Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bierwerks brews a Manitou spring water beer

Posted By on Thu, Oct 4, 2012 at 9:43 AM

I know it's been talked about before, because I recall chatting casually with a local brewer a few years ago about the concept of using Manitou Springs spring water to make a beer.

At that time, the brewer cited the difficulty and time concern of gathering and transporting the water, sort of writing the idea off as impractical in a business sense.

But majority owner of Bierwerks Brewery Arden Weatherford saw potential in the effort. Mainly in the "novelty" of the beer in a marketing sense, in the pride of being able to say that Bierwerks' Spring Water Pale Ale is made with local, historic waters.

bierwerks manitou springs
  • Finally, someone had the balls to do it. Balls translating to a willingness to pump and lug water very patiently.

So, Weatherford and new brewer James McGraw (who early in 2012 replaced Jeff Aragon and Brian Horton who opened the venture) now make four trips down Ute Pass with a 170-gallon tank complete with buckets and a pump to gather the 700 gallons of spring water needed to make a single batch of the brew.

It's just a little more effort than say, hauling a single, symbolic gallon of water from Bear Creek to Pikes Peak Brewing Co. for the Bear Creek Porter.

Here's some info via Weatherford as to why they think the water matters, past that novelty:

Water is important in beer. Once upon a time, European breweries located their brewing facilities specifically to take advantage of natural spring water. Furstenberg Beer has been made since 1283 using German Black Forest spring water. Since 1492, local spring water has been used in Salzburg Austria by Stiegl Brewery. The Krombacher Brauerei in Germany was founded in 1803 specifically to take advantage of the mountain spring water.

There are only 4 ingredients in beer. Water, Malt, Hops and Yeast.

Each ingredient is important.

Manitou Springs Spring Water Pale Ale is made using water from the Twin Spring. The Twin Spring was selected for its low sodium, and sweet taste.

With this spring water we brew a blend of Two Row, Carahell and CaraMunichII Malts along with Perle, Cascade and Chinook Hops.

After brewing, yeast from Woodland Park?s Brewing Science Institute is added to begin the fermentation process.

The result is Manitou Springs Spring Water Pale Ale.

Support the Mineral Springs.

15% of the revenue from keg sales of Manitou Springs Spring Water Pale Ale is donated to the Mineral Springs Foundation whose mission is "To restore, protect and publicize the mineral springs of Manitou Springs and to document their historic origins."

I asked McGraw about the challenges of using a carbonated, mineral-rich water to brew, and it helped to learn a little about his background, which informs his ability to take on the challenge.

McGraw, now 30, has been in the industry since he was 22, getting his start at a California BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse. In 2007 he followed a girlfriend to Munich, Germany, where he spent four years before returning to the states and finding this job at Bierwerks.

While in Germany, McGraw completed a one-year brewmaster training at the Doemens Academy, where he learned everything from the mathematics of brewing to microbiology.

Currently, all the beers on tap at Bierwerks are McGraw's recipes, many of them modified with his own style applied to traditional German and American beers.

As for the spring water brew, he says the high sodium content is the first challenge, so he cuts the spring water with local Woodland Park municipal water at around a 60-40 ratio of spring-to-tap.

He then boils the water "to get the bicarbonate out of solution" before reintroducing lost calcium content via a gypsum powder. Interestingly, all of the calcium in the spring water falls to the bottom of the boil in the form of your basic chalkboard chalk. (The science is that the calcium loses its carbon dioxide bond in the boil, which it needs to stay in solution — it gives one the idea of what you're actually drinking when you make lemonade with Manitou water.)

After the calcium is back in balance, which apparently helps oils from the hops to dissolve into the base wort, McGraw's brewing process is pretty standard, though he does test the Woodland Park waters twice a year to account for a change in PH due to reservoir versus runoff waters.

In the end, he and Weatherford say that there is no significant flavor or taste difference in the Pale Ale — like, judges at the GABF this year shouldn't be able to tell that spring water was used as they judge the style for its ideal characteristics.

So don't expect some sort of extra effervescence or mineral mouth-feel when you get a chance to sip the beer. If anything, just appreciate it for its style, which is to say its hop flavor and also its panache for incorporating the healing Manitou Waters.

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