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!
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.