The Importance of Liquor

The first confusing term I ran into when I went on my first brewery tour years ago was liquor, which in brewing terms is another name for water, or more specifically hot water that starts the brewing process by steeping the grains. After all, when we think of liquor, most of us think of tossing back whisky, vodka, gin or tequila.

The origins of the term have been lost to history, but the Oxford English Dictionary does mention a reference dating back to 1671, so the term has been around a long time. We also know that Trappist monks would punish their apprentices for calling liquor water.

Some have speculated that it may have just referred to water that was of a suitable quality to brew beer, as in the dark days before Mr. Wizard, brewers couldn’t change the mineral content of water, while some speculate it goes back to the ancient world, when beer and other distilled or fermented beverages were safer to drink than what was pulled out of the river.

As you would expect, the quality of the water that goes into the brew greatly affects the final taste and many towns like London, Burton-upon-Trent, and Munich all became famous for beer styles derived from the distinctive taste of their unique water sources.

In modern times, though, we have the ability to filter water and change its properties to suit our needs. As we talked about recently in episode 4, Kona has breweries outside of Hawaii that produce their beer, but they’re able to do it by altering the water in other towns so that it matches the properties of the water in their home town in Kailua-Kona.

If you decide to brew your own beer, be very aware of how water will affect the outcome; the taste of the water isn’t the only important factor. We could go down the rabbit hole with how each mineral can effect a beer, but know this: Hard water, which has a high concentration of minerals, can make the bitterness from the hops taste astringement in a pale beer, while soft water, which has a low concentration of minerals, allows the more delicate flavors to shine through. Hard water also lends itself well to darker beers, as it will balance the acidity of roasted grains.

So just remember: just as the quality of the water you put in your physical body can affect your health, so can the quality of water you put into your beer body. Good liquor does beer body good.