Burton-on-Trent and Pilsen are epicentres of brewing past and present. Burton is Beer Town. Its world renown comes from the eponymous ales, the pale ales and India pale ales it produced 150 years ago. Pilsen is the home of pilsners and pale lager and it’s the style which has become the most aped and consumed beer style in the world. Pale ales, IPAs and pilsners are all very important styles to the beer world, but one thing, above all others, made these towns ideal for brewing these particular styles: the water.
Pale ales benefited from the mineral-rich hard waters of Burton, giving them a snappy, dry quality, and the pilsners of Pilsen had a soft and smooth body thanks to the mineral-free soft waters. The difference between hard and soft water is the volume of minerals in each, primarily calcium and magnesium (in Burton’s case there are also significant levels of gypsum and sulphates which give the famous eggy aroma of Burton Snatch); soft water has very lower levels of these minerals, whereas hard water has much higher levels. Both are good for brewing in their own ways but hard water has minerals which can actively help out the brewing process (calcium helps balance acidity, magnesium is used by yeast in the production of enzymes to help with fermentation, sulphates give a dry, sharp flavour which can compliment hops).
This is naturally very interesting, of course, and the beers are delicious and all that, but there’s a more pressing question: what are these famous waters like to shower in?
Picture this: it’s the morning after a night out and I roll from my bed, head spinning, mouth dry, stomach rolling. I smell and I need a wash. I’m currently in Burton. The bathroom is lovely and big with a wide shower head. I climb in, turn it on, adjust the temperature and stand under it for a few minutes, trying to wash away the stinking hangover. I grab the shower gel – my usual variety – and I pour the typical amount and lather up. Only the lather isn’t coming, instead it’s just leaving little scummy bubbles on my skin which don’t wash away easily. I pour some more shower gel and it still happens. I turn to my shampoo – my usual variety – and again it doesn’t do much, leaving my hair feeling strangely dry, despite having water pour onto it constantly for 10 minutes. I persevere and eventually clean myself to a near-acceptable level. Leaving the shower my skin feels a little dirty still, a little dry. I’m unsatisfied and my hangover feels worse.
Now picture this: it’s the morning after a night out and I roll from my bed, head spinning, mouth dry, stomach rolling. I smell and I need a wash. I’m currently in Pilsen. The bathroom is small with a handheld shower head. I climb in to the shower box, turn on the water, adjust the temperature and hold it over me for a few minutes, trying to wash away the stinking hangover. I grab the shower gel – my usual variety – and I pour the typical amount and lather up. Within moments the lather is overflowing magnificently, with bubbles everywhere, lavishly covering me. I wash them off and then try again and there are even more bubbles this time, like a white foam eruption. I turn to my shampoo – my usual variety – and seconds later I have a white perm of thick creamy lather on my head which feels wonderful. Leaving the shower my skin feels ultra clean and soft. I’m very satisfied and my hangover has washed away.
For shower lovers, I can’t recommend Pilsen highly enough. The sheer, generous volumes of bubbles are simply wonderful. The problem with hard water is that the minerals and ions in it don’t react kindly with the chemicals in the soap and rather than bubbling up they just create a sticky scum which isn’t easy to wash away. Soft water showering is a treat; hard water isn't. Thankfully both are good in their own ways for brewing and for that we should all be very grateful.
There we have it: front line beer reporting on the topics which really matter.
I’ve now done bathing in beer and showering in brewing water. Next I need to swim in it and then enjoy a beer Jacuzzi… can anyone help me out?
In writing this post I used this and this as well as the link above, to help me out. This post is also interesting as it gives a list of water profiles from notable brewing areas. Photos from here and here (I spent about 20 minutes looking for an appropriate image to use for this post and these are the best I could find... you get a lot of filthy results when searching for innocent showering images).