The forgotten ingredient in craft beer: water

Hops have become a popular crop with the burgeoning success of the organic craft beer industry in Eastern Ontario. And though hops are an important ingredient, along with grains and yeast, it turns out that the key input and output is water, the “forgotten ingredient”.

Craft breweries such as Beau’s in Vankleek Hill and Flying Monkeys in Barrie have become experts and leaders on water and wastewater practices, understanding that best water in is best water out, thereby creating great beer, and not posing a problem for the environment with poor wastewater.

“No one thinks much about the water, it’s usually about the hops,” says Louis Savard, program leader with RiverLabs, a branch of the St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences. “Water has a huge impact on beer taste and is the only ingredient that makes craft beer truly unique, but the waste needs to be disposed of properly.”

Savard was one of two guest speakers who were presenting on behalf of the Institute’s Science and Nature on Tap speaker series that was originally held at the Cornwall City Library. Karen Cooper is communications officer for the institute and spearheaded the event that she says was a great success, explaining that attendance to the monthly events has doubled since relocating to the pub.

Savard explains to about 50 beer enthusiasts gathered at Schnitzels Tavern in Cornwall April 4th, that brewers can get the same hops, grains and yeast, but that water is the one ingredient that will set a beer above the others. “Cornwall has really good brew water right from the tap,” Savard explains. “Nothing has to be done to it which also makes wastewater disposal easier.”

Savard, a home brewer himself who started out in New Brunswick, says he realized there was a need for small craft breweries to have their water and beer analyzed. “Big companies have their own labs and testing facilities, but the small guys had no way of knowing microbial contamination, actual percentage of alcohol, or what their water profile was.”

He states that wastewater is anything that enters the municipal system and every treatment plant has it’s own criteria as to what’s allowed in. Many craft breweries, including Beau’s, have holding tanks to store and manage waste until it’s acceptable for the municipal system.

Kevin James works at Beau’s and explains that their spring water is delivered in tank trucks; the microbial content in the waste product is so good that often it is in one of Beau’s four holding tanks for just a day before it’s tested and accepted to the nearby municipal treatment system on Newton Road.

North Glengarry’s water treatment manager, Dean MacDonald, says he was approached by another local craft beer company to use the system but they, too, added their own tanks to monitor and manage the BOD’s (biochemical oxygen demands). MacDonald explains that 30 milligrams per liter is the limit allowed and that testing of input is done once a week.

Water is not the only waste. “Farmers love the grains and hog farmers use the yeast as a supplement for their pigs,” describes Savard. “Mash can be picked up or delivered, we just have to monitor the BOD’s and pH level. And we want waste contribution to be as minimal as possible.”

Peter Chiodo is the founder of Flying Monkeys Brewery in Barrie and a RiverLabs collaborator who followed Savard’s presentation with his own story.

“I just wanted to make beer, not worry about wastewater,” says the Rexdale native who started making beer in his garage until investigated by Ontario Hydro for over usage. “It was pretty bad beer in the beginning. I poured 250,000 bottles down the drain the first year. I guess that’s when I learned about wastewater. Then I gave up buying into a Subway franchise and continued to make beer. Maybe not so smart.”

Flying Monkeys has since become one of the most successful small craft breweries producing unusual and exotic brews in colorful, creative cans. Samples of cranberry colored Hibiscus and darker Live Transmission were distributed to guests who were hobby beer makers and consumers of the golden elixir.

He says the city of Barrie is most concerned about the pH level of waste as it can destroy the infrastructure. He also explains the cost of waste transportation is bigger than the cost of managing it.

From experience and many travels to Spain, Italy, Asia and South Africa in search of beer info, Chiodo understands the importance of water and proper waste management.

“We will continue to be innovative, especially now that we’re on the Barrie waste water screen.”

The River Institute’s next Science and Nature on Tap presentation will be May 2 at Schnitzels with Dr. Shaun Lovejoy speaking on weather, macroweather and climate.

 

Photos: Louis Savard of RiverLabs and Peter Chiodo of Flying Monkeys Brewery speaking at the St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences monthly speaker series at Schnitzels Tavern in Cornwall April 4.

 

Kevin James of Beau’s Brewery in Vankleek Hill pours organic hop pellets into the next beer batch.

 

Organic ingredients that go into Beau’s craft beers. Water is number one.


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