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L’importance de l’eau dans la bière

Comme vous le savez déjà probablement, l’eau est la principale composante de la bière, à raison de 90% en moyenne. Le pourcentage restant appartient à l’alcool et aux sucres résiduels, donc, ces chiffres diffèrent selon le style. Ceci étant dit, le contrôle de la qualité de l’eau de brassage est d’une importance capitale, puisque sa composition chimique exerce une influence directe sur le goût de la bière. Historiquement, c’est d’ailleurs l’eau qui a donné la signature particulière à certains styles.

Un peu de chimie!
D’une part, la composition chimique de l’eau est différente à peu près partout à travers le globe. Elle est influencée par de nombreux facteurs environnants, tel que le climat, l’altitude, le composition chimique du sol, etc. Une eau est dite « dure » lorsque sa teneur en minéraux est élevée et « douce » lorsque celle-ci est basse. Un second facteur qui influence le goût de l’eau dans la bière est le degré d’acidité, calculé en pH sur une échelle de 0 à 14, 0 étant le plus acide et 14 le plus alcalin. Considérant ces aspects, les brasseurs vont souvent modifier la composition chimique de leur eau, afin de la rendre plus stable, ou encore pour aller chercher un profil de saveurs bien précis qui se mêle bien au style de la bière. Par exemple, l’ajout de calcium est parfois essentiel dans les réactions chimiques du brassage, et favorise la clarification et la stabilité de la bière. Le sodium, quant à lui, sert à bonifier les saveurs sucrées du malt. Les carbonates et bicarbonates jouent également un rôle déterminant dans l’équilibre acido-basique de l’eau. La teneur en magnésium, en sulfate et en chlorure est aussi à tenir en compte lorsqu’il s’agit de brasser de la bière.

Un peu d’histoire!
L’histoire de la bière a grandement été influencé par la disponibilité et la dureté de l’eau selon les régions. À l’époque, les connaissances limités et l’équipement rudimentaire ont forcé les brasseurs à développer des styles biens précis, afin de créer une harmonie entre l’eau utilisée et le type de grain. Un excellent exemple est celui de Pilsen en Tchéquie, ou la pureté incomparable de l’eau ne permettait pas le brassage de bières foncées intéressantes. Les brasseurs de la région ont rapidement constaté que l’accord avec des céréales pâles et légères était nettement meilleur, et c’est ainsi que la fameuse Pilsner est né!

Les brasseurs ont alors rapidement compris l’importance de l’eau dans la bière! Un autre exemple est celui du petit village de Burton upon Trent en Angleterre où de nombreuses brasseries se sont installés en raison de la qualité de l’eau. La concentration élevé en sulfate de l’eau permettait de réaliser des bières houblonnées de très grande qualitée. C’est d’ailleurs dans ce petit village que la fameuse India Pale Ale est née. De plus, l’abondance en calcium et magnésium favorisait une certaine stabilitée évitant ainsi le développement de faux goûts. À la fin du 19e siècle, on y comptait déjà près d’une trentaine de brasserie et on y produisait plus de bière qu’à Londres! Encore aujourd’hui, Burton upon Trent abrite de nombreuses brasseries et est considéré par plusieurs comme le berceau de la bière telle que nous la connaissons!

En résumé, la composition de l’eau exerce une incidence certaine sur le goût de la bière, et fait probablement partie de l’équation dans le choix de votre bière préféré. L’eau explique encore aujourd’hui la position géographique de plusieurs grandes brasseries, et sa contribution dans l’histoire de la bière est non-négligeable. Pour terminer sur une note un peu hors contexte, mais qui me tiens à cœur, je vous dit que sans eau, il n’y a pas de bière… alors, pensez à ne pas la gaspiller!

Alexandre Beaulieu-Simon
Biérologue, Brasserie Artisanale La Korrigane

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