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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

It's Not the Water

OPB started teasing a story about beer and water last night that upon inspection this morning is, well, a bit thin:
That claim may have been marketing shtick, but Medford home brewer Steven Wyatt really does believe starting with the right water is the foundation for a great beer. 
“If you speak to any beer connoisseur, they will tell you their favorite beer comes from a region because of the water,” he says. 
So Wyatt hiked to Boundary Springs, headwaters of the Rogue River, and packed out fifteen gallons of water.  His father-in-law, a hydrologist, put the bug in his ear: “The real definition, if somebody said something is pristine. That’s what I think the Boundary Springs headwaters of the Rogue tastes like.”

The irony, of course, is that all of this is marketing shtick.  OPB takes the story in a slightly more reputable direction, discussing water conservation among breweries, but they leave this kind of thing hanging out there:
[Standing Stone brewer Larry] Chase has never heard of anyone hiking and packing out water to brew with, but he says that differences in water quality helped shape the history of brewing and the different styles of beer that become popular in Europe.
No doubt Chase would have also told them that it's completely beside the point now, since breweries have chemical control over their water.  They take stuff out, they put stuff in.  And unlike brewing in the 19th century and earlier, breweries make tons of different beer styles, not limited to those of a single style or within a narrow range of styles suited to their water.

For generations, breweries across the country have used the purity of their water to sell beer.  (It's not limited to North America, but I don't think any place took to the levels we did.)  It has become an unshakable belief, now, one repeated on radio stories.  "Rocky Mountain Spring Water," "Land of Sky Blue Waters," and my fave, Oly's artesian series from the 70s and 80s:

There's not great crime here, except that OPB just perpetuated that old myth.  It would have spoiled a fun, evocative little piece, but one sentence discussing 21st century brewing would have been better journalism.


  1. Not to mention that beer became popular in part because it was safer to drink than untreated water.

  2. My favorite story on this was from Karl Ockert who was visiting a friend who was brewing in Burton upon Trent in England. Because they made so much Carling Black label at the brewery, they actually used reverse osmosis to remove all the minerals/salts from the water. When they brewed pale ale, they actually had to add the salts back manually. Oh the irony....

  3. irony: "the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning."

  4. Did I use it wrong, Shawn? Isn't that what the article is implying, that it's not really marketing shtick this time, when in fact, the *irony* is that the whole piece conveys information received by decades of marketing shtick?

  5. Thank you for calling attention to this silliness. I grit my teeth every time I hear Coors brag about their "Crisp Rocky Mountain Springwater" or whatever it is they put in their tasteless product.

  6. Jeff, I was referring to Bill's comment. "Oh the irony..." is what he wrote, and it wasn't ironic at all. Sorry for the confusion.

  7. Shawn, irony also means "an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected." In that sense it IS ironic, since you wouldn't expect Burton brewers to have to add salts/minerals to the water that made their town famous as a brewing center.

    If you're going to nitpick meanings, you might want to consider all the meanings of a word before you do it. (In fact, your criticism of what you see as a mis-use might be construed as ironic by others?)

  8. I've always got a kick out of Rogues "free range coastal" water.

  9. You didn't want to insert Fred Eckhardt's well-worn joke about Olympia? "Well, if 'It's the Water', can't we do something about it?"