Beer Glasses Beer glasses. Photo © isforinsects/Flickr via Creative Commons

Water and Beer: What's the Connection?

Protecting water sources ensures a tasty brew.

Beer: From Source to Tap

Traveling hundreds of miles across all types of landscapes, water makes a long journey before it pours from our taps. And speaking of taps, water is critical to one of our favorite beverages: the beer we drink is 90 percent water.

The Nature Conservancy has worked for decades to protect these landscapes that are the source of our water. And for brewers, this ensures the health and security of their product’s main ingredient.

“I would love to know where our water comes from and that it’s in good hands,” said Paul Mallory, brewer at Black Diamond Brewing Co.

As we researched the topic, we asked Paul to give us his perspective on why water matters to brewers.

Watersheds Shape Beer Flavor

Historically, beers have achieved their signature flavors from a number of factors, but perhaps the most critical is water composition. Brewers know that it's what's in the water that really counts.

Today brewers refine their local water to achieve specific flavor profiles and craft specific styles of beer. By paying attention to and modifying variables like pH and mineral concentrations—which vary with the landscapes of a particular watershed—a brewer can achieve targeted flavor profiles. The flavors associated with an Irish stout, for instance, may have originated in Ireland, but today a brewer anywhere can achieve the same flavor by knowing how to work with water.

Advancements in technology have given rise to new techniques in the craft of brewing—helping to forward the art of brewing sustainably in the process. And the implications are meaningful for both water conservation and the economics of the brewing industry.

Brewing Sustainably

It makes sense for brewers to care about conserving as much water as possible during the brewing process. Not only is beer comprised of 90 percent water, but it actually takes much more water than you might think to produce a single bottle of brew.

On average, breweries use four to five gallons of water for every gallon of beer they produce during the entire process of brewing, bottling and packaging, resulting in a 4:1 or 5:1 ratio of water used and beer produced.

But today it seems industry standards may be changing. Now, some of the more sustainably minded breweries are aiming for a 3:1 ratio between water used and beer produced. According to Paul, there’s a running joke among brewers that when the ratio is less than 1:1, a brewery will have hit its mark.

Of course that’s not actually possible, but the message is a resounding one: sustainability-focused breweries are on the rise, and the trend is spreading. Now that’s something to raise a glass to.


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