If the Water is American, Can the Beer be German?

image via East Falls House

image via East Falls House


We’ve learned through a recent class action lawsuit that Beck’s German pilsner is brewed with water from Missouri.
And it’s not the only American-made import: Foster’s tagline is “Australian for beer, ” but its water is pure Texas; Red Stripe is more Steel City than steel drums, brewing its “Jamaican-style lager” in a suburb of Pittsburgh; and Colorado’s Killian’s Irish Red hasn’t been brewed on the Emerald Isle since the 1950’s.

We’ve been misled, and it sure looks intentional.
These brands trade on their foreign roots (or in the case of Red Stripe, they’re concealing the less-than-exotic birthplace of Galena, Illinois) with foreign-accented spokespeople, kangaroos, and coats of arms. Beck’s was dinged in federal court for deceptive advertising and packaging labeled with phrases like ‘Originated in Bremen’ and ‘German Quality.’ The lawsuit asks the question: Did the beer’s maker violate consumer protection laws? But what consumers really want to know is: Can Beck’s be an authentic German pilsner when it’s brewed in St. Louis?

Water has a profound effect on the character of beer, and not just because it’s 95% of the brew.
Classic brewing cities like Antwerp, Dublin, Burton-on-Trent in England, and Pilsen in what’ s now the Czech Republic are as famous for their local waters as for the iconic beers they produce. The unique composition of each of those city’s water supplies drew early breweries and it was the water’s characteristics that helped define each city’s distinct beer style. The water profiles of the great brewing cities are still revered by today’s beer makers who endlessly analyze and compare their own local water against the standards of the classics.

When it comes to local brewing, nothing is more local than water.
And in our globalized economy, it’s most likely the only local ingredient that’s used. The hops might be from New Zealand, the barley from Canada, and the brewer’s yeast is probably imported from Croatia. The alkilinity, hardness, and mineral composition of the native water is the one ingredient that can give a sense of terroir. Its makeup will impact every ingredient and every brewing stage, defining the ph of the all-important mash, adding ions that flavor the beer, and even determining the color of the beer.

Can Beck’s be an authentic German pilsner when it’s brewed in St. Louis?
If you don’t think so, you can join the class action. Refunds of up to $50 will be offered, and no, they don’t expect you to have saved your beer receipts. A final approval hearing for the settlement is scheduled for October 20th.


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