Beer … It’s Mostly Water
“Brewed with water from when the earth was pure” … “from the land of sky blue water” … “it’s the water” … “brewed with pure Rocky Mountain spring water.” Many big breweries tout the water they use in their ads. Some of these beers taste as if water is the only ingredient, but there is truth in assertions that water is critically important. In terms of volume, it’s the main component used in making beer.
We’re lucky here in Saint Louis. Our city regularly makes lists of the best water in the nation, with special note of its superior flavor, aroma, and clarity. As a local brewery, we’re glad to start out with such a good ingredient. We do filter our water and sometimes treat it to adjust the pH, depending on the style we are brewing.
The world’s greatest brewing cities happened to have great water and be near to areas producing excellent barley, and eventually hops. Almost every list of the greatest brewing cities in the world will include Munich, Germany; Pilsen, Czech Republic; and Burton on Trent, England. The interesting thing is that these cities had very different types of water that led to the styles that originated there.
One of the most important factors in water chemistry for brewers is the “hardness” of the water. Harder water has higher concentrations of minerals, especially calcium and magnesium. Softer water has less.
Burton on Trent was known for extremely hard water with very high concentrations of calcium sulfate and magnesium sulfate. Beers brewed with this water even have a slightly sulfury note. The hardness of the water allows greater hopping and promotes yeast growth. The great beers from Burton achieved tremendous clarity and were bright and sparkling with a delightful hop bitterness.
The early IPAs from Burton on Trent were also an aesthetically pleasing lighter color. Hard water is efficient at extracting fermentable sugar, but pulls noticeably less color from roasted grains.
Pilsen in the Czech Republic, on the other hand, has remarkably soft, sandstone-filtered water. This is why Czech pilsners are generally darker than their German counterparts. They are also more delicately flavored, with hops expressed subtly in grassy and floral notes rather than just sharp bitterness.
We take authentic beer styles seriously, so when we brew Burton on Holt or UK IPA, we use gypsum (calcium sulfate) to harden the water. This method of hardening water for brewing is so historically tied to the water at Burton on Trent that it is called “Burtonizing.”
When we brew our Czech Pilsner, we give the water a good long boil to drive off excess minerality, achieving a softer water. This will help achieve the delicate flavors and deep golden color we are after.
When you drink Civil Life beer, raise a glass to Saint Louis water and join us, too, in celebrating authentic recreations of the world’s greatest beer styles. And remember, we are always being told to drink more water. If beer is mostly water, that means we ought to be drinking more beer!
We talk about being a “malt-driven” brewery, but what exactly is malt? Malted barley is the base of beer, whether ale or lager. Barley was first domesticated thousands of years ago in both Mesopotamia and Ethiopia. It was for a flavorful mildly alcoholic beverage we call beer these early farmers were growing this crop. Over the years, generation after generation bred and improved varieties of barley to make them more suitable for the brewing of beer.
In order to use barley for beer, it must be “malted.” In simple terms, barley grains are treated with water so that they germinate. The grains start to sprout and are then dried to halt germination and generally roasted to some degree. This malted barley now just needs to be milled (not so fine as a flour) then steeped in hot water to extract the fermentable sugars that yeast will turn into alcohol.
The key to malting is to optimize the compounds that will feed the yeast. This cereal powerhouse contains carbohydrates, proteins, and enzymes. The malted barley also contributes the layered flavors that make beer so tasty.
When beer is brewed, a base malt accounts for over 60% of the grain bill. These malts are the workhorses and have the highest levels of enzymes needed to convert starches into fermentable sugars in the mash.
Lightly roasted pale malts are among the most widely used by craft brewers making ales. We favor a few old-school varieties.
Smaller amounts of various specialty malts are used to achieve specific effects. Here are just a few.
There are many more base and specialty malts with a wide range of colors and flavors. Come down to the pub and taste how these malts create such delicious flavors. Maybe you can even talk malt with one of our talented brewers. Every beer you sip honors a long history of agriculture, brewing, and civilization itself. Cheers!
Much of what is now part of Tower Grove South neighborhood (bounded by Arsenal, Grand, Chippewa, and Kingshighway) got its start a hundred or so years ago. Over 13,000 people call this fine neighborhood home, whether they own homes or rent apartments. It’s a diverse and friendly area and we are proud to be a part of it.
Just the other day, I, like many Saint Louisans, was doing my civic duty by voting in our recent mayoral election. I walked down to the Fanning School gym, where I have voted for years. A Civil neighbor recognized me, saying “You guys put our little Holt Avenue on the map.” No one ever recognized the name of her humble little street when she told them where she lived. Now she says people say on hearing “Holt Avenue,” “Oh! That’s where the Civil Life is!”
She also thanked us for keeping the area clean and doing our part to make the neighborhood a better place for everyone. We are happy to do our part, just as we know our neighbors do all they can to keep Tower Grove such a great place to work and play.
We want to make sure we can always live up to our name, and that means more than just making and serving great beer. But a community only works as well as all of its members work together. We are honored to live and work among so many great people. We’re fortunate to have so many neighbors as great regulars, and we can’t do it without you.
This neighborhood has many fine bars and restaurants, and their continued support for the Civil Life has kept us strong. From the beginning, we’ve enjoyed the support of great places like Amsterdam, the Royale, and Mangia Italiano. You can always enjoy Civil Life beer at Ryder’s Tavern (just around the corner on Chippewa), Three Monkeys, Tower Pub, the Black Thorn Pub, Tree House (and the Night Owl upstairs), and other area spots. In Tower Grove East you can find us at Riley’s Pub and the Tick Tock Tavern. We are proud to tell our loyal South City fans that 6 of our top 20 draft accounts are located within a mile and a half of the brewery.
South City no doubt supports South City.
When you’re not headed to our pub, stop by and support other neighborhood businesses. Wherever you drink Civil Life beer, you support us, and we thank you for that. A stroll or a bike ride through the neighborhood, with a stop or two for a pint is not just a pleasant activity, it’s a real way of supporting the neighborhood and building community.
Let’s continue working together to keep Tower Grove South the safe, beautiful, fun place that it has become. Just like the neighborhood, the Civil Life is a place where all are welcome. Stop in any time for a pint. We’d love to see you!
The Civil Blog has returned. It is predominantly authored by Civil Life Barman, Dr. Patrick Hurley, who can be found tending to our bar patrons on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He is also responsible for tending to our draft lines, which is recognized as one of our most important tasks. Special guest writers will appear from time to time. We hope reading this blog will give you much insight about the Civil Life and most importantly help you understand a bit more about all of us that work here and the beers we put our hearts into.