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Do Water Profiles Make A Difference?

In part 2 of our water profile testing, we’re looking at the effects on dark beers. For this one, we’ve chosen an American stout for it’s high hop levels, roasty bitterness and caramel sweetness. Have a look back at part 1 for the background info, as I’m just going to dive straight in to this one!

American Stout

We did this one a little different than for the IPA, as we were tasting these semi-blind. Again we started off with a rundown of the recipe, so that tasters could get an idea of what they might pick up. Sulphate:chloride was once again 3 and 0.3, but this was the variable that was left blind. We then did a rundown of what we might expect each of the beers to taste like, then off a cursory tasting, attempted to select which beer was sulphate heavy and which was more chloride. After a more detailed tasting and discussion, the beers were then revealed as to which was which. Being one of the brewers of this beer it was interesting to find out what peoples impressions would be.


The recipe was based on a clone recipe of Deschutes Obsidian, which seemed to have a good mix of roastiness, malty sweetness and hops:

Golden Promise 76%; Black malt 6%; Simpson DRC 6%; Munich I 4%; Wheat malt 4%; Carapils 4%
Columbus (60m); Willamette (30m); Chinook (5m)
Lallemand London ESB dry yeast


CharacterSulphate (S:C=3:1)Chloride (S:C=1:3)
BitternessHigher levelSimilar to the IPA, sweeter
FlavourLesser variance
FinishDrier finish

Initial Impression

There was a 50/50 split on opinions as to which beer was which after only a quick evaluation. Reasons given by the four tasters were:

  • Higher bitterness likely to be more sulphate; Sweeter and fuller mouthfeel suggests chloride
  • More muted hop aroma for chloride; Higher bitterness for sulphate
  • More hop aroma and higher bitterness for sulphate; Mouthfeel not so much a factor
  • Sharper and cleaner for sulphate; Sweeter for chloride

It was noted that tasters would often change their mind as they went from one to the other, which suggests there was far less of a difference between them than for the IPA (admittedly the IPA wasn’t blind.) Having not tasted my counterpart’s beer until now, and obviously knowing which beer was which, I could easily tell them apart. One was more roasty with a dry bitterness, the other had far more hop flavour and was a little sweeter.


Given the mixed opinions about the beers, there is perhaps a much smaller difference in flavour between the two stouts, which was expected. However it seems as though the results from the IPA does not hold true for this style, at least not exactly. During the extended discussion, the hop aroma was mentioned as being higher intensity and more fruity in the chloride beer, with it being much more muted in the sulphate stout, which was also noted as having a raisin and molasses character. This was the main reason for the difference in opinion, where the hops would have thought to be more punchy in the sulphate beer, with the maltiness coming through with higher chloride.

With flavour, the chloride beer had a much higher level of resinous hops, whereas the sulphate beer seemed more roasty. There was an even level of sweetness overall on both beers, though the chloride beer was considered to have a fuller mouthfeel. Roasty flavours on both beers were more chocolatey than coffee, and there was no harshness to either of them.

Overall there were minimal differences between them. I suspect that variance in the brewing process had a lot to do with the differences, particularly with hop flavour and aroma. This was the area I could see the largest difference, and how I was able to distinguish them. I don’t believe those differences were to do with water profile alone. However, without bias, the other tasters perceived much less difference between them.

So do water profiles make a difference to stout-like styles? The jury is still out, but I suspect the answer is yes, although it has only a minimal impact on the final beer. It could therefore be good as a final tweak to a recipe, but don’t spend too long on it until you’ve perfected the ingredients!

Next up we have an English bitter for part 3, results coming up soon.

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