Many brewers and lovers of beer love to muse over the ingredients. We ponder on the flavor profile of our favorite beers.
We discuss the hop varieties and strains of yeast, how they balance, and how they don't. This has only increased as craft brews have soared, giving us more opportunities to ponder what's in our favorite drinks.
But, the real key ingredient in beer, which is often overlooked and scarcely merits a mention, let alone a long satisfied ‘mmm' as we take our first, second, or 17th sip, is water. So, the question arises: "What is the main ingredient in beer?"
Water is the most crucial ingredient in beer. The best water for brewing beer is also the cleanest. So how much water is in beer, and what role does it play? Read on to find out more — we are going to break it down for you.
How Much Water Is in Beer?
Brewing uses water very intensively. Many overlook the fact that H20 is the main ingredient in beer (sounds obvious, right?). So, the question arises: "What percentage of beer is water?" It usually makes up between 90% and 95% of the contents, depending on the style of beer.
But much more water plays into the brewing process than goes into a finished beer. The average brewhouse uses seven gallons of water to produce one gallon of beer, but the ratio can be much worse at less efficient sites.
One study found it can take up to 300 liters (79.25 gallons) to make just one liter (0.26 gallons) of beer. So how much water is actually in beer, and how much is used during processing?
Most of it is used during regular brewery tasks, like sanitation. A small percentage goes in the bottle. In total, more H20 evaporates or gets discarded than goes into your beer.
Who Has The Best Water For Brewing Beer?
Water is, in large part, the reason why certain countries have reputations for their brews. Irish stouts, German lagers, and Czech Pilsners: these beers are such prominent products because of each place's water content.
The compounds in each react to create a different flavor profile and lend themselves to different kinds of ales.
Many breweries will test and even filter their water supply to ensure it suits their product. How much water is in beer from each region is determined locally.
Even subtle differences in the source can affect the final product — something brewers need to avoid. When a beer maker wants a brewery to produce some of their product, water is one of the main talking points.
So, how does water affect beer?
The Chemistry of Brewing
At base, there are three main ways that water affects our favorite drink.
- First, the water's nature will determine what the wort tastes like, and therefore how the beer tastes. Wort is the liquid produced by the mashing process in beer and whisky.
- The pH levels can affect the beer's bitterness, which is why master brewers are so selective about the H20 they use for their brews.
- Third, any foreign compounds can negatively affect the ale's taste. Indeed, contaminants or chlorine can result in an off-taste. For this reason, many brewers will never use tap water in their production process for fear of the compounds that may have ended up there.
There are five ions present in H20 that you do want: Sodium, Magnesium, Calcium, Sulfate, and Chloride. These ions tend to affect your beer positively, so brewers must understand the role they play.
Exactly how much the ions in water that are used in beer affect the final taste is difficult to predict.
Other compounds present that may play a role, too, such as trace amounts of microbes, fluoride, and zinc.
Calcium is the most important. It facilitates the mashing process and lowers pH levels by catalyzing phosphates in malted barley. This process enables key enzymes to extract and break up sugars during extraction.
Bicarbonate essentially does the opposite, which means it acts like a handy counterbalance to stop things from becoming too acidic.
Beyond this, the rest of the compounds in water work to affect the beer's flavor profile, each causing subtle differences. So the best water for brewing beer, in most cases, depends on the region.
Getting It Right
As far as quality is concerned, how much water is in beer is less important than what is in that water.
You have worked out by now why water causes regional differences in beer production. Compounds in the actual supply vary from place to place, which in turn plays a large role in influencing which brews come from which location.
Soft water, hard water, mineral water, and everything in between each lend themselves better to different beers. Experienced brewers can adjust how much water is in beer’s wort, and at what point they need to perform corrective action like balancing pH.
Pilsners — the prime beer export of the Czech Republic — need soft water, for instance, or a supply with a relatively low concentration of ions. In Ireland, their supply is rich with minerals that produce stouts — a product of the country's hard water.
Today, when local supply doesn't match up with the beer producers want to make, they try to change the composition of the H20 before using it. Gypsum, baking soda, and even salt enable you to change the pH levels to something more to your — or your ale's — taste.
As a product dependent on yeast and hops and other organic ingredients, modern beer is part technology and part skill. Available climate and ingredients ultimately dictate the best kind of water for brewing beers.
There’s A Lot Of Water In Beer
It is easy to overlook how much water is in beer, but you shouldn't. Water is a valuable resource. If you are considering brewing at home, you may want to test your local water first.
In some areas, you can request a water report from your municipality. In some cases, the quality of your tap water can be improved by the right filter.
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