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Beer Fundamentals – What about water?

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  • March 9, 2020
Allagash Brewing Company

In any beer you’ve ever enjoyed, 85%-95% of it was water. Arguably, water could be the most important ingredient in beer. We not only brew with it, but we clean our brewing system with it, cool our wort with it, and even generate steam for brewing itself. Water is a multi-purpose substance that can’t be taken for granted.

In brewing terminology, water that will go into the beer is known as “liquor.” No, we don’t add alcohol to water before using it, it’s just terminology (albeit confusing). Before it ever touches grain, we make sure that our water is completely ready for brewing. For us, that means testing the water’s pH and mineral composition—to make sure nothing has changed since last we brewed, and nothing adverse has found its way into our water. The ions present in water—like Calcium, Chloride, Magnesium, etc.—actually have an effect on the end result of the beer. Burton-on-Trent, the “Brewing Capital of Britain” is renowned for its mineral-rich well water, and the positive effect it has for the beers brewed there.

Grabbing a water sample from Sebago Lake.

We’re lucky to live next to a pristine surface-water source of our own: Sebago Lake. It’s one of only fifty surface water supplies in America that is so clean it doesn’t even need to be filtered (out of over 10,000 total water sources). And we’re aiming to keep it that way. We’ve actually pledged to donate ten cents for every barrel of beer we brew to Sebago Clean Waters—a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the water quality of Sebago Lake. For reference, we brew around 100,000 barrels of beer (31 gallons per barrel), every year.

So what do these minerals actually do? In the right amounts, Chloride can increase the fullness of a beer on the palate. Sulfate can help give beer a drier finish, making it more refreshing. Calcium has all sorts of benefits for a beer both during brewing and fermentation. Of course there are plenty of minerals that can make a beer smell and taste much less pleasant. The key is finding the right cocktail of minerals in the water you have, or treating the water you have until it does. The best part about our water is that we don’t have to treat it at all. We’re lucky enough to pretty much take water from our tap and (with a slight pH tweak) can start the brewing process.

So next time you drop by Portland, Maine, make sure to get a glassful of tap water to experience one reason why we’re able to brew such delicious beer up here.

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