The bedrock below Burton, where the city draws its water is rich in minerals—calcium, magnesium, sulphur—and thus quite hard. Though you don’t specifically taste them in the English pale ales, such as Bass, that made the area famous, the effect they have is unmistakable. The clipped, pronounced edge to the hop bitterness is a direct result of minerally hardness. As is the faint nose of sulphur, which not only adds to the characteristic earthy aroma, but is also a natural stabilizer, a characteristic that made pale ales particularly well-suited for shipping in the nineteenth century.
Plzen, Czech Republic
Plzen’s water is incredibly soft and pure—a result of the metamorphic rocks in the area, which are largely insoluble—making it a virtually unadorned palate for the brewer. It is this water that gave rise to beers like Pilsner Urquell, a lager that adeptly spotlights its four basic ingredients without one dominating. The Saaz hops and pale malts find the perfect balance of spicy bitterness and a certain grassy/floral sweetness, coming together in a light-bodied beer that’s full of flavor.
Ireland’s capital sits on a bed of limestone (calcium carbonate), which on its own isn’t particularly soluble, but because the water that filters through it has some acidity to it, the limestone dissolves to form calcium bicarbonate. Making beer with calcium bicarbonate in the water is tricky business because it upsets the brewing pH. The remedy? Roast the barley very dark, which not only balances the pH in the mash, but gives the characteristic dark color, smoky flavor and caramelized bitterness that typify dry Irish stouts like Guinness.
Munich’s water, like Dublin’s is affected by local limestone deposits, though the source of this calcium carbonate—the Alps—is considerably more dramatic than its Irish counterpart. And like Dublin, the city’s known for its dark beer, in this case a lager, known as a dunkel (which means “dark” in German). Full-bodied dunkels, like Ayinger Altbairisch, are made with dark-roasted malts, which naturally dominate both the aroma and flavor, with the sweetness and bitterness—think caramel and molasses—carefully balancing each other.
The pale lager produced in Dortmund may well have tasted similar to those made in Plzen—that was the intent—were it not for the higher sulphate and calcium carbonate in the local water. The result, as typified in DAB Export, is a pronounced hop sharpness and a slight rounded sulphur taste.