Beer is made with four ingredients: water, malt, yeast and hops. Its a simple recipe.
The malt, or grain, is the backbone. It comes in different varieties, light to dark, biscuit to roasted. The hops, at least these days, get the glory. They offer flavors ranging from a bright grapefruit to a resinous pine and attract a by-name loyalty. The yeast does the magic. It converts sugars into alcohol, imparting its own taste at times.
But it is the water, the most overlooked ingredient, that is key. It constitutes about 95 percent of beer, and entire styles owe their popularity to the water used in brewing. The hard, sulfuric water in Burton-on-Trent, England, is ideal for pale ales. The soft, low-mineral water in the Pilsen region of the Czech Republic allows for crisp, clear pilsners.
Given the role of water in craft beer, it makes sense to see two well-known breweries hosting local events this month to promote water quality.
North Carolinas riverkeepers are partnering with SweetWater Brewing Company in Atlanta to raise money for water restoration and awareness projects in the Southeastern United States as part of the Save Our Water campaign.
You cant have good beer without good clean water, said Matt Starr with the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, an advocacy organization linked to the Waterkeeper Alliance. Its a natural fit.
Launched in 2006, the effort expanded into North Carolina four years ago. It has raised $150,000 in previous years for the states riverkeeper organizations through the sale of the Waterkeeper Hefeweizen ale, merchandise and paper fish.
This year, the fundraiser for the Neuse River in the Triangle is expanding to all four area Tylers Taproom restaurants and will feature a concert at the Lincoln Theater.
Starr said its one of the organizations most important fundraisers. It also allows them to raise awareness about the cleanup needs in local waters that flow into the Neuse, including Falls Lake.
The Neuse River is challenged by urban sprawl, factory farm waste dumping and the prospect of fracking for natural gas. Its cleaner than what it has been in a long time, but we still have a lot of work to do, he said.
Keeping the water clean is important for Triangle area brewers, he said. They are using the water the riverkeepers are working to protect, Starr added. If we are doing a poor job, they arent going to have a viable water source to brew good beer.
Clean lake, drink beer
The Wisconsin-based Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company is trying a more hands-on approach. Partnering with its Raleigh-based distributor Mims, the brewery is bringing its Canoes for a Cause campaign to Wake County on Saturday.
The two companies are working with North Carolina Big Sweep to host a volunteer cleanup day at Lake Wheeler. Organizers need about 100 volunteers to walk the banks and paddle canoes to collect trash at the lake. The reward is cold Leinenkugels beer at the end.
Jennifer Balik at Mims Distributing said the companys employees will help lead the effort, an extension of its focus on green business. Through promotions with local restaurants, she said they raised $600 for Big Sweep, a Zebulon-based nonprofit, as part of the campaign. She said the organizations are hoping to make this an annual event.
Dick Leinenkugel, the brewerys business development manager, said quality water from Big Eddy Springs fueled the brewery when his great-great-grandfather helped start the operation in Chippewa Falls in 1867.
Water touches just about every part of the brewing process, from the raw materials to the cleaning and everything we do in terms of brewing beer, he said.
Now owned by MillerCoors, Leinenkugel is expanding its saturation in the Southeast, propelled by its popular Summer Shandy, a wheat beer brewed with lemon flavor. Leinenkugel, who plans to attend the event, said they expanded the Canoes for a Cause to Raleigh because of their active local distributor.
He said North Carolina is a terrific craft beer market, as evidenced by the local brewers like Lonerider and Natty Greenes and the expansion of national players like Sierra Nevada.
Its an exciting time down there right now, he said.
What Im tasting
Drinking good beer for a good cause is a no-brainer. SweetWaters Waterkeeper Hefeweizen is a golden-colored wheat beer that is light on the tongue with a not-too-strong clove spice and hint of banana sweetness. It makes you want to get on the water and paddle. Stats: 5.7 percent ABV. About $9 a six-pack.
Frank: 919-829-4698, email@example.com, or on Twitter, @byJohnFrank