What’s the Most Essential Ingredient in Beer?
Water. The answer is Water.
Hops get all the glory. Sure, malted grain is a central character. Adjuncts make our tastebuds explode, and beer wouldn’t be beer without yeast. But like a film director behind the camera, a frenzied rock drummer, or a steady placekicker, there is an unheralded MVP of the suds we love: water.
Beer, like our bodies and like the surface of the earth, is mostly water. Roughly 90% of a beer’s makeup is water, and any brewer will tell you that a quality H2O source is an essential starting point for brewing a good beer.
In Maine, we’ve got the best. We’ll get into that.
So, why is water so important to beer? Clean surface water gives brewers a trustworthy base to achieve pinpoint pH accuracy. That’s really important. Without pristine water, brewers wouldn’t be able to reach ideal sulfate-chloride ratios and cut out off-flavors that contaminated liquid can bring in (like chlorine).
Think of water as both the canvas and the paints on the palette. There simply is no masterpiece without it.
At Shipyard, we (and all of our other Portland-area brewery friends) are fortunate to draw our water source from Sebago Lake and the Sebago Lake Watershed. Sebago isn’t just a beautiful setting full of recreational opportunities like sailing, fishing, and swimming—it also has some of the highest quality water in North America. And we all benefit from it, both in our drinking water and in our pint glasses.
OK, so you may be asking: what’s a watershed, and what does it have to do with my pint of APA? Happy to help!
A watershed is a land area that collects rain and snowmelt and channels it to creeks, streams, and rivers. Those sources in turn funnel that water to an outflow point like a lake or ocean. In the case of the Sebago Lake Watershed, all of that water is carried through the surrounding natural landscape and dumped into, you guessed it, Sebago Lake. And it’s from there that Portland and the surrounding area draw its water for all kinds of uses, including drinking and brewing.
Not all watersheds are created equal. Fortunately for us here in Maine, the dense forests that surround Sebago act as a natural filter for the water that feeds into the lake, resulting in a water source that is free of minerals and contaminants. And Sebago Lake itself is massive, nearly 300 feet deep in some areas and covering 45 square miles, giving us huge amounts of pristine liquid to serve all of southern Maine.
So, the watershed feeds Sebago, and Sebago feeds us.
We’re lucky to have such a high-quality water source, not just for brewing, but for serving our communities. But luck alone won’t keep it that way. We’ve got to stay vigilant and protect our resources.
Maine brewers wanted to do just that in an official capacity. The Maine Brewshed Alliance is a coalition of local craft brewers and the Natural Resources Council of Maine collectively working to bring awareness to the need to protect our water resources. The Alliance is doing important work protecting Maine water for all the reasons it deserves protection, not the least of which are the spectacular beers we get to consume locally. Visit the MBA’s website for more details! We are honored to be a part of this group.
Next time you crack open a Shipyard American Pale Ale, and Allagash White, or a Maine Brewing Lunch, or any of southern Maine’s fantastic offerings, think of the water. Think of the water, and thank the water.