Local Beer, Local Ingredients?
Drinking locally made beer has been a key feature of the craft beer movement. But, people often wonder if the ingredients that go into the beer are local to? Sadly the answer is largely, no. Cincinnati area breweries use some locally grown hops, but they can’t make those beers year round. Urban Artifact uses wild local yeast. And sadly, no one grows and kilns enough malt locally, at a reasonable cost, to brew more than a few barrels of beer.
When it comes to local ingredients water is fundamentally different from hops, barley, and yeast. First off, water makes up the majority of beer and is very heavy so shipping it is practically impossible. Second, Ohio brewers are lucky since we have very good ground water. So good that it was a large factor in Miller opening a brewery here.
But the water isn’t the same across the entire area, plus some breweries use ground water while others use city water. That city water can even change depending on how far away from the treatment plant you are. So, I reached out to a few Cincinnati breweries to see how they treat their water.
Please note: Cincinnati city water is perfectly safe to drink. It only needs a few tweaks before being used to make beer.
Blank Slate Opera Cream Stout
Blank Slate uses Cincinnati city water and is very close to the water treatment plant. This means they have slightly higher pH than other local breweries might. They use an addition of phosphoric acid to lower that pH to a level more suitable for brewing beer (this is around 5.2 – 5.5 pH). A balanced amount of calcium sulfate and calcium chloride are then added to boost mash enzyme activity.
That balanced addition gives them a very balanced profile so they use it for all their beers. Owner Scott LaFolette did say they may tweak it if they ever brew a Czech Pilsner.
MadTree Happy Amber
Matt Rowe, MadTree Production Manager, said that all MadTree beers start with the same treatment. Their current location uses well water from a well on site. That water goes through a softening process than a Reverse Osmosis (RO) system to remove 99.9% of dissolved solids. That leaves the water very neutral so they build a custom profile for each brew.
Rhinegeist’s Head Brewer, Jim Matt, says that when mashing in for Truth they use both phosphoric acid and calcium sulfate to hit the perfect pH of 5.4. This is after carbon filtering the Cincinnati city water to remove chlorine.
To compare that to their other beers, malty beers get calcium chloride, lighter colored ones get calcium chloride and phosphoric acid, while darker beers get some calcium carbonate.
It takes years and years for the earth to put those minerals in
and once you take those minerals out, it becomes very difficult to put them back into solution. – Jason Roeper, Rivertown Founder & Fearless Leader
Rivertown chose their Lockland location years ago because of the quality of the water there. That quality allows them to get away with only doing a charcoal filtering to treat the water. I asked specifically what they did for the Lambic and they use the same charcoal filtered water for all their brews. This will continue when they start brewing in Monroe.
This isn’t a huge problem in Ohio, but other parts of the country are experiencing drought issues so it’s important to look at the incredible amount of water used making beer. It’s not just the water that ends up in your pint glass, grain absorbs water, the boil evaporates it away, and keeping those fermenters shiny takes a huge amount.
Rhinegeist uses 7 – 8 barrels (bbls) of water to make a barrel of beer, which is a bit higher than the industry standard.
At MadTree they do not have accurate tracking right now but estimates a ratio of 6:1 water to beer. At MadTree 2.0 they will have systems in place to track and reduce this number.
Rivertown currently uses 3.5 – 4 barrels of water to make 1 barrel of beer. But when they open in Monroe in a few months they’ll use a shocking 1.6 bbls of water per bbl of beer!!
New Locations Mean New Water Sources
Rivertown and MadTree are both in unique situations opening new breweries on different water supplies than where they began.
MadTree may only be moving a few thousand feet, but they’re also moving from well water to city water. The city water will run through a carbon filter, to remove chlorine, followed by an RO filter. Since the city water is softer than their current well water they will not need the extra softening process they use now. The RO water will give them the same neutral starting profile they currently have. MadTree is also moving from a 15-barrel brewhouse to a 100-barrel brewhouse which means a massive increase in water treatment.
Process wise, it just gets bigger as well. Currently we mix salts with water in half gallon pitchers, at the new site we will have a 300 gallon salt addition tank – Matt Rowe, MadTree Production Manager
Rivertown is moving a bit further. The water between Lockland and Monroe is very similar with Monroe having a higher temporary hardness which they will correct by acidifying the water to hit the proper pH. (No, this won’t make their sour beer more sour).
Turning Water Into Wine
Danny Spears, the author of BeerMumbo.com, has created a series of wines at The Listermann Fermatorium. I reached out to him to find out how he treats water before getting biblical and turning it into wine.
It goes through a rigorous process. First I have to open the faucet to open the pathway from Icelandic glaciers. Then it is filtered over 2,000 year old carbon coated Sagalar branches before pouring from an ion enriched faucet.
Jk, it is carbon filtered. Listermann just had a filtration system installed a few years ago.
Brewing Element Series: Water
Reading the book Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers inspired me to write this post. If you’re still curious about the relationship between water and beer then you can order it from Amazon here. Though, you may want to brush up on basic chemistry again, especially if you haven’t thought about chemistry since high school.