Photo by Bryan Carver

Back to the well

Exploring the basic beer ingredients, part one—water

The Brew | by Bryan Carver

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In order to make a quality beer you need four basic ingredients. This tried and true foursome of water, malt, hops and yeast each need to be carefully used and with a respectful intent.

Over the next few months we will take a look into each of these four ingredients and cover a bit of how they are important in making beer.

First up is water, the one ingredient that can make up to 95 percent of the raw material needed to make beer. There are many reasons why water is so crucial in making beer. Water influences the taste, mouthfeel and perceived bitterness beer drinkers experience. For the most part, brewers need to have a handle on the potential of hydrogen (pH) and mineral composition on their brewing liquor—brewer speak for water. In order to successfully convert starches in grains into sugars, the pH of the water needs to be an optimal range to allow enzymes to make such conversion possible.

Many classic beer styles came to be as a reaction to the water available to the local breweries. Throughout the cities of Europe, water’s chemical makeup changed from place to place. The Czech city of Pilsen, birthplace of Pilsner beers, has incredibly soft water with very little hardness. This soft water allowed for the consistent brewing of high quality Pale Lagers, such as Pilsner Urquell. This style of beer would grow in popularity and set the groundwork for the development of the modern lagers that are ubiquitous today.

While Pilsen’s soft water gave rise to one legendary beer, the hard water of Dublin, Ireland allowed for the creation of another icon—Guinness Irish Stout. The brewery at St. James Gate drew bicarbonate rich water from the Liffey River to brew the dark stout. The popularity grew, as did demand, and this established Guinness dry stout as one of the finest available, eventually to be found around the globe.

Across the Irish Sea and into the West Midlands grew another brewing epicenter renowned for Pale Ales, at Burton-On-Trent. This English city grew to be one of the most influential brewing dynasties in the world. With water rich in calcium sulfate, which produces beer with heightened bitterness and dryness. Utilizing this mineral dense water, beers like Bass Pale Ale and early India Pale Ales grew in prominence. The lasting impact from these early English pale ales can be linked all the way to modern IPA’s from America’s West Coast.

In order for brewers to produce beer, they need to understand the water they are using and how to make adjustments in its chemistry to brew a high quality pint for drinkers.

Next month we will take a look into the role of malt.

Bryan CarverThe Brew
Bryan Carver

Professional Brewer, Certified Cicerone® and Lover of All Things Beer. Joined The Buzz team in April 2018