In honor of Whatcom Water Week, we thought we’d take a closer look at water in the brewing process. Because, you know, some of us tend to use water as an excuse to drink more. Beer is just about 95% water*, and it’s healthy to stay hydrated. Right?
We’re fortunate to have the water that we have in Bellingham. Stones Throw takes its water for the brewing process from the City of Bellingham, which is sourced from Lake Whatcom. What makes the water from Lake Whatcom so great for brewing is the concept of manipulation. When you brew, you are constantly manipulating the makeup of the water, and some water is easier to manipulate than others. Different towns and sources have different “water identities” that can be mimicked in their respective breweries. So, because Lake Whatcom’s water can be manipulated so well, it allows all these great breweries in Bellingham to tweak it to their specific liking. No doubt you’ve noticed each brewery in town pulls water from the same lake but has its own style and taste - this is partly because each brewery can mold the water to best fit their specific approach to beer.
To steal a line from Olympia Beer: It's The Water.
Here at Stones Throw, each batch that we brew is 210 gallons of beer. Every batch that we brew takes roughly 400 gallons to produce said delicious beer. And that’s not including the cleaning process. So really, we love that it's the water.
To begin the process, we bring about 300 gallons of water into the hot liquor tank, which is heated to 185 degrees fahrenheit. The water sits in the tank for a day or two in order to off-gas the chlorine, and is then treated with calcium chloride and calcium sulfate. These basically buffer the composition of the water for the optimum sugar extraction.
The 185 degree water is then added to the mash tun with the grain and calcium and mixed thoroughly. Depending on the specific recipe, you steep all this together at a specific temperature. This creates the sugar-water called wort.
The wort is then transferred to the kettle, draining the liquid out of the grain at the bottom while simultaneously adding more liquid into the grain from the top. Essentially, the grain is being rinsed in a process called sparging. When either the kettle’s volume is reached, or the specific amount of water is reached, then you have the water which will be used for brewing!
The tricky part in the brewing process is managing the rate at which you use the water, and keeping it at the desired temperature. If you sparge too much or too little, it will alter the beer. While there are many ways to alter and craft the beer, the calcium chloride can help accentuate the malt profile in beer, and the amount of sulfate can help accentuate the hop bitterness.
In the brewing process, we use water in order to cool down the brew and collect it in the hop tank. The brewery is actually designed on a slope so that all the water follows gravity to a single drain line and helps us conserve and reuse more water, and reduces our water usage.
Of course, there are entire books written (not so simply) about water in the brewing process. But this is the general picture of Stones Throw’s relationship with water as we brew the beer. Thanks, water, for helping us craft our favorite beverage!
*Beer is not “just about 95% water.” That is just the author’s lame joke to make himself feel better about constantly “hydrating.” But don’t rain on his parade.