It’s been said that water is the driest subject in beer—but not today. Welcome to Beer Fact Friday: H2O-edition.
Light or dark, bitter or sweet, boozy as hell or nearly non-alcoholic, beer is made primarily of water. You could even argue that water is the most important ingredient brewers have at their disposal—a finished beer is usually 85%–95% H2O.
As you might expect, the water brewers work with—they usually call it “liquor” when using it to make beer—can have a huge impact on a beer’s flavor profile.
Since tap water is often filled with undesirable chemicals like fluoride and chlorine, most brewers will filter their water before brewing with it. But some minerals found in water can actually make a beer taste better.
Many styles of beer were developed specifically to take advantage of the composition of the local water. The well water in Burton-on-Trent in England, for instance, is remarkably high in a mineral called calcium sulfate thanks to the region’s many gypsum deposits. Drinkers found that hoppy beers brewed in Burton-on-Trent had a satisfying dryness and bitter snap unlike brews they’d tried elsewhere, and the region came to be known for its hop-forward beers. Today, adding calcium sulfate to your brewing water is called “burtonization,” and is common practice for brewers making pale ales and IPAs.
Similar stories exist for other classic beer cities. The water in Dublin, Ireland is high in bicarbonates, which make it difficult to brew pale beers that don’t taste harsh. Beers made with roasted malts, however, turn out just great, and today Dublin is famous for producing stout. Plzn, the birthplace of Pilsner, is known for its soft (i.e. mineral-free) water, which brewers exploited to make the clean golden lager that became the most popular beer style in the world.
The water profiles from these classic beer cities influence ever beer we make at Four Peaks. With every batch, we reverse-osmosis filter all our water to remove everything except hydrogen and oxygen, then we’ll add minerals back in to mimic the water from the cities in which classic beer style developed. Raj, our English-style IPA, gets burtonized water; Oatmeal stout is brewed with liquor that mimics the water in London; Kilt Lifter wouldn’t be the beer it is without water from Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s just one way we stay true to style.