It's the Water, Stupid!

Equally important as malt, hops and yeast are in the
brewing of beer is water, although there are those who
suggest that water isn’t really an ingredient, but only a
solution in which the chemical process of beer making
takes place. (According to those theorists, yeast isn’t
an ingredient either, only the agent which causes the
process to begin.)

But for our purposes we’ll consider water to be a vitally
important ingredient and there are many reasons why
this is so. Water from different locations produces
different characteristics in beer styles which caused
great brewing centers to arise and be noted for
particular styles. For example, the low percentage of
salts in the waters of Bavaria contribute to the softness
of lager and the water from Burton-on-Trent in England
is so suitable for the brewing of pale ale that the word
“Burton” has been used to promote that style of beer,
most notably the legendary Ballantine Burton Ale.

Water containing calcium increases the extract from
malt and hops during mashing and boiling, sulfates
enhance hop bitterness and chlorides bring out the
sweetness of particular beers. In addition to the heat,
one of the reasons that the southern United States was
never noted for having any kind of a sizeable brewing
industry is that the waters of the Deep South are not
conducive to the brewing of good beer.

Today, practically any water can be “adjusted” to create
any kind of beer anywhere. In fact, at least one
Caribbean brewery desalinates seawater to brew its
beer. Since all of the Caribbean lagers I’ve tried are
uniformly nondescript and bland, I wouldn’t be surprised
if they all do.

The lack of purity of some water was another reason for
the development of great brewing regions when people
discovered that the boiling of wort in the brewing
process killed all sorts of microorganisms that previously
had been killing them. Beer in medieval Europe was safe
to drink, Water was not. Plymouth Rock became famous
because the Pilgrims, no fools they, packed beer for the
arduous journey from England, knowing that water
would make them even sicker than the rolling and
pitching of the Mayflower. But while heading for Virginia,
they ran out of suds and so had to put in at Plymouth
Rock to start brewing more beer. If they had been
sailing down the East River 350 years later they might
not have had to stop.

In 1973, to protest a proposed tax which would make it
more difficult to compete with national brewers, the
Liebmann Brewery dumped 100,000 gallons of
Rheingold Extra Dry into the East River. This was maybe
the only time in history when the water of the East River
was safe to drink.

Water is such an important part of brewing that “lite”
beer was invented to prove it. To beer lovers, lite beer
IS water. In fact, in a recent blindfolded tasting several
members of Draught Board 15 were unable to
distinguish Coor’s Light from Perrier.

Breweries have varied sources for the water they use to
brew, the late beer guru, Michael Jackson cited several.
The Lapin Kulta Brewery of Lappland uses water from a
local river, Malta’s Farson’s Brewery collects rainwater
from reservoirs on its roof and the famed Rodenbach
Brewery of Belgium brews with water from a lake fed by
underground springs. But most breweries just use local
water. Newark’s Ballantine had its own wells but used
that water to clean and flush toilets. Newark city water,
the best I’ve ever drank, was used to make Ballantine
Beer, XXX Ale,  and the long gone but well remembered
Ballantine IPA.

Beer advertising in the United States has always relied
heavily on water to promote brands. Olympia brewery of
Tumwater, Washington said it all with its famous slogan
“It’s The Water”. Many beers bragged about their use of
“pure” water (what else were they going to use, “sewer”
water?). Reading’s Sunshine beer claimed to brew with
“mountain spring water” but the still thriving Straub’s
one –ups that with PURE ”mountain spring water.

For years, Minnesota’s Hamm’s Brewery relied on the
slogan “Refreshing as the Land of Sky Blue Waters” to
sell their beer. Buffalo’s Simon Pure Brewery assured
drinkers that Simon Pure was brewed only with “cavern
spring water” and the First National Brewery (could you
open a savings account there as well?)  of McKeesport,
Pa. stated that “We use water from a historical
mountain spring for ALL our beer. The use of the word
“all” (instead of merely stating “our beer”) leads one to
surmise that the brewery believed that some consumers
suspected that NOT all their beer was brewed with water
from a historical mountain spring. Maybe these doubters
thought only SOME of their beer was brewed with those
waters. If there was any basis for those suspicions it
naturally makes one wonder with what water the REST
of their beer was brewed!

Some breweries subscribed to the real estate marketing
strategy of “location, location, location “ in touting their
beers’ water sources. Weber’s Old Fashioned Beer of
Sheyboygan, Wi. used only “Famous Wisconsin Water.”
Casco Bay Brewing uses only “pure Maine water”,
Barmann’s took advantage of Catskill Mountain water
and Coor’s always promotes its Rocky Mountain water.
Maybe the Deep South would have had a more robust
brewing industry if its breweries had brought in tank car
loads from other sources. A great promo would have
been for a Florida panhandle brewery to proclaim they
used only fresh-delivered Newark. N.J. water in their

Many breweries bragged about using artesian well water,
among them Camden County Beverage Company of
Camden, N.J. (whose label looked mighty like a
Budweiser label…..great marketing strategy, there) and
Furmann and Schmidt of Shamokin, Pa. Another brand
from F&S was Polski Piwo, evidently aimed at the
demographic of Polish coal miners in the area, which was
brewed with “superb” water.

Mineral springs also are promoted heavily as sources of
brewing water. The Schwartzenbach brewery of Hornell,
N.Y. brewed it’s Old Ranger brand with the “Famous
Water of Old Ranger Spring” and it’s KDK Cream Ale
contained only “soft mineral water”. Bingo Beer was
brewed with “sparkling” spring water. Would this mean
that the beer needed no further carbonation? The
current micro, Great Northern brews it’s Wheatfish with
“pure glacier water”.

All this talk of water has made me a little thirsty, so I
think I’ll have beer. But of course only one brewed with
city, artesian well, river, mineral spring, mountain,
desalinated, glacier, cavern, sparkling, rain or lake water!


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