GUEST POST :: Craft Brewing’s Secret Sauce: it’s brewing water

by admin on October 17, 2014

by Jaime Jurado

Jaimi Jurado

Jaimi Jurado

Ed: Contributor Jaime Jurado is Director of Brewing Operations at Abita Brewing Co.
We’ve asked Mr. Jurado to contribute based on his vast knowledge and  insights into
the making of beer and the industry. Your Beer Network receives no money or incentives
from Abita, and are grateful for Mr. Jurato’s contributions.

When you visit breweries, ask for a taste of the water used to make the beer. It’s no different
from asking for a taste of the base malt used in the company’s brews in that it lends a little
character of what makes the beer. You’ll enjoy the experience as you next appreciate the fresh
beers.

What makes Abita beer special is the water of our brewery wells, from where it’s brewed. We
enjoy a proliferation of local springs and the centuries’ old tradition of pristine water here.
Abita Springs was treasured by the Choctaw. It’s easy to appreciate our local history of the
purity and beauty of our water when you visit….starting at the bronze Abita Princess statue at
the Abita Springs trailhead of the Tammany Trace, and end at the brewery visitor center. The
statue captures the Choctaw maiden poised to drink from the bubbling spring. The reputation
of the waters had spread and the Choctaws settled near-by so that the princess could drink
from the spring and be healed. The Choctaw named their settlement Abetab Okla Chitto which
means ‘large settlement near the fountain ’and later settlers followed and anglicized the name
to ‘Abita’. We don’t add or remove anything from our well water. We put it through a simple
stainless steel filter to remove any tiny pebbles, and that’s all.

It’s the character of a brewery’s water source that is particularly important to the beers it
produces. Water also affects the perceived bitterness and hop utilization of finished beer. It adds
flavor directly to the beer itself – as water is the largest single component in finished beer, and it
provides micronutrients as it dissolves the milled malts and takes the ‘mash’ through temperature
rests we brewers dictate. The effect of brewing water on beer can be characterized by six main
water ions: Carbonate, Sodium, Chloride, Sulfate, Calcium and Magnesium. But this is not the
right place for a technical treatise on brewing water.

If you look at Plzn, Burton-on-Trent and Dublin, you see native waters that are extremely
divergent….with Plzn being truly ‘soft’ and Burton being very ‘hard’ and Dublin being roughly
in between both brewing waters. In the US, one can find close native water approximations:
Portland, OR and Durham, NC are quite close to what Plzn offers. Shiner, TX reminds me of
what Dublin offers. I don’t really know of any local American brewing waters that are close
to Burton…even in Europe the closest might be Vienna…yet even that falls short with sulfates.
Adding calcium carbonate or calcium chloride to get water with key parameters close to Burton-
on-Trent is called, “Burtonizing” and there are distinct attributes that such brews have.

IMG_3107Throughout the history of American brewing, breweries respond to pressures we experience,
and now from our local sources of water. We have states in the midst of extended droughts, and
breweries within these areas work with a laser-focus to reduce the amount of water consumed
to make a barrel of beer. Breweries relying on city-supplied tap water invest in activated carbon
and other treatment to remove chlorine compounds used in civic water distribution in order to
provide bacteria-free drinking water. Breweries with their own wells, a minority by all accounts,
take care and prudence to get samples analyzed and scrutinize the data to know what’s in their
wells.

Beer in the future, in some places, may have to integrate aggressive policies such as using
reverse osmosis to purify brackish waters. While I know of no brewery actively pursing the
utilization of what is described in the recent link, the exploration and publicity comes as little
surprise:

http://www.opb.org/news/article/purified-sewer-water-is-the-secret-ingredient-in-hillsboro-homebrew-competition/

The comprehensive water footprint of making beer starts at the water used growing of its raw
materials, grains such as barley and wheat, and hops. Our farmers are working increasingly at
quantifying and optimizing water consumption in crops which may augment natural rains.

With all the attention that hops and malt enjoy, it’s always good to remember that water is the
 heart of beer.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

carol westbrook October 17, 2014 at 10:22 pm

You are so right, Jaime! Such a big deal is made about water for bourbon and scotch, so why do we hop heads ignore water as a major ingredient of beer? Water is the soul of terroir.

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