Ingredients of Beer: Water

496 years ago a new German law, the Reinheitsgebot went into effect. Translating into “purity law”, its purpose was to regulate beer production and sale. It stated that beer could only be made with 3 ingredients, water, barley and hops. A few centuries later, we are now aware there is a 4th, and incredibly important, ingredient for making beer, yeast.  While originally intended to protect consumers and ensure fair prices for highly demanded commodities it took away a lot of creativity from the beer market, by removing the possibility  of any adjuncts such as honey or fruit, to be added to the brew. Times have changed and in 2012 in the United States, you can pretty much put whatever you want in your beer. From the more exotic spices and fruit, to rice and corn syrup if you really felt the need to do that to your beer.  There are some restrictions, such as a certain percentage of the ingredients must be malted grain for it to be considered beer.

What you use to make your beer will effect the outcome of your brew. How it tastes,  smells, the head retention, carbonation levels, amount of alcohol and more are in play with every ingredient. This is the first in a series that will explore ingredients brewers in Fort Collins are choosing to use in their beer, everything from barley to mushrooms. What a better place to start than the one ingredient you can’t go without in making beer, water. Water is not just plain water when you are speaking with a brewer. There are many minerals in water that will effect the beer, and it is just recently that we have been able to control that.

Before water treatment plants and pH meters, the water available to your area influenced what type of beer you were able to produce. The water in Munich and Dublin is very hard, or has lots of carbonates in it from the limestone under ground. This gives water an alkaline taste, almost chalky. Water like this is terrible for lighter hopped beers, but works great with dark malts. Hence why these areas are popular for darker pours. England on the other hand has lots of calcium sulfate in their water, which turned out to work great for pale ales and the addition of hops that led to the IPA style. The area where the pilsner style originated, Pilsen in current Czech Republic, has incredibly soft, almost mineral free water. This created the great light, crisp taste you can find in light lagers.  While most minerals will give beer a plaster, chalk taste, some will also give a metallic flavor. This can come from iron, a mineral harmful to yeast.

Here in Fort Collins we are lucky to have incredibly soft water. Randy Mosher says in “Tasting Beer” that the “beautiful advertising mythology about northern waters or pristine mountain springs is just a big, beautiful lie”. While his reasoning for this statement is because in modern times you can alter your water to have whatever mineral content you want, I think there is something special about the water that flows from the Poudre Canyon. There is no need to treat water here to get amazing beer, if you don’t want to. Funkwerks uses water straight from the tap for their brews. Steve Jones at Pateros Creek Brewing Co. does the same and claims that “the soft water we have is a great advantage”. Local home brewer Geoff Lodal even touts the temperature of the ground water, saying it makes “chilling a much quicker and easier job”. However, not everyone loves the low mineral profile of Fort Collins water, which you can find here. Avid home brewer and brewer for Funkweks, Andy Mitchell, makes mineral adjustments with salts and pH adjustments with lactic acids. He said this is “mainly because our water is so pure the mineral concentrations are lower than ideal for mash chemistry, boil chemistry, and yeast fermentation health.”

That is right, our water is “so pure”. When I moved to Fort Collins from my hometown of Thornton, CO. One of the first things I noticed was how clean the water tastes. In fact, I can no longer drink water from the tap when I visit Thornton anymore. It is just gross. Fort Collins may stand alone with such pure water. Franklin Romero, a home brewer who lives just south in Loveland, says he has to buy distilled water for home brewing. Using Loveland city water results in a “weird film” a top his boil kettle and a nice diacetyl, or butterscotch, taste. Mosher’s statement does have some truth to it. Claiming your beer to be better tasting because of the water you use, like a large brewery that shall remain unnamed, may be an advertising scam. Especially when your water rights entitle you to the runoff water from the Eisenhower Tunnel and I-70, exhaust fumes anyone? Here in Fort Collins we have the real deal. There really is something in the water here.

There is something that ties Fort Collins beer, with water. New Belgium Brewing is a sponsor of an amazing film series, Of Souls + Water, check out the trailer here.

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2 Comments

Filed under New Beer

2 responses to “Ingredients of Beer: Water

  1. Aaron

    What’s the mushroom beer? That sounds intriguing, especially with the right choice of species. I did see a book a while back that described brewing with henbane and other legally dubious ingredients.

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