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The typical water content for most American beer is 91%, so there’s no denying that this normally “run-of-the-mill” ingredient is key to the success of your favorite beverage. And it is this part of the beer recipe that draws the most attention when it comes to beer advertising campaigns. (When’s the last time a beer ad raved about two-row barley or brewer’s hops? But ad men gushing about the sky blue waters or water from icy mountain streams is common.)

In the early years, most breweries were built in very close proximity to natural springs or fast-moving waterways, where brewers could easily access and trust the quality of the water they drew for brewing. Today, many of our purest water sources are found in the mountainous areas of our northwestern states, like Oregon.

In its natural state, water contains several ingredients that affect the flavor outcome — trace minerals and salts are the top two, which make the water hard or soft, alkaline or acidic. These traits have a subtle affect on the style of the beer being brewed, giving it any number of desirable (or undesirable) qualities.

Brewers today simply turn on a faucet and can be quite certain that the water quality is palatable, but they still must pay close attention to the nuances, adjusting their brew recipes to suit the water, or adjusting the water to suit the recipe. When it comes to brewing, the water needs to be pure, but no too pure. Water void of all trace elements may create a beer void of character.

While breweries patronized by your favorite Beer of the Month Club focus on all four of beer’s basic ingredients, they pay acute attention to the all-important H2O!

In centuries past, water quality in many countries was so poor that children as young as three were encouraged to drink weakly-brewed beer instead of water. Disease-causing bacteria in the water was killed during the brewing process.

ASK MR. BEERHEAD: DAVE MARTIN OF McHENRY, IL, ASKS: “I’m relocating to Bend, Oregon, a Craft Beer Hub. Any pointers on landing a beer-related job?”  

Bend owns bragging rights for having the most breweries per capita in Oregon, one for every 4,500 people! Explore the Bend Ale Trail, dropping your resumé as you go. Think outside the box, like formerly unemployed Brennan Gleason. This beer-loving graphic designer was hired after submitting his resumé which took the form of a four-pack of home-made beer. Each bottle of Resum-Ale featured specific details of his job qualifications. Best of luck, Dave. You are leaving legions of friends back in Illinois who wish you all the best.

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Tracie Burket
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