Beer 101, Session 2

Courtesy dreamstime.com
Courtesy dreamstime.com

Written by Tom Becham for Professor Goodales

TbechamAfter a long hiatus from writing for Professor Goodales (due to some personal circumstances I won’t recount here) I am back with my second installment in the Beer 101 series. I had promised to detail the different ingredients of beer, how they affect the final product, and even describe the tastes. I will start with the most basic and overlooked of all beer ingredients: water.

Water makes up 90% to 95% of the volume of most beers. Obviously it plays an important role. But what does a brewer want as far as the qualities of water for his beer? It isn’t necessarily all about purity. Sure, chemical contaminants are a huge no-no in brewing. In fact, chlorine – found in most tap water – will tend to kill yeast. And with dead yeast, you don’t get beer, but merely a strange barley tea. (It should be noted that some brewers – most notably Anchor in San Francisco – will take advantage of particularly good tap water.)

Water can lend certain qualities to a brew. The clean alpine water classically used in most German lager styles will tend to lend a soft, gentle touch to the overall flavors and mouth feel of the beer. On the other hand, certain classic English ale styles (especially those from the Burton-On-Trent area, considered the “cradle of English brewing”), will contain many minerals, and have a distinctive aroma and flavor as a result. Many brewers have even taken to using “Burtonizing” kits – packets of carefully measured mineral additives – to mimic certain English ales more closely.

But largely, brewers at most scales of production will opt for purified spring water.

The effects of a brewer’s water will be very subtle ones. But you can definitely tell when a beer has been made with a bad water source!

Alpine water: courtesy alpconv.org
Alpine water: courtesy alpconv.org

Tom Becham lives in California, he’s a homebrewer and reviews beer, brewpubs, breweries and beer events for professorgoodales.net.