What do the human body and beer have in common? They are both 90 percent water. Water is essential to life and every step of the brewing process. It is necessary in the mashing, sparging, boiling, cooling and sanitation that go into brewing beer. Characteristics such as pH and mineral content are critical to beer quality and taste. High levels of calcium are perfect for pale ales, while soft water is better for pilsners. Chemical composition aside, breweries could not produce good quality beer without a plentiful source of good quality water. Since 6.3 billion gallons of beer were consumed in the U.S. in 2011 alone, the demand for good water is high.
Today's breweries often try to mimic the water found in European regions known for beer brewing by changing the chemical composition of their local water. Breweries obtain mineral and pH levels from municipal water facilities to determine the additives needed prior to brewing. This ensures proper and predictable fermentation.
Breweries do not settle in areas where water is bad. Bad water elevates a brewery's cost due to treatment costs that are incurred. To avoid these unnecessary costs, breweries prefer to do business in areas with an abundant source of good quality water. Craft Breweries Unite for Clean Water
The U.S. has the finest water anywhere in the world. A total of 117 million Americans get their drinking water from public water systems which are supplied by headwater and non-perennial streams. In other parts of the world, five times the U.S. population does not have clean water to drink. Many people walk up to five miles for drinking water. Clean water proponents believe this makes our nation's watersheds an irreplaceable resource that needs protection.
As many as 20 U.S. craft breweries recently joined forces with the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) in the Brewers for Clean Water
initiative. This alliance is calling on the federal government to protect the U.S. Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1972. NRDC officials claim small streams and wetlands have been vulnerable to pollution and destruction in recent years. Federal guidelines drafted in 2011 could restore protection to those watersheds. Action on these guidelines has stalled in Washington. NRDC Water Program Senior Policy Analyst Karen Hobbs says the breweries are adamant about protecting our watersheds. "They need their number one ingredient protected to maintain their business and slake the American thirst for tasty brews," explains Hobbs. "You can't keep our biggest sources of water and beer clean if polluters are allowed to dump into the streams and wetlands that our larger waterways depend on." Arcadia Brewing Company
of Battle Creek, Michigan is one of the brewers that joined this initiative. According to Jim Brown, Brewmaster with Arcadia, good beer is simply impossible without good water. "Being the largest ingredient in the finished product, you need good water to make good beer," explains Brown. Location is Key
Michigan is home to some prominent craft breweries in the U.S. Two of them, Bells Brewing and Founders Brewing in West Michigan have received national awards. Brown credits good and plentiful water naturally found in Michigan for that success.
"A location close to natural sources for water definitely has an advantage," says Brown. "Although water can be filtered and stripped of other chemicals and then made to resemble great brewing water, a natural source is still the best. Being surrounded by the Great Lakes makes Michigan an ideal location and truly the 'Great Beer State'."
Perrin Brewing is a relatively new micro-brewery near Grand Rapids, Michigan that owes their success to good local water in an area serviced by North Kent Sewer Authority, a Mission Communications customer. "Grand Rapids has become a great area for craft brewing and takes pride in calling itself Beer City," says Larry Campbell, Director of North Kent Sewer Authority. Reducing the Water Footprint
Water scarcity is a concern for many breweries in the United States. Local breweries in western states actively practice water conservation due to drought conditions. Full Sail Brewing
in Hood River, Oregon is a top tier U.S. brewery with one of the lowest water use to beer brewing ratios. Full Sail achieved a savings-per-brew of over 800 gallons in 2012. That amounts to over one million gallons of water annually. Innovative brewing and conservation technology made this a reality. Full Sail averages two and a half gallons of water for every gallon of beer brewed. Many breweries average six to ten gallons for every gallon of beer.
Jamie Emmerson, Executive Brewmaster with Full Sail said conservation and environmental stewardship have always been their philosophy. They evaluated brew house sizing very early, installing fewer large brewing vessels, instead of many small ones. Cleaning can consume up to 300 gallons of water explains Emmerson. "We don't brew a lot of flavors - six at any given time, as opposed to running thirty or forty flavors," says Emerson. "When you have a lot of flavors, you have smaller tanks, which means that you have more to clean."Proactive Measures are Brewing
Water conservancy and water protection are fast becoming an active initiative among breweries worldwide. Conservancy is essential since a large brewery can consume up to 30 percent of a municipal water supply. Brewery efforts vary from conservation to active stewardship. SweetWater Brewing of Atlanta is actively committed to protecting rivers with its "Save the Hooch" campaign. Over $150,000 has been raised by SweetWater Brewing to support the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper's water quality and river patrol programs. The brewery also promotes a special brew, Waterkeeper Hefeweizen to raise awareness and funds for the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. Breweries nationwide are joining forces to not only produce good beer, but to protect our most precious resource - water.