One of the key ingredients in beer is water. It makes up 95% of the finished product. The attributes of the water vastly affect the beer styles, for example, soft water is ideal for lagers whilst hard water is perfect for a porter or a stout.

It might seem too simple to think about – water is water, right? Wrong. The quality of the water varies greatly across the UK. As you can see from the map below, if you are drinking tap water from a tap in London, chances are (unless you have a filtration system) that you are getting hard water in your glass.

And that’s exactly where breweries get their water from, straight from the tap – it’s a commodity that is used in such large quantities that up to 60% of breweries in the UK will have their own private supply of water in the form of a ‘borehole’ which provides access to a local aquafer.

So what does this mean for your beer? It’s a well-known fact that Burton on Trent is the home of the ale. The mineral content and quality of the water from the area was used as a benchmark for ale production across the country, and the technique used to recreate the waters’ properties was called ‘Burtonisation’.

Hard water is high in sulphates and calcium, and a moderate amount of chlorates - they soak up the flavours of the malts and hops, and create a bitter flavour when boiled. Brewers found that they could create wonderfully aromatic beers when combined with ale yeast and a variety of malts and hops, thus is perfect for ales. Ales that have rich and full-bodied flavours pair beautifully with foods that have equally rich and complementary/contrasting tasting notes.

Lagers are a different animal, delicate flavours of lagers, pilsners and kölschs can easily be overwhelmed by hard water and it's high mineral content. Soft water is naturally low in minerals and chlorates, which allows the delicate flavours of the pale and crystal malts and the light hopping to be more noticeable. Delicate lagers with high carbonation are great at cutting through fatty and light dishes without overwhelming the food.

Water is also a key part of the brewing process as well. Ensuring the tanks are cleaned and cooled ready for the next batch.


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