It’s the most important ingredient – by volume – in any brew, but often the least talked about.
You guessed it.
So what better way to bring this ingredient into the spotlight than with a beer crafted around its water source.
The brewers used a device that allowed them to collect and condense the moisture from clouds above Scotland, then they used this water to brew with.
While this beer was most likely created to stir up a bit of publicity and won’t become a part of Innis & Gunn’s core line up anytime soon, it does open up an interesting conversation about the water that’s used to brew beer – an ingredient that’s often overlooked.
Water is one of the four primary ingredients in beer – alongside malt, hops, and yeast – and, historically, had a significant impact on the development of many classic beer styles.
Local water supplies are influenced by local geology.
As water flows through rivers and lakes, it dissolves minerals along way – affecting the hardness of the water, along with the acid-alkaline balance – both of which have an impact on beer’s flavor and the brewing process.
These days, technology enables brewers to change the chemistry of their water supply, either by adding or removing minerals.
But this knowledge wasn’t well understood until the early 1900s. Up until then, brewers had no choice but to use the local water available to them.
Although it may sound like a limitation, it encouraged brewers to brew styles that worked well with their local water – and give rise to some of the most well-loved beer styles around the world.
Hard, alkaline water causes hop bitterness to take on an unpleasant astringent bite. Keep the hop rates low and add in some dark malts though, and you’ve got a winner! Found in cities like Munich and Dublin, the local hard water gave rise to styles like Munich Dunkel (a malty, dark lager) and Irish Stout (hello Guinness).
So what water chemistry is needed to make hops shine? Hoppy beers require either hard, acidic water (often containing the mineral gypsum) or soft water (meaning there is a very low mineral content).
Burton-on-Trent, the birthplace of the English India Pale Ale, is well-known for it’s high gypsum, or high-sulfate, water, making the beer crisp, dry, and very hoppy. (Historically the beer was said to have a slight sulfury whif, but this characteristic isn’t often found in modern interpretations.)
On the other hand, Pilsen’s famously soft water gave rise to, you guessed it, the clean, rounded hop bitterness of Pilsner – a style that’s now famous all over the world.
These days, local water chemistry does not have the influence it used to over beer styles, as brewers anywhere can manipulate the mineral content of the water they brew with to best suit the style.
With today’s technology, a brewer in California could produce a Pilsner-style lager with water as soft as the Czech Republic’s.
I don’t think anyone’s quite learned how to replicate the chemistry of clouds just yet though!
Innis & Gunn say that their Sky.P.A. “was high in minerals that add real flavor through the brewing process, alongside the malts and hops selected.”
Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to try one of the 500 pints of Sky.P.A. that were brewed, but if any of you did, leave us a note in the comments on how it tastes.
Next time you pick up a pint, and feel the weight of the water that’s making up a considerable volume of your beer, I hope you think twice about its influence!
Randy Mosher // Tasting Beer
Beer Judge Certification Program // 2015 Style Guidelines: Beer Style Guidelines
BBC News, “Brewer Innis & Gunn launches cloud beer” (Nov 1, 2016)
NBC News, “Scottish Brewery Innis & Gunn Unveils Beer Made from Cloudwater” (Nov 1, 2016)