Light Beer, Light Wine, Light Whisky?
One of the best things I do for myself is to add water to my booze. No, don’t be silly, not to the booze itself: I add it to my booze after I drink that booze. This gives me Light beer, Light wine, Light whiskey, Light sake and Light whatever in my stomach. That way I get the benefits of light beverages without having to undergo the indignity of drinking such swill. I have friends who drink whiskey and water from the same vessel! In my view they are missing something. What good is watered-down whiskey? Water it after you drink it, I say.
I try to match my intake of alcohol beverages with equal volumes of water. I usually have my fill well ahead of getting intoxicated. I heartily recommend this system.
In the long ago days of my misbegotten youth, I habitually shunned water to became intoxicated much sooner than necessary. Getting drunk was frightening and even terrifying on occasion. A hangover for me (except from saké overindulgence) was invariably an attack of malaria, which I contacted during WWII. Chills and fever and remorse were my reward on those sorry occasions. It never occurred to me that I might have prevented those terrible mornings after by the simple expedient of matching my intake of alcohol with ample swigs of water.
I have always swilled my water from the nearest faucet. Today, I consider bottled water the biggest rip-off on the planet; but the way we are managing our water on this planet tells me that bottled water may be lifesaving (for you) at some point a few years down the line.
My last hangover occurred early in 1989, when I visited Munich’s Paulaner Festival not long after the infamous Lockerbie Jet crash at the end of 1988. I had indulged in least three liters of Salvator, their magnificent doppelbock. I was leaving for home the next morning, and I retired in fine spirits. But when I returned to my hotel room I spied the small 6-ounce bottle of red wine I had rescued from the flight over. Red wine is a weakness for me. I needed that wine. I drank it, too. Big mistake. I spent a difficult night to say the least, and the next morning I had to negotiate an exceedingly difficult departure from Munich’s airport, and I had malaria’s tell-tale chills and fever as a bonus. The zig-zag line at the airport terminal was long and arduous. As I went from chills to fever and back again, those Bavarian officials were checking everybody’s everything. I fully expected a strip-search before boarding the plane. I survived, but only barely.
I should have had a hangover on a trip to Japan last year, when I inadvertently overindulged on saké (easy to do) at one of John Gauntner’s wonderful tastings in Tokyo. I needed assistance to get back to my hotel, but no hangover the next morning—that’s the way of saké. Had I been drinking enough water I probably could have avoided overindulgence by being too full of water to drink that much saké. I’ve sworn off hangovers, in case anyone asks. Drinking “light” is the key. But I digress, and that’s Michael Jackson’s job.
Water is the largest ingredient in any beer. Without good water one cannot brew beer. The chemistry of water affects all aspects of the beer making process, but water and its quality varies widely from place to place.
Water used for brewing is usually judged for quality on four characteristics: 1) degree of hardness; 2) chemical constituents (closely related to hardness); 3) organic purity; and 4) bacteriological contamination (related to organic purity). A brewery will use up to nine gallons of water for every gallon of beer produced.
Water for brewing may come from seven different sources: rain, lakes, rivers and streams, springs, wells, artesian wells, and distilled or evaporated water. The deeper that water is taken from the earth, the more chemical contamination it will contain, and the “harder” it will be. Water may be ranked by order of hardness by source from hard to soft: 1) deep (artesian) well water; 2) spring and shallow well water; 3) river and stream water; 4) rain water; and 5) distilled or evaporated water. Water becomes softer in proportion, as exposed to air.
On the other hand, organic purity is greater in water taken deeper and contamination greater in water from the surface. Water sources may be ranked by order of purity: 1) distilled or evaporated water; 2) deep (artesian) well water; 3) spring water; 4) shallow well water; 5) lake water; 6) river and stream water; and 7) rain water. These orders of hardness and purity are based on the assumption that the supply in question is relatively unpolluted.
The purity of city water is usually maintained by chlorination and that is generally low at about 0.3-0.6 ppm (mg/liter) in most cities. One can probably ignore that, adjust by boiling, or allowing it to stand for a few hours to release the chlorine as gas.
The most important characteristic of water, as far as brewing is concerned, is the hardness of the water supply. Water hardness fluctuates, even in the same area, and different reference sources often quote different levels of hardness. Water hardness is caused by non-alkali metallic cations in solution (mostly calcium and magnesium). Hardness is usually stated in ppm, and sometimes in old literature, as grains per gallon. Calcium carbonate (CaCO3) is the measure in the U.S., Canada, the British Commonwealth, and France. Germans use lime (Calcium oxide—CaO). Old American and British brewing texts used grains as a measure, one grain per U.S. gallon is 17.1 ppm; and one grain per Imperial gallon, the British Clark degree, is 14.3 ppm.
To summarize: the hardness of water supplies is usually measured in terms of “ppm as calcium carbonate (CaCO3).” The higher the ppm, the harder the water. Generally water with less than 50ppm is considered “very soft,” 50-150 ppm “soft,” 150-350 ppm “medium,” 350-500 ppm “hard,” and over 500 ppm “very hard.”
The presence of calcium in water brings about certain reactions with the constituents of the ingredients of beer wort, initiating an increase in acidity and a corresponding decrease in pH. This has a beneficial effect on the wort. The presence of bicarbonates (HCO3-) has an opposite effect in this regard. Normally, water has a pH of slightly over 7 (7.1 or so); a higher pH (over 8) would indicate the presence of carbonates and bicarbonates. It can be seen then, that calcium is the most important chemical, with sodium carbonate undesirable.
Good brewing water, then, should be a little hard, low in carbonates and with a modest calcium supply. Carbonates are objectionable because they reduce acidity and affect flocculation. Boiling can usually reduce them; the maximum carbonates desirable is under 20 ppm.
You can find out about your water supply, as I did mine, by calling your local water department. Ask about 1) total hardness, ppm as calcium carbonate, 2) ppm alkalinity as calcium (CaCO3) and magnesium carbonate (MgCO3). The presence of minerals iron (Fe+ over 0.3 ppm), sodium (Na+ over 50 ppm), potassium (K+ over 10 ppm), manganese (Man+ over 0.05 ppm), ammonia (NH4+ over 0.05 ppm), copper (Cu++ over 0.1 ppm), and zinc (Zn++ over 1 ppm) all have a negative effect on the brewing process.
The Character of Water Needed for Beer
Generally speaking, pale lagers can be made with water varying from medium to fairly hard. Dark lagers and ales also want medium water, while strong pale beers such as pale ales or Dortmund lager need hard to very hard water. The most famous water we hear about is from Burton-on-Trent in England, which is used to brew Burton Ale and India pale ales. Burton water is about 1,790 ppm hardness, with about 1,250 ppm salts: 750-850 gypsum (calcium sulfate—CaSO4), 350-400 ppm salt (sodium chloride—NaCl), and 150-200 ppm Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate—MgSO4). Burton water is so famous in this regard, that we often call water treatment formulas “Burton salts,” and the act of adding hardening salts “burtonizing.”
As can be seen, water is a very important ingredient and the slogan “It’s the water” has a certain validity; although in fact, any water can be duplicated anywhere, and frequently is. This is accomplished, in mega-breweries, by de-ionizing the water and then starting from scratch to build the water they want for their beer. Micro- and home brewers usually burtonize their water. If the local water supply is really bad, home brewers, at least, can purchase and use distilled water; but this is an expense microbrewers can not usually afford.
I’ve never visited Burton-on-Trent, but getting a taste of “Dortmund water” is a lot easier said than done in this modern age. Ask for water in that fine city and they will sell you a bottle of refined water (it sounds free, but it will be on your bill). On a visit to that city’s Cronin Brewery, looking to sample that city’s 1,300 ppm water, I had to sneak into the men’s room for a taste, and it tasted just like any other water ,as near as I could tell. Ah, well.
Fred Eckhardt drinks a lot of Portland’s delightfully soft 25 ppm water. He even swims in the stuff. He thinks Portland’s Oregon “Bull Run” water is the best in the land. Maybe it is.