We’ve heard it before—the main ingredients in beer are malts, hops, yeast, and water. Whether it’s locally sourced malt, two-row barley, or the newest, exotic hop variety, we often place greater emphasis on the other ingredients, but we don’t really talk about the water.
Water is arguably the most important component of beer, making up over 90% of the final product. It plays a significant role in the quality and consistency of the production of beer due to its direct effect on raw materials such as the other main ingredients in beer. And as it turns out, how you treat it can have impactful outcomes to the taste of beer.
International Water Day is coming up tomorrow on March 22nd, we want to take a minute, ok a few minutes, and chat about this amazing resource and how water quality affects the beer you drink. To get the answers we asked our clients why water is so important to the brewing process and how they work with it.
Great Divide Brewing Company - Thoughts from Erin Cox, QA/QC Manager and Sustainability Coordinator
The role water plays. “There are three main process in brewing that utilize water, product (brewing) water, process water for cleaning and sanitation processes, and service water such as steam production for transport of heating processes in the brewery.”
What you should know. “As craft breweries have scaled up over the years, breaking ground in other locations nationally and internationally, one of the largest obstacles for production is flavor matching the water to produce consistent beer with the ‘mother’ or original brewing location.”
Treating the water. “Currently Great Divide is carbon filtering the incoming water used in the brewing process. By carbon filtering, we are stripping chlorine/chloramines which have a negative effect on yeast performance, as well as removing other compounds that can produce undesirable flavors in the end product. An important aspect to our water quality is the addition of several salts, such as calcium sulfate, calcium chloride, and magnesium sulfate. These additions can have significant effects on desired components and characteristics of recipes in turn subduing or increasing target flavor extracts and characteristics of a beer style.”
Call to Arms Brewing Company - Thoughts from Jon Cross, Proprietor & Head Brewer
The role water plays. “Water is not only 90% of any beer, but it plays a huge function in the brewing process. Anything from giving enzymes the ability to turn starch to sugar, a solution for hop alpha acids to isomerize and dissolve essential oils, to imparting regional flavors are all attributable to water as a solution.”
What you should know. “Water is the unsung hero of brewing. People always delve into the other three ingredients with the more gusto, but water chemistry is absolutely integral in taking a style to its peak potential.”
Treating the water. “We utilize a carbon filter to remove chloramines from the water and also have a water softener that can be used for certain brewing applications. In addition, we treat the water in the brewhouse with various salts depending on what style of beer we’re making. The goal is to mimic regional water profiles that were historically tied to a given style.”
Banded Oak Brewing Company - Thoughts from Will Curtin, Owner
Water and your glass. “In the taproom we spray our glasses with filtered water to make sure that the beer speaks for itself and doesn’t smell like the chloramine that’s typically in tap water.”
What you should know. “People have written books about this. It’s extremely important and something that we take very seriously.”
Maxline Brewing - Thoughts from Shawn Woodbury, Lead Brewer
The role that water plays. “The role of water both in cleaning and process applications exacerbates the water to beer ratio. Lower is always better. We are currently examining our resource management and utilization to help create process changes lower this ratio."
What you should know. "Remember, there is no beer without water, so it behooves us to protect our most important resource or suffer a beer drought in addition to a water one.”
Where water is sourced from. "We get our water from the city of Fort Collins. It is extremely easy to brew with this water, as it is (after carbon filtered for chlorine/chloramine) is a pretty blank canvas."
Happy International Water! Go drink beer!
Photo credit: Dustin Hall with The Brewtography Project