Business

Good Beer? It’s in the Water

By Christina Catanese

If you’re a beer drinker, when you crack open a cold bottle or sip a freshly poured draft beer, the first thing you think about probably isn’t the quality of the water that was used to create your brew.  You probably notice the color, the aroma, the head, the flavor, the hops, the malt…but what of the water?

Photo Courtesy of the CDC

Photo Courtesy of the CDC

When I was in grad school, I worked at a microbrewery for some extra cash, and it changed what I thought I knew about beer.  I became familiar with the process of making beer: from malting, to mashing, to lautering, to boiling, to fermenting, to conditioning, and to filtering.  At each point in the process, water plays a key role, and it can make up over 95% of the finished product poured into your pint.

I had a lot of discussions with our brewer about how much the source water quality affects the brewing process and product.  There’s the obvious impact of the flavor of the water used in the brewing process, but the chemistry of the water can alter the process itself.

He described how yeast convert sugars into alcohol to ferment the beer, and how changes in water chemistry impact the activity of the yeast.  The chlorine that is added to most municipal drinking water to eliminate harmful bacteria can impact the flavor and aroma of beer, but the presence of bacteria can spoil a batch of beer.

I learned that the pH of the water also affects the sugar composition, which in turn affects how strong the beer will be.  Like hoppy beers?  Harder water brings out the hops’ flavor.  Softer water can result in milder flavored beers, so some brewers add water hardeners during the brewing process to amp up the hops and flavor.

Something as simple as a change in the treatment process at the local drinking water plant can have an impact.  So, too, can a new upstream pollution source or change in the health of the source water body.

You might wonder why breweries don’t just purify their water to start with some H2O that is as neutral as possible to start with.  But the thing is, what’s in the water is what makes the process work, and what makes gives each beer a unique regional character.  Overly purifying water through filtering or other methods takes everything out of the water, even the things a brewer wants to be there.

The brewery I worked at also strived to be a sustainable operation – the spent grains from the brewing process were picked up by a farmer to be used for livestock feed.  A few times, our brewer even asked me if he could borrow my hydrology and soils text books so he could have a better knowledge of how the health of the environment would affect the beer he made.

Throughout the history of beer making, brewers have been careful to site their breweries in the places with the highest quality water, and the health of a brewery’s home watershed is of prime importance to their brewers.

To recognize the connection of good beer with good water, the Schuylkill Action Network has partnered with brewers in the watershed to develop a special brew that pays tribute to its source water.

 

 

Have you ever thought about how water quality affects your happy hour?  What other unexpected ways does water impact our lives?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Power of Partnership

Hewan Tomlinson

Hewan Tomlinson

Hewan Tomlinson

Photo courtesy of Bernie Gardella, Boston Ballet Company

By: Hewan Tomlinson

Before I worked in energy efficiency, I was a ballet dancer. Like most young dancers, I wanted to have the stage all to myself. I admit I was not all that interested in partnership, unless by that you meant the poor guy standing behind me in the shadows doing the heavy lifting and making everything I did look effortless.

So, I was surprised to find that most of my favorite pieces—to dance and to watch—were the big ensembles. Don’t get me wrong: all any of us wanted was the chance to be alone in the limelight as much as possible! But when we all came together on stage, as partners, we became more than the sum of our parts. We could take an audience of thousands outside their day-to-day lives for a moment, bring them to their feet together, and send them home with an extra spring in their step.

I think ENERGY STAR is like this: our partners strive to be (and are) industry leaders, and they spend a lot of time and effort to get to stand alone up there at the top. But just like dancers, when they come together, they are able to make a great impact. ENERGY STAR partners move in an elaborate dance, bridging many different sectors of the economy. Their collaboration and competition spurs innovation, drives energy efficiency, and helps protect the environment for future generations.

Sure that sounds dramatic, but here are a few facts to back it up:

  • Since its inception in 1992, ENERGY STAR has grown to represent products in more than 65 different categories, with more than 5 billion sold over the past 20 years.
  • Over 1.3 million new homes and tens of thousands of facilities proudly carry EPA’s ENERGY STAR certification, use dramatically less energy, and are responsible for substantially less greenhouse gas emissions than their peers.
  • Families and companies across America are improving the energy efficiency of their homes and businesses with the help of ENERGY STAR in ways that cost less and help the environment.  They have saved nearly $230 billion on utility bills and prevented more than 1.7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the past two decades.

Nearly 20,000 ENERGY STAR partners worked together to make this happen during the first two decades of ENERGY STAR, and they are poised to accomplish even more in the future. If they were dancers on a stage, they would be getting a huge standing ovation right about now.

Bravo! That’s one powerful partnership!

Hewan Tomlinson has over 15 years of experience in the energy efficiency and environmental sector. She serves at EPA as a liaison to energy efficiency program sponsors, supporting their ENERGY STAR partnerships, and their collaboration with industry to advance the market for energy efficient technologies and practices. Much earlier, Hewan danced with the Boston Ballet.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.