When we talk about beer flavour we often discuss barley and hops but we must remember that water is the largest contributor out of the core four ingredients of grain, hops, yeast and water.
Thus, the quality of water used in brewing is extremely important because it contributes about 90 – 95% of the finished product. The mineral content of water influences and can be manipulated and adjusted according to the requirements of the beer style being brewed.
This is why some traditional areas are known for beer styles and all because of the water, just two English examples:
- Burton beer is known for its earthy smell, known in brewing circles as “Burton snatch” with a very high sulfate content. This is created by rainwater passing through thick bands of gypsum.
- London is known for its porters and dark ales due to the hard, alkaline water. Munich has a similar water profile and typically creates darker lagers.
Sometimes the big breweries use contract brewers rather than long-distance shipping and this is why you often hear “it doesn’t taste as it does back home” and this is because the water can’t be matched identically.
But being different is good as craft beer drinkers don’t want the same. This is where the numbers of small artisan craft breweries have jumped because they can experiment and use the local water difference to advantage. Thus, you either need to embrace the local water to create your own take on a craft beer style or try to manipulate the water to match a style.
With this increase in microbreweries, we get more blurred style boundaries as experimentation creates great beer variances that don’t necessarily tie into the clean boundaries of the formal style guides.
So the next time you pick up a pint stop and have a think about the water, as this all means we can get to taste interesting and different craft beers!