View Full Version : H20 question - what is the best option?

06-27-2011, 01:04 AM
Ok, so I've been searching on here to find some kind of definitive answer about what kind of water to use when making mead and can't seem to find the answer I'm looking for.

I am pretty new to mead making with only a few batches (still fermenting or aging) under my belt. Everything I have read has said to use tap water or spring water; I've used Poland Springs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poland_Springs) spring water in all of my mead so far, without incident. Being new to the craft, I figured there was a good reason for this and went along without asking any questions.

However, I come from over a decade of coffee brewing where water choice can make or break the coffee's flavor, aroma and body. Your end result is 99%-97% water; water choice makes a huge difference in coffee. I brew most coffee using Dasani (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dasani), which is filtered using reverse osmosis with some trace minerals added, in a french press. I enjoy Dasani by itself and when used to brew coffee I have found that it makes an excellent coffee compared to tap (:icon_puke_l:), spring or home filtered water.

My local tap water (suburban Philadelphia, PA) doesn't taste awful but I generally don't drink it. I use a 3 stage PUR filter for drinking water (at $20 for ~100 gal it is a pretty cost effective alternative to bottled water). My favorite drinking waters are Voss (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voss_%28water%29), Acqua Panna (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panna_%28water%29) and San Pellegrino (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Pellegrino).

From what I have found, tap and spring water can have a lot of minerals in them that the yeast can use to their benefit, especially during rehydration. I also understand that tap or spring water are extremely cost effective, especially since honey and fruit costs can be so high. That being said, there seem to be at least a few people around here that are searching for top shelf mead, and I am still wondering if mead could benefit from using a "higher quality" water, considering that most of a must's volume is comprised of water.

If you are rehydrating yeast with Go-Ferm and using staggered Fermaid-K and DAP nutrient additions during fermentation, are those trace minerals that helpful or even necessary for high levels of yeast health? Would artesian or mineral water provide similar minerals? How much of a final, bottled mead is actually water? Has anyone done side by side comparisons or is this similar to the "don't boil your honey" situation where there isn't a lot of data?

Anyways, I apologize for the long post about my discrimination against spring water. I posted this in the NewBees section since I am indeed new to mead making and there is most likely a very clear answer to this question that I missed in my searching; or perhaps I should just become a patron and find my answer without hours of searching?

Chevette Girl
06-27-2011, 11:19 AM
Well, your post certainly explains your handle ;D

I honestly don't know, and it's something I'm going to experiment with myself (on the ever-lenghtening To Do list), it's definitely worth running some side-by-side batches to compare, especially if your palate is that sensitive.

I have experienced bad water (the well water where I used to work would turn tea gray and leach the taste right out of it), but I also do not have so discerning a palate (my solution to that water was to switch to instant decaf coffee:P and yes, I can hear you cringe from here). I have been told that with beer, water makes a huge difference. But I've made wine with city water straight from the tap and also run through a Britta filter and not really noticed a difference... But then, I prefer drinking my city tap water to a lot of bottled waters which I find somehow flat. I definitely prefer city water to distilled water, bleah (and you're not supposed to use distilled water for anything yeast-related).

06-27-2011, 11:30 AM
CG has it right, I'd say. Just avoid using distilled water for brewing/mead making, and you'll probably be ok. If you do use distilled, you'll have to add some trace minerals back into it (similar to what Dasani does). Basically, if you think the water tastes good, then it'll probably be good water to use.

As for the nutrients, the amount in the water isn't going to be the same as adding nutrients to the must (Fermaid K and DAP). While Fermaid K might have some minerals in it that are also present in spring/tap water, the main reason for dosing with nutrients is to supply the yeast with much needed nitrogen, which is probably not in whatever water you choose. So the water's ions and minerals may help some, but are far from all you'd need for a healthy fermentation.

06-27-2011, 04:07 PM
There really isn't a definitive answer to this one, other than to use the best tasting water you can get, and distilled might make fermentation a little less perfect due to those missing minerals which may or may not (I don't know) be added by goferm and other nutrients.

The question is really: just how much damage will those missing minerals do? Obviously the happier the yeast the better the mead, so potentially you might be better off using "worse tasting" water and having a better ferment than to use "better tasting" water and have a worse ferment - but I've yet to find a real study that shows just how much of an impact we're talking about here.

Unless the water is horrible it definitely does not make or break mead the way it does with coffee or beer (beer relies on the water for the right chemical reactions during the mash, there's nothing like that happening in mead), that much can be said for sure. Even when it comes to extremely serious mead makers, many of the best still just use their local tap water (though they've often looked into what exactly is in said water) and win awards with their meads.

Could those meads be potentially improved even further by using some kind of super-awesome tasting water? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on if that water hurts the ferment or does not I'd imagine.

06-27-2011, 04:14 PM
Here's an idea for you - it's always nice when someone can contribute to this communities seemingly never ending test batch library, so perhaps this is a test for you.

Make 3 batches of mead (probably 1 gal batches). Just honey + water + yeast + nutrients. Make all conditions between the 3 identical, temp, nutrient amounts, aeration, SG, etc, but make one with tap water, one with distilled and one with your personal all time favourite water.

Start a brewlog and keep good track of how fast the ferment progresses with each batch, whether any start to produce sulphur smells, etc. Let them age, racking as normal, for at least 1 year.

Then it's blind tasting time. First round, nobody except you even knows what the difference is between the meads, they just have glass 1 2 and 3. Ask them to rank them from best to worst, and also to write down comments as to why.

Round 2 - new glasses, with the meads in a different order for #1 2 3. This time tell them what the difference is, and ask them to do 2 things, rank the meads again (to see if they even chose the same ones, maybe there isn't even a noticeable difference between all 3, this will help figure that out) and also to guess which is which.

Then it's results time. For every person tasting, see how their first ranking compares with their second, and how everyone's rankings compared. Total all the scores (each will get 1 2 or 3 points each round) and see which mead won the competition. Then reveal what was really what for each round.

Good times!

Medsen Fey
06-27-2011, 05:53 PM
The answer to the ideal water constituents is certainly still open for much debate. Akueck did a fantastic Brewlog (http://www.gotmead.com/forum/showthread.php?t=17389&highlight=sulfate) (Patron's area) comparing salt additions (with nutrients) to nutrients alone and sent samples for lab analysis. The findings were quite interesting and may give you some insights on how to approach testing.

06-27-2011, 11:46 PM
Thank you all for the responses.

... (my solution to that water was to switch to instant decaf coffee:P and yes, I can hear you cringe from here) ...

Well I at least laughed after the initial cringe since you saw it coming. And to note: if you prefer instant coffee to brewing it everyday (yes, it is a PITA), try Starbucks Via instant coffee. As far as instant coffee goes, it's pretty good. I started using it when camping because it's so good - and significantly easier than a french press or any other brewing method while in the wilderness.

... Even when it comes to extremely serious mead makers, many of the best still just use their local tap water (though they've often looked into what exactly is in said water) and win awards with their meads....

I'm not an experienced mead maker so I don't doubt that excellent mead can be made from tap water. That much seems to be very true. Winning competitions is an honor and I have a lot respect for those people; however, if all of the mead makers are using tap water it puts them on the same plane. Tap water mead vs. tap water mead. It's like motorcycle racing when they put limitations on how much traction control the computers are allowed to dictate. It puts everyone the same level for bike performance (and leaves more up to driver skill but that is a completely different conversaion). The limitations actually lower track times. So driver A's track time looks excellent in comparison to driver B's, driver A could actually have a better track time if the limitations were removed. I'm wondering if the same is true for mead when concerned with water.

With some basic research that I did today, it looks like some of the waters I mentioned have higher mineral contents than spring water and my local tap water. Poland Springs is in the 29-59 ppm for total minerals, while some of the others I mentioned are in the 100-200 ppm range.

Which only leaves me wondering more lol. It looks I'll be adding a test batch to my to do list (which currently is only a raspberry mel that I'll be starting next week :)).

My initial thoughts would be doing five or six batches (might as well go big if I'm going do something that will take a year to complete). Distilled (control), tap, PUR filtered tap water, spring water, and one or two of my favorite waters. I'll have to do some more research on the specifics of mineral concentrations in each water and which minerals are most beneficial to yeast. It sounds like a fun experiment and hopefully I'll learn something from it... and maybe calm my water bigotry down some.

Now to find some cheap 1 gal carboys...

06-28-2011, 12:01 AM
The side-by-side test is invaluable. I'd suggest you get really comfortable meadmaking first, just so small variations in your technique don't influence the differences between the batches. But once you've got your legs under you, those test batches will teach you more than anything we could post here.

The n=2 test I ran was very interesting; I've got one more set of bottles to evaluate in the next couple weeks. When I get back from my trip I'd like to do the full matrix and I've got some ideas for ways of doing it better. If you run a sample group, keep us updated!

06-28-2011, 01:00 AM
Edit: On my last post, I meant to mention that AToE still makes an excellent point - great meads can be made from faucet water. I'm not knocking this practice at all. Will using better water really make that much of difference? It might not, but when evaluating high end products, sometimes the tiniest changes can prove to be critically important.

I'd suggest you get really comfortable meadmaking first, just so small variations in your technique don't influence the differences between the batches.

This is my real concern with doing this. I think I've researched quite a bit to get the concept of mead making down in my head, but the actual practice of said ideas is pretty limited. Nonetheless, when I start this comparison I will be sure to post a brew log and my research.