The title of this month's article from brewery directors Kate and Alex is very apt given the unprecedented levels of rainfall that some areas of the country have experienced over the last week or so..
Water is crucial to brewing - it's 90% of the product and helps the flavour profile of the beer.
Water used for brewing affects the beer in three ways: it affects the pH of the beer, which affects how the beer flavours are expressed to your palate; it provides ‘seasoning’ from the sulfate-to-chloride ratio; and it can cause off-flavours from chlorine or contaminants.
There is a good deal of chemistry involved in brewing beer. It’s not just about whether you should use hard water or soft water. It’s about accounting for the entire chemical makeup of the water you’re using.
Here’s how the ions in water can impact what you brew …
Calcium: One of the main minerals affecting the hardness of water. Calcium can lower pH during mashing. It also promotes the clarity and stability of the final beer. It additionally helps to stabilise some of the naturally present enzymes that do their work while mashing the grains.
Magnesium: The other main mineral affecting hardness. Both calcium and magnesium are important yeast nutrients. Magnesium is also needed as an aid to the yeast, but too much may cause a laxative effect.
Sodium: In small amounts, sodium will have minimal effects on the flavour of beer. It does contribute to the body and mouthfeel. However, too much sodium can cause a metallic and salty taste, which is why softened water should not be used for brewing beer.
Chloride: Like sodium, it impacts the mouthfeel and complexity of the beer. It can make beer taste fuller or sweeter.
Sulphates: Help to bring out the bitter and hop forward notes in the beer. It has a balancing effect to the chloride as the ratio between these two is important.
Due to the mineral properties of each region's water, specific areas were originally the main producers of certain types of beer, each identifiable by regional characteristics. So for example, Dublin has hard water that was well-suited to making stout, such as Guinness, while the Plzeň Region in the Czech Republic has soft water that is ideal for brewing Pilsner, such as Pilsner Urquell. The waters of Burton on Trent here in the UK, contain lots of sulphate, which benefits making pale ale to such a degree that brewers of pale ales will add gypsum (calcium and sulphate) to the local water in a process known as Burtonisation.
Here at Wold Top we have awesome chalk filtered water drawn straight from the ground. This means it's quite 'hard' so, to soften it, we use a product called AMS which is added into our water tank pre production. This is an acidic blend that helps to balance the alkalinity of the water and remove unnecessary ions.
Some larger breweries will use a process called Reverse Osmosis (RO) on their water, whereby they remove all ions and minerals from the water before they start and then add in those ions/minerals that they want for their brew. This is quite a costly process but does mean that the water can be tailored to each specific brew, be it a pale IPA style or a heavier darker stout.
As long as it tastes good!
The photo at the top of the page shows the importance of water to brewing as brought to life in Welcome to Yorkshire's 2015 Chelsea flower show garden, Brewer's Yard and the bottom photo shows the traditional Yorkshire Square brewing vessel after it was relocated to Hunmanby Grange.