Water is the Most Crucial, Most Overlooked Beer Ingredient

Beer waterfall illustration
Illustration by Rebecca Bradley

Without water, there is no beer. Depending on its style, beer is upwards of 95% water. And water is vitally important to keep brewing equipment sanitary.

Yet, a beer’s water is often overshadowed by other ingredients. Beer drinkers can name hop varietals or identify certain strains of yeast as they sip, but many have no idea where their favorite brewery sources its water.

Several breweries and charitable organizations aim to bring water to the forefront through support of related causes, treatment and/or recycling wastewater and the launch of special-edition beers. Their efforts support the future of the industry and planet.

Symposiums like the Great Lakes Water Conservation Conference aim to highlight the importance of Midwestern water supply, as do special-release beers like the Laurentian Series from Speciation Artisan Ales in Michigan. Each beer in that series is brewed at one of the Great Lakes and then cooled on site to spark spontaneous fermentation. Proceeds from the beers support preservation charities.

Producers Working Toward a Greener Tomorrow

SweetWater’s Freddy Bensch named the brewery after a creek in Atlanta 23 years ago. Water remains central to the brewery’s ethos, says company spokesperson Tucker Berta Sarkisian.

“You’ll see our passion for water and protecting the great outdoors reflected on the products,” she says. “Our Guide Beer cans give 11% of profits to environmental projects such as waterway clean ups, dam removal, habitat restoration.”

Last summer, SweetWater partnered with Costa Sunglasses on “Kick Plastic Pilsner,” which provided funds and advocacy to eliminate single-use plastic as well as remove it from waterways.

In addition, as breweries add stainless steel fermenters, centrifuges and more comfortable barstools, they are also installing effluent systems to treat water used in the cleaning or brewing process before it’s deposited into municipal sewer systems.

Treated wastewater gets a second life in beers. In 2016, a half-dozen Boston-area breweries, including Idle Hands Craft Ales and Harpoon Brewery, worked with a local environmental firm to brew beer with water reclaimed from the Charles River.

Last November, One Water Brewing Showcase, billed as the world’s first festival of beers made with recycled water, debuted in Arizona. It was part of Canal Convergence, a Scottsdale event that focuses on art, education, and sustainability. Eleven area breweries created 10 beers that used water from the treatment plant at the Scottsdale Water Campus, one of the world’s largest water recycling facilities.

One of those beers was Hydrolager, a dry-hopped American light lager by Wren House Brewing in Phoenix. At 3.9% alcohol by volume (abv), it’s an easy-drinking, slightly citrusy and floral lager with a touch of wheat, and zero indication that the water was previously used.

“When you taste it, you’d never know where the water came from, and that’s the point,” says Head Brewer Preston Thoeny.

What Beer Should You Drink Based on Your Wine Preference?

Meanwhile, Brewgooder, a Scotland-based charity, gathered more than 250 breweries from around the world to create special beers for World Water Day, March 22, and donates 100% of profits to clean water causes. This year, proceeds from the Brewgooder Global Gathering went to more than 130 projects in Malawi.

“There are far too many people in developing countries who have their ambitions, dreams and potential limited by lack of access to a safe source of water,” says Alan Mahon, founder of Brewgooder. “By providing clean, accessible water, we can help kids grow up healthier, stay in school longer and build better lives.”

The project hoped to raise more than £250,000 (approximately $330,000). Mahon declined to provide a figure on how much has been collected thus far, but says that fundraising continues.

“The campaign was supposed to happen at the same time as the U.K. and other countries went into lockdown, so it was a huge blow to the campaign,” says Mahon. Undeterred, he continues to champion the importance of water to beer.

“We will come back stronger and bigger later in the year, and in 2021.”

Published on April 21, 2020
Topics: Beer