Bourne Archive: Muspratt: Brewing water

Annotated web page © 2011 R.J.Penhey                      Latest edit 23 Jan 2011


The Bourne Archive


Muspratt’s Chemistry, Theoretical, Practical & Analytical (ca. 1859)

Extracts Concerning Beer, 3: Water.

The web pages intended to be linked from this introduction are from an article on brewing, under the heading ‘Beer’. The original article is presented here in several web pages, respectively dealing with: 1, barley; 2, malting; 3, water; 4, hops; 5, grinding: 6, mashing; 7, saccharometry; 8, boiling; 9, cooling; 10, fermentation; 11, cleansing.

Vol. 1. pp. 244-245.

WATER.—Good water in a brewery is a great desideratum, and the reader’s attention is now directed to this subject.

 Perhaps nothing in nature is more variable in character than this apparently simple fluid, which is not the aqua pura which it seems, and which many believe it to be, but a heterogeneous mixture of alkaline and metallic salts, acids, gasses, and occasionally even animal and vegetal matter, some being held in chemical union, and others in mechanical suspension. Pure water, or oxide of hydrogen, is attainable only by art.

Some brewers prefer soft and others hard water, whilst a few are quite indifferent on this point.

Were the density of the worts, and the value of cold water, for refrigeration and other purposes, properly considered, there would be little hesitation in their choice; and it is of importance to arrive at a correct conclusion on this point; for, though a brewer already established can seldom choose a different spring or stream, the case is much altered when the site of a new brewhouse is to be selected.

Water free from saline matter, or that holds it in very small quantity, is unfit for the brewery. The softest is in the state of snow, which, according to BERGMAN 1, is destitute of all gaseous bodies, so that fish cannot live in it.

The Editor does not deem it necessary to give a long dissertation upon this liquid, as nearly every one at all acquainted with brewing knows, that water which contains a large quantity of gypsum—sulphate of lime—earthy carbonates, and no organic matter, is best adapted for his purpose 2.

Many, no doubt, wonder why hard water answers so much better in the preparation of malt than soft. A few reasons, to account for this, may not be unacceptable to the reader.

Dr. HASSALL says:—During ebullition, the excess of carbonic acid in the water, by which the carbonates of lime 3 and magnesia 4 are retained in solution, is expelled, and those salts are precipitated 5. Again, the alkaline phosphates present in malt have the power of converting sulphate of lime into phosphate, which is thrown down; an alkaline sulphate, which is soluble, being synchronously formed. The greater part of the phosphate of lime produced is redissolved in the acid generated during the fermentation; consequently the water, from being hard, thus becomes comparatively soft, and in this state is well suited to extracting the active properties of the malt and hops.—Hassall.

This is entirely speculative, and is not based on experiment; nevertheless, the theory is ingenious.

Another advantage in the use of hard water presents itself, which is, that more saccharine matter can be left in the beer, by which the fullness and flavour will be increased, and the liability to become acid prevented.

Water loaded with organic matter, like that of the Thames, is a decided loss to the brewer, as the vegetal and animal remains are decomposed during brewing, and carry with them some portion of the strength of the wort, besides rendering it and the beer liable to spoil 6.

Messrs. ALLSOPP and SONS, Messrs. BASS and Co., Messrs. SALT and Co., and other eminent Burton brewers, have long been celebrated for the quality of their beer, and many conjectures have been made to account for the excellence and superiority of the article brewed in that locality.

The success depends in a very great measure upon the quality of the water used; the consequences of which, in brewing, have been scientifically elaborated. It is a very hard water, remarkable for its quantity of earthy sulphates and carbonates; and ΰ priori, it would considered but ill adapted for the purposes of a brewer. This is not the case, however, as long experience has shown.

The following analysis by Dr. BΦTTINGER, brewer to Messrs. ALLSOPP and SONS, expresses the composition of the water used in that celebrated establishment, and conveys at once an idea of the general properties of this important menstruum


Amount of ingredients

In the imper. Gallon.

Represented in grains.

Chloride of sodium, …...


Sulphate of potassa, …..


Sulphate of lime, ……….


Sulphate of magnesia, .


Carbonate of lime, …….


Carbonate of magnesia,


Carbonate of iron, ……..


Silicic acid, ……………….




Some years ago, Mr. COOPER of London analyzed some water taken from a well of the brewery of Messrs. BASS and Co., in which he found:—

Carbonate of lime, …….


Sulphate of lime, ……….


Chloride of calcium, …..


Sulphate of magnesia, .




All the water used at Burton for brewing is spring water, and not that of the river Trent, as has been erroneously supposed.

On boiling, it deposits a large amount of carbonates of lime and magnesia, besides a small quantity of sulphate of lime: a little iron, which it contains, becomes also eliminated.

The geological formation from which this water appears to emanate, is New Red Sandstone; in the immediate vicinity of Burton there are large strata of new red marl, with a considerable amount of gypsum.

The water employed at the brewery of Messrs. TETELY and SON, Leeds, bears some analogy to the preceding, as will be seen on referring to the annexed analysis by the Editor:—


Per gallon


Carbonate of lime, ………………..}



Carbonate of magnesia, ………..}

Carbonate of protoxide of iron,



Sulphate of lime, …………………..



Sulphate of soda, …………………..



Sulphate of magnesia, ……………



Chloride of sodium, ……………….



Chloride of magnesium, …………



Loss, ……………………………………..






The three waters contain a varying amount of carbonic acid in the uncombined state, keeping the carbonates in solution.

From the above the Editor would suggest, that when brewers in certain districts are compelled to use soft water, or that which runs off moors or fens, for want of better, they should impregnate them at second hand with gypsum, or with such limestones as are easily procurable. This plan has been found most serviceable, and the ale obtained from such artificial water has nearly equalled the renowned product of Burton.


1. ^    Probably Professor Torbern Bergman.

2. ^   From the perspective of brewing in Bourne, this, particularly the desirability of earthy carbonates and lack of organic matter, is as well, since apart from that which falls directly on the town as rain, all Bourne’s water comes from a limestone aquifer. The river comes from a natural spring and all else arises from boreholes, of which there is a large number, some in, some out of present use.

3. ^   This nomenclature was used when chemists were still feeling their way towards understanding the mechanism producing such compounds. See Lime and Carbonate.

4. ^   Though the name magnesia is now applied to magnesium oxide, the ‘carbonate of magnesia’ would presumably be magnesium carbonate

5. ^   This is the lime found inside kettles in hard water areas.

6. ^   This was a hot topic when Muspratt was writing in the 1850s. ‘Plant life’ might be algae and other plants while ‘animal life’ could be bacteria and bigger animals. However, he refers to the Thames, where matters had come to a head in the 1850s, during the period of the Great Stink. Few people would wish their beer to be made of water from the Thames at Westminster, at that time. By 1878, Bzalgette’s scheme had redirected much of the offending material further down the estuary, where some of the victims of the foundering of the Princess Alice probably died from sewage poisoning rather than drowning, hypothermia or injury.

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