News Feature | October 12, 2016

Philly Tap Water ‘Ideal' For Brewing Beer

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Beer connoisseurs say there’s a special ingredient in Philadelphia-brewed beer that makes the taste stand out: tap water.

Baxter's Best is brewed in Philadelphia, where treated drinking water may make the difference between a good beer and a great one. The beer, which “has a light roasted flavor and a creamy taste,” according to the manufacturer, is named after the city’s Baxter water treatment plant. A conversation with a Philadelphia Water Department staffer inspired the brewer to create the beer.

“Beer experts say the stuff from Philly's water mains is ideal for brewing an English-style ale such as Baxter's,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The beer is made by the craft brewery Saint Benjamin Brewing Company in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Gary Burlingame, director of Philadelphia Water Department's Laboratory Services, explained the essential role water plays in the beer-making process. “One way to get water that’s good for brewing is to remove everything from it and then add back the minerals and salts at just the right levels. The other way is to establish a brewery where the water is naturally good — lucky for us, Philadelphia’s breweries fall in this category,” he wrote in a blog post.

What makes the city’s tap water so perfect for beer?

“The exact chemistry is fairly complex, having to do with the interplay of calcium, magnesium, and alkalinity. The key is that the water contains moderate levels of calcium and alkalinity, helping to maintain the proper pH during the ‘mash’ phase of brewing, when starches are converted to sugars,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The makers of Baxter’s Best remove chlorine from the water using a charcoal filter before they brew the beer.

Colin Kaminski, co-author of Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers, explained how water treatment processes can affect the taste of beer.

“Municipal water is commonly used to make beer, and historically, the mineral profile of each city's water system dictated the kinds of beer made there, he said. Philadelphia's profile makes it ideal for mid-range beers, such as pale ales, without any modification,” according to the report.

Philadelphia’s mineral profile is the result of limestone and sediment deposits from local rivers, according to the report.

Kaminski explained that “brewmakers learned early on that the hard waters of Dublin were ideal for stouts. The softer waters of the Pilsen region, in the Czech Republic, became known for golden pilsners.”

To learn more about the makeup of municipal water visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Analysis Solutions Center.