Some important points to note:
Most lagers and stouts require soft water, while most pale ales need hard water (containing calcium sulphate and calcium chloride).
The hardness of water is primarily due to either high levels of calcium and magnesium (permanent hardness) or bicarbonate (temporary hardness), which can be removed by boiling.
Calcium enhances the bitterness of hops, while magnesium enhances the flavor of beer. It affects the pH or acidity of the liquid during brewing, similar to how salt affects the taste of food.
If the pH level is suitable for the yeast, they can perform their role effectively.
Deoxygenating water removes dissolved oxygen (think of it like fish needing oxygen to breathe). Burton on Trent has water rich in minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and sulphates, which add distinct flavors and improve stability, enabling it to be transported over long distances during the 16th-18th centuries.
The chemistry of water is greatly influenced by the underlying rock formations in the aquifer where it is sourced.
The bedrock beneath Burton consists of sedimentary strata formed around 250 million years ago, which are rich in gypsum (calcium sulphate) and Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate).
Burtonization refers to the process of conditioning water with salts, and there is a significant amount of gypsum in the surrounding area.
Bicarbonate-rich water creates a high pH that is too alkaline for the yeast to function properly. However, using roasted grains lowers the pH during mashing, resulting in the production of darker beers in these brewing centers.
Minerals in water and their effects:
Calcium: reduces color and decreases bitterness
Magnesium: can produce a sour, bitter flavor
Sodium: produces a salty taste
Potassium: produces a salty taste
Manganese: can cause discoloration
Zinc: can cause haze
Sulphate: produces a dry, bitter taste
Chloride: contributes to a full palate
Iron: imparts a metallic flavor (reminiscent of blood or copper)
Nitrite: can create a reddish color (carcinogen)
Nitrite can create a reddish color (carcinogen)