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Beer! Why Water Quality Matters

29 Oct 2022 2:25 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

Making my rounds through the Great American Beer Festival and the “Water Nerd” in my head kept thinking about all the different water sources, water quality, and lab testing that occurs to make all these great tasting beers happen. Thinking about all the different lab parameters and analytes that affect the taste and quality of beer. That’s when I figured it would be a great topic for the RMWQAA blog.

The City of Northglenn is also preparing to welcome a large-scale brewery into town called Prost Brewing Company. So, it’s also a great time to catch up on all the parameters that make beer taste refreshing, without ignoring the pretreatment side of brewing (i.e., waste) to prepare for the possible additional loading to the wastewater plant.

First off, in order to make beer that tastes great and get through the whole brewing process, it is good to know a variety of different elements and ranges of the source water that the brewery will be working with. Throughout the brewing process multiple parameters should be monitored. And different parameters actually affect the different styles of beer, from IPAs to darker beers.

A great start for any new or current brewery is to supply the Consumer Confidence Report and collaborate on any other parameters of interest that might affect the brewing process.

When beer begins the brewing process, the first step is mashing, which requires a certain pH range. Mashing is when hot water steeps the barley to prepare it for the fermentation process. There’s a pH sweet spot, between 5.2 and 5.6, where the enzymes work most efficiently. Obviously as water providers we cannot provide water that low in pH but providing brewers a constant range of pH in the distribution will help ease the beginning process.

As a brewery, they generally want to see total alkalinity less than 100 ppm and preferably less than 50 ppm. Total hardness, is preferred around 150 ppm as calcium carbonate or greater.

The two most important anions to monitor are sulfate and chloride. Sulfate brings out hops bitterness, while chloride tends to emphasize malt and sweetness. If levels get too high, the beer will pick up harsh, minerally off-flavors or worse. A good rule of thumb is to keep sulfates lower than 400 ppm and chloride lower than 200 ppm.

Another key cation in brewing is calcium which is preferred between 50 mg/L to 150 mg/L. Aside from its role in acidifying a mash, calcium helps yeast settle out, contributing to clarity and flavor stability. There are other major ions, such as sodium, magnesium, and carbonate, but they play a lesser role.

Higher iron and manganese concentrations will obviously result in taste and clarity issues. Iron and manganese begin to cause taste issues and interfere with brewing at levels above 0.05 mg/L.

Now, to the wastewater side of the brewing process.

Like any large contributor to the collection system, it’s always a great idea to monitor what is being flushed into the system. Brewery waste can consist of extremely large amounts of BOD and nutrients. Implementing local limits on the industry will help control the wastewater influent concentrations and prevent slug loads.

We were lucky enough to tour the New Belgium Brewery Wastewater Plant where they had an efficient system to bring loading down from 5,000 mg/L of BOD to roughly 5 mg/L. I’m sure Ft. Collins greatly appreciates the treatment of such a high loading.

So next time you crack a cold one, think of all the water quality and testing it takes to make it taste refreshing.

John Winterton is the Laboratory Supervisor for the City of Northglenn. He’s been working with Northglenn for over 6 years in water and wastewater treatment and water quality.

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