change it. Or start with distilled or RO water and add the salts that match the beer style.

Have a look at the Bru'n Water Website: it is a great resource for information on water and offers a water calculator, to find out how to manipulate your water for different beer styles.

  • Awesome, thank you for the links, That helps greatly. The two counties are right next to each other but are also known for having drastically different water profiles, and even having it differ from township to township within the neighboring towns of each county and across the county line, though only separated by feet in some cases. – Keith E. Truesdell Mar 21 '18 at 16:12
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Yes, water has drastic effects on your beer.

Your recipe, being simple, lends to allowing the water profile to shine.

Even though your water source is close in local, different wells and Processing can contain different minerals and salts or chemicals for sanitation.

Water is generally 90%+ of your beer. Volumes can be written about how ions in water effect your beer.

Many beers are known to be great just from their water source.

Duplicating famous water profiles is a great skill to learn. For example Burton on trents water is known as burtonizing your profile.

John Palmers - Water. Is a great reference book to start making water adjustments in your brewing.

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Yes, water has a decent impact on flavor and mouthfeel of beer.

Mineral composition of the water will affect flavor. In beer clone recipes it's not uncommon to see a specification of the mineral composition. Additionally, I've read that river water have a tendency to change minerals contents depending on the season.

The alkalinity and acidity of the water will affect mash efficiency and aroma gained from hops. Its not uncommon for water treatment plants to tune this. It's can be balanced with lactic acid or baking soda (or brewers salts). When doing so it's good to be aware of the temperature offset discussion. Every now and then I've come across articles or blog posts displeased with the results. Excellent blog post goes into detail.

Chlorine and chloramine treatment of water may differ even with a shared water source. Chlorine is an oxidant so it can do tremendous damage to a beer if not neutralized when beer is sensitive to oxygen. It can be neutralized by boiling or by adding ascorbic acid. Personally I boil water for 10-15 minutes, but the recommended approach were I live is to add 1 mm2 of ascorbic acid per liter of tap water.

However there many other factors to consider. I’ve had batches split to two fermentation vessels turning out quite differently. I assumed this had to do with the amount of residual hops in the vessel.

The viability of the yeast plays an important part. It doesn’t take much for it to decay. Low viability or under pitching will produce some off flavours.

The fermentation temperature will affect production of phenolic flavor compounds.

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As others have already stated different water profiles will change the flavour of the "same" beer. Here is a quick run down of the ions in water that are going to affect the final flavour:

Calcium[Ca]: Can bind with phosphates and lower mash pH, which can change the activity levels of alpha and beta amylase, thereby affecting the wort sugar, dextrin balance. This can change OG but more likely the fermentability and therefore residual sugars and mouth-feel.

Sodium[Na]: Levels from 75 to 150 ppm give a round smoothness and accentuate sweetness, which is most pleasant when paired with chloride ions than when associated with sulphate ions.

In the presence of sulphate, sodium creates an unpleasant harshness, so the rule of thumb is that the more sulphate in the water, the less sodium there should be (and vice versa).

Potassium [K]: can impart a slightly salty flavour, but is required for yeast growth.

Sulphates [SO4]: Can inhibit hop utilisation, reducing overall bitterness. Can lead to a crisp dry finish to the beer, but in excess can have a harsh salty finish.

Chlordie[Cl]: Ca and Mg chlorides give body, palate fullness, and soft-sweet flavor to beer. The roundness on the palate given by sodium chloride (common table salt) makes this salt well suited for all types of sweet beers including dark beers and stouts.

Iron[Fe]: usually not an issue, but if in too high levels can leave a harsh metallic aftertaste; often due to poor re-passivisation after a caustic wash.

This book is a great reference for all things beer and water: John Palmer - Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers (Brewing Elements)

  • That is some great information about the different things that can be in water and how it affects the taste. I will take that into consideration. – Keith E. Truesdell Mar 22 '18 at 17:48

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