Craft brewing has seen a rapid rise in growth and demand across the United States over the last 10 years. The microbrew culture has been prevalent for years in the Pacific Northwest, California and Colorado, but has really expanded all across the United States as of late, with four new craft breweries opening in Georgia in 2012 alone. The desire of brewers to create new and complex twists on old styles has been embraced by an ever discerning palate of U.S. consumers, continually searching for new beers to try. The increasing aspiration of consumers to buy goods that are locally made and sourced has also fueled the increasing number of craft breweries opening every year. This idea of “buying local” has even led to federal approval of a new classification of beer, Spokane Style, pushed for by No-Li Brewhouse in Spokane, Wash. Spokane Style Ales must be brewed and packaged in the Spokane area, using ingredients exclusively from the region. With more people brewing beer in the United States than ever before, it has become even more important to have a better understanding of the primary ingredient that makes a refreshing beer: Water.

Water quality and brewing

Understanding the characteristics of the water being used in the brewing process is an important step for craft breweries to take in producing their beer. Many styles of beer originated based on quality of water local to the area where they were originally conceived and produced. The famous pilsners from the Czech Republic were first born using extremely soft water in the town of Pilsen. Efforts to recreate and master this style of beer are based on the water quality necessary to achieve this “gold standard” of what a pilsner should be.

Likewise, India pale ales originated in an area of England with water characterized by high levels of calcium. Craft brewers in the United States rely on water from two sources, either local municipalities inherently treating to the standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act, or surface/groundwater sources, such as streams or wells, within close proximity to the brewery. Both sources may require breweries to further process the water influent to their plant to either add or subtract minerals and chemicals in order to not only ensure clean and safe water, but to also condition the water to necessary standards for the type of beer desired and consistent taste.

Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown, Pa. faced such an issue when they began plans to expand their brewery. They desired a location that would not only allow them to grow in production capacity, but that also provided near identical source water to the east branch of the Brandywine Creek they were currently using. Nearly eight months of water quality research showed that the mineral composition of the west branch of the Brandywine Creek provided water that was almost identical to water from the east branch. This allowed Victory to build a new facility with minimal impact to how they treat their water prior to the brewing process.

Great taste

Water quality is very important for a good tasting beer since water comprises more than 90 percent of total mass. There are certain drinking water standards that regulate the maximum allowable concentration of bacteria and metals in safe drinking water. It is essential to know that water used for brewing does not have metals, chlorine or biological contamination, since they can cause flavor defects in beer. Ions that contribute to beer taste are calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate, sulfate, sodium and chloride. The first three ions affect the mash pH and alkalinity which are an essential part of brewing. Below is the explanation of how each ion plays key role in determining beer quality.

  • Calcium determines hardness and plays a key role in enzyme reactions in the mash. It adds flavor to the beer by promoting enzyme activities in the mash used for making beer.
  • Magnesium also contributes to hardness and acts as a nutrient for yeast reactions in mash. It can cause bitterness if used in high levels. Therefore, it is important to balance this ion in beer.
  • Bicarbonates play a key role in raising pH and neutralizing beer. Dark malts are acidic in nature. Therefore, it is important to adjust pH in malt by neutralizing it and obtaining ideal pH range between 7-7.2. If pH is too high then injecting acid is the ideal way of reducing pH. Sometimes pH is lowered to obtain dark malt beer and finally neutralized back to obtain ideal pH range. Bicarbonate levels could be lowered to fall between 50 ppm-150 ppm by boiling, aerating or diluting water.
  • Sodium and sulfate contributes to hardness and brings bitterness in beer flavor. It is important to keep levels within 150 ppm.
  • Chlorine is often used in water for disinfection. But, it is essential to de-chlorinate water to avoid formation of chlorophenol compounds in beer that are colorless and weakly acidic and can impart an off taste.

Using the right quality of water for brewing beer is therefore essential. There are various treatment technologies available in market for regulating ions that contribute to beer taste. Filtration, RO, adsorption using granulated activated carbon (GAC) and ultraviolet disinfection (UV) are important technologies used for producing desired water quality that is ideal for brewing beer.

  • Media filtration is used for removing metals such as iron and manganese by co-precipitating them as metal oxides and passing through a media bed. This is done to eliminate a metallic taste in the beer.
  • Reverse osmosis is a membrane technology that is used for removing water salts that helps in obtaining desired flavor.
  • Granular activated carbon is an adsorptive media that removes chlorine and also trace chemicals from water. Chlorine is used in water for disinfection and forms chlorides that forms chlorophenols in beer. Chlorophenols are colorless, weakly acidic organic compounds with strong tastes.
  • Ultraviolet disinfection is used to kill microorganisms that promote biological growth in water. This technology is used in place of chlorination as chlorine residues are unacceptable in water used for brewing.

The quality of local water uniquely emphasizes the flavors of beer, but because of these available water treatment technologies, brewers can produce different style of beers with different tastes and feel without depending on local water quality.  

Sources:

http://www.brewbound.com/news/2013/no-li-brewhouse-gets-federal-approval-for-spokane-style

http://www.victorybeer.com/about/expansion/

http://www.nrdc.org/water/brewers-for-clean-water/making-great-beer.asp

http://www.howtobrew.com/section3/chapter15-1.html

http://byo.com/stories/item/1478-the-elements-of-brewing-water


Myron Petro is a field technician and pilot testing specialist for AdEdge Water Technologies. His experience lies in unique applications of multiple solutions for the treatment of groundwater and wastewater. Myron holds a B.S. and M.S. in Geography and Atmospheric Science, both from the University of Georgia. He is an avid craft beer aficionado, and spends his weekends sampling the latest creations and innovations of breweries from across the U.S.

Khushbu Karan is an applications engineer at AdEdge Water Technologies. Her experience lies in project development, project management and water treatment system design. Khushbu holds a BEng in Chemical Engineering and a Masters in Management Science. Khushbu has only recently become interested in the craft beer industry.