Fresh Off the Tank: Brewing With Hot Water


In my last Brewing piece I mentioned that, when sending water off to be analyzed, you should be sure to send the water you actually brew with.  If you run your brewing water off the "hot" tap, then send that in to be tested.

A few of you responded...aggressively.  The short version is that apparently some of you think I'm somewhere between a reckless libertine and a war criminal for brewing with water that came out of my water heater tank.  

Why So Heated?

I was confused by the intensity because I've never brewed with anything but pre-heated water from my water heater, and it doesn't seem to have hurt me, either in terms of how the beer is judged nor in the level of enjoyment I get out of it.

One individual was convinced I was essentially taking my life in my own hands.  [All caps his/hers, not mine] "YOU WOULDN'T FILL A POT WITH HOT WATER TO MAKE PASTA, WOULD YOU?"

UH OH.  Yes, yes I would.  And do.  A couple of times per week.  Should I not?

Have you ever noticed that if someone tells you something that seems totally at odds with what you've done your whole life, you can go one of two ways?  Some people lock into deflection/rejection mode and won't engage with it at all.  That's never been my MO, though - if I'm wrong, I want to know it, so I looked into it a little deeper.

Dangerous or Gross?

It seems like the arguments against run in one of two veins.

First, it could be the case that hot water leaches contaminants out of some kinds of pipes, adding things to your water that you shouldn't want to ingest (lead, primarily).  As far as I can tell this is a valid concern in older homes, and the American EPA as well as the CDC say that you should avoid it even in newer homes, since "lead-free" pipes can still contain as much as eight percent lead.  The Canadians don't seem as worried about this, but I can't find links to the studies that state they don't find any long-term risks from it (though popular articles on the topic reference them).  

Second, people who take a gander inside their hot water tanks note that they're pretty gross in there.  That's a less-compelling argument to me.  I filter, and my beer tastes pretty good.  Let's stick with the risk of lead in the water.  

I have to say that I'm torn.

On the one hand, it seems like a universal fact of life (which somehow I've missed) that we shouldn't be using hot water in any application that results in drinking it (be careful what you get into that shower beer).  On the other hand, the risk seems very small.  I don't live in a particularly old home, I use a municipal water service that regularly checks for lead, and it seems as though the risk to adults is far less than the risk to children (I'm already about as screwed up as I'm likely to get, apparently, though this picture suggests that's not exactly a small amount).


On the other hand, though, what's the harm in taking a little extra water heating time to mitigate even a minor risk?

A Compromise

I settled on a compromise. 

I generally divide my water into two batches (like most of you) - mash water and sparge water.  It's really in my mash water that I'm looking to save time, since that's at the top of my brewing process.  The sparge water I heat while I'm mashing.

Up to this point, I've drawn 100% of my mash water from the hot tap (carbon-filtered, but that isn't likely to make a difference if there's a lot of lead), and a 50-50 hot-cold blend for my sparge water (just to fill up the water bucket quickly).  

It seems as though the risk (such as it is) is elevated in water that's been standing in the pipes for a while.  So, for my mash water I'm going to start running the hot for five minutes prior to filling the mash water bucket, to at least get fresh hot water.

Then, I'll use only cold for my sparge water draw, since it can take some extra time to heat while I'm mashing.

Sound reasonable?

Thank you, sincerely, to those who brought this to my attention, particularly to the medical risks.  Prior to this I've only ever been confronted with, "oh, it's too minerally, so it'll screw up the flavor of your beer," to which I've always responded, "well, it hasn't hurt it yet..."  The lead concerns seem legit (if small in magnitude), and I'm grateful for those who brought it up.

Keep it simple.


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