Mighty Fine Dihydrogen Oxide

Water Usage and Management in Canada’s Breweries Today

By: James Burt

Out of the four ingredients to make beer—grain, hops, yeast, and water—the last often gets the least amount of attention. Water seems commonplace: an easy resource to access anywhere and without the specialty or culinary know-how that the other ingredients have.

While so many people take water for granted as something they can get practically freely in their homes, gardens, and work drinking fountains, today’s brewers have to be conscious of their water sources and science, and how to use it efficiently from beginning to end of the brewing process.

To begin with, a brewer’s water source is of necessary consideration.

“We are lucky to live right on the shores of Georgian Bay where we have an excellent water source for brewing,” said Trestle Brewing Company’s Matt Lyons of Parry Sound, Ontario. “The only treatment we put our water through is a carbon filter to remove any solids and all chlorine.”

Chlorine treatments are necessary for most Canadian brewers—almost all have a need to do some sort of initial water treatments before brewing due to the content of their water source no matter where they are located.

“The problems we have are chlorine and the high level of organics in the water we use,” says Mark McGraw of Loyalist City Brewing in Saint John, New Brunswick. “So we have to treat it with a five stage filter process. That ends with carbon polish to get the best final treatment of water going into the brewing stages.”

Once treatments are done, brewing companies need to pay close mind to water usage monitoring, both in terms of cost matters and environmental impacts. Monitoring technology is necessary at this point.

“We use a number of ways to monitor our water usage throughout our brewing process,” said Lyons. “We will have flow meters installed on our brew house to ensure we do not over use water when mashing in or during sparging. There will also be flow meters installed on wash down hoses as well as water bibs for cleaning and sanitizing of tanks and hose lines. We can then take this data and implement it to monitor daily usage with different operators. This will allow us to bring uniformity to our process, and ensure the same process methods throughout our brewing, cellaring, and packaging processes. Once we have this data, we can also look at ways to improve our process to cut down the amount of water used. We will also use timers in the brewery when performing sterilization cycles to ensure we don’t go over the required amount of time which would constitute an overuse of electricity and water.”

McGraw also noted the need for breweries to mineralize brewing water, especially for exact recipes.

“Wherever the water profile is soft in brewing, we have to mineralize for specific beer. Stouts, India Pale Ales…they don’t use the same water types. We use brewing salts and lactic acids to get the right pit levels for water beer for those particular beer types.”

Once the brewing process is over, water disposal can be an issue. However, spent water from brewing has its own usage as McGraw elaborated.

“We try to recycle as much as we can. You can re-use water for wash-downs and cleaning inside the brewery. One thing that is important to note is that there are no huge regulations here like they have the United States. We don’t have to hold and de-oxygenate water that the breweries down there have to down there.”

For new and established breweries, the necessity to get educated in their local water supplies and usage practices is essential for brewing longevity. As Lyons reflected:

“To be able to have that knowledge base in discussions with the municipality and substantiate our proposed solutions with data from other breweries has been crucial.”