H2O Radio
Beer—Location, Location, Location?
Water is an essential part of beer. It not only determines the flavor, but also supports the fermentation process which turns barley and hops into alcohol. Just over one hundred years ago, brewers had to situate their facilities where there was good, reliable water. Now thanks to municipal water systems, beer makers can locate anywhere they want—from their garage to a shopping mall.

Jamie: Beer is a product made of water. About 95% water, actually, so being situated next to a high quality water source would be crucial to making good beer. Slogans certainly told us so; Coors said, "Cold brewed with pure Rocky Mountain spring water." Olympia touted “It’s the Water,” referring to their famed artesian wells in Tumwater, Washington. And who could forget the Hamm’s jingle....

[ Sound Clip ] “From the Land of Sky Blue Waters, comes the water best for brewing.... The beer that’s brewed with water best for brewing. Tastes best, refreshes you best. Glass after glass after glass. That’s Hamm’s, the one great beer for those who want another."

Jamie: Like Theo Hamm who crafted beer from an artesian well in St. Paul, Minnesota, early American brewers located their facilities near good water. Following in the footsteps of their European predecessors and going back to ancient Sumeria, brewers created pilsners, lagers and ales—all styles that were developed using the mineral content of water unique to each location.

Dave Carpenter: Different beer styles will historically have different mineral profiles to accentuate different aspects of the beer.

Jamie: That’s Dave Carpenter. He’s a home brewer in Ft. Collins, Colorado and a contributor to Zymurgy magazine a journal about home brewing. He’s walking us through the history of the various styles of beer and how connected they were to their source. Now thanks to modern water systems a brewer can locate anywhere they want—the water comes to them. Consequently your favorite beer might have been brewed in a garage, in an office park or a themed restaurant. It’s what they do with that water supply that distinguishes one brand from another.

Dave: The soft water in Pilsen, Czech Republic really lends itself to brewing a beer that’s highly hopped without tasting like it’s highly hopped. Sort of the extreme opposite end of the scale, well really two opposite ends—one would be Dublin a very hard water supply and by using a very generous amount of roasted barley you can actually brew with that kind of water so you have Irish Stout. The other being Burton-on-Trent, England where the Burton IPA was originally developed. And British brewers later created a procedure called "Burtonisation," where they would take their own water and add minerals to try to get a water profile so that they could make what was being made in Burton. But it took them a while to figure that out.

beerJamie: So brewing here in your garage in Ft. Collins can you try to mimic beers from all around the world?

Dave: I can. We are fairly lucky here with the water source we have. It’s reasonably soft. It’s not as soft as Pilsen but it's soft enough so you can achieve almost any sort of profile. Some brewers who live in areas that have hard water will actually buy reverse osmosis water or buy a system to create that and then build their own water from the ground up.

Jamie: One of those brewers who contends with hard water is Kevin Selvy of Crazy Mountain Brewery in Edwards, Colorado. Despite his location on the Eagle River at the source of some of the most pristine water in the world—and a source that supplies seven western states with their drinking water, Kevin’s biggest challenge in brewing beer is, in fact, the water.

                                    Kevin Selvy: The way we manage our water up here really came out of necessity rather than anything else. Much of the water that is produced out of the Rocky Mountains starts really here so it is very mineral rich and a very, very hard water which in and of itself does not make it impossible to brew with, but it does make it challenging. The county we are in has one of the most complex water recovery systems anywhere in the country. They draw their source water from a multitude of sources, and as the conditions change as they do in the Rockies often whether it is in the winter or the spring especially... maybe a truck goes off the highway and spills into the river and they have to within seconds have to stop drawing water for health or safety reasons from the river and change it over to another source. They do that very quickly. And so what that means is if we were getting water from one source and all of a sudden it changes to another source the mineral profile that is in that water changes. And so all of a sudden we go from one water profile we are making beer with to a completely different water profile. So what we had to do to deal with that is that we set up a series of filters and the last of which is a reverse osmosis machine. What that does is strips everything out of the water, everything from chlorine to minerals. It gives us kind of a blank canvas to work with.

Jamie: Today’s brewers are artists creating compositions of minerals, barley, hops and water. Modern water systems have given them a freedom of expression that their predecessors didn’t have. Crazy Mountain Brewery’s motto is: "Making the world a happier place one beer at a time." That certainly is a lot easier now than it was for Theo Hamm who was tied to the "Land of Sky Blue Waters." 💧

A "Crazy" Idea

When Kevin Selvy wanted to open a brewery in the Vail valley he decided to check in with some of his colleagues and mentors to get their opinion. They were less than supportive. “It can’t be done,” they said. “Go down to Denver....”

Well luckily he didn’t heed their advice. Crazy Mountain has become an internationally recognized brand and a brewery that has turned obstacles into opportunity. Kevin explains how having a father who builds water treatment plants affected his thinking about beer's main ingredient.

Listen to the interview >>

Crazy Mountain Brewery is located in Edwards, Colorado.



Crazy Mountain Brewery

Eagle River Water & Sanitation District

Dave Carpenter


Photo credit (masthead): Matthew Peoples/Creative Commons

Journalism About Water and the Environment
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