Memminger Bräu claims their Grander water modules would boost fermentation and save sanitation costs. Berlin’s fast-growing start-up Brlo trusts in gem stones to ‘energise’ their water source. Why do brewers substitute science and reason for obscure magic? It harms the industry as a whole says Rory Lawton.
“Sometimes Science is more Art than Science” (Rick Sanchez, Rick & Morty, S01E06)
For a long time, this writer has campaigned that brewers in Germany should be entitled to put whatever they like in their beer: any food-safe ingredient that has a positive effect on the flavour of a beer should be permissible. However, when breweries abandon science and reason, employing ingredients and practises that step outside of the scientific method, suggesting effects that cannot even be measured, we need to call them out on their hokum!
Why? Brewing may be creative, but it is a science. German brewing expertise has long been considered the best in the world. Germany’s contributions to brewing technology and training are unsurpassed. This has been based on hard science and engineering and the iterative improvements on brewing practises over centuries. When brewers abandon science and introduce practises for reasons other than making good beer, they bring shame to a reputable industry.
Witch-Craft: BRLO And The Energising Power Of Gemstones
The successful new Berlin brewery, Brlo, has unashamedly been promoting its practise of using gemstones to “energise” its brewing water since it was founded. Over the last twelve months, I have been contacted by several beer drinkers who have read the flyers or attended promotion events and have rightfully been sceptical about this part of the Brlo story.
From the Brlo website: “Water is the most important ingredient of a beer in terms of quantity. Therefore, our brewing water is energized with gemstones before the brewing even begins. Whether the taste is better is certainly a matter of opinion – but it unquestionably feels better!”. (Source: 24.08.2017). According to one of Brlo’s founders, Christian M. Laase, the gemstones selected for this process are rock crystal, amethyst and rose quartz. These are alleged to “harmonise” the water, with a positive effect on taste and texture. (In their own newly built brewery, Brlo Brwhouse, a module provided by Leogant has been installed, that both filters and “vitalises” the brewing water with “energy fields”).
Let us get something straight here: whether a beer tastes better is not just a “matter of opinion”, a subjective mystery, forever out of reach. It’s an empirical question that can be put to the test. If you want to see what process makes a beer taste better, you can create a blind A/B taste test with a tasting panel. It is in a brewery’s commercial interests to choose the process that makes the beer taste best!
The more alarming statement, however, is the second one: “it unquestionably feels better!”. What does this vacuous statement even mean? If taken at face value, are we to believe that Brlo beer positively alters the state of mind of the drinker, in ways that non-energised beers do not? Or just the sense of well-being that comes from contact with gemstones? Solidarity with rocks!
If we are to take this “energised water” seriously, it introduces several important questions:
Since the formation of the water molecules from hydrogen and oxygen, they will have passed over trillions of crystals in rock formations in the water cycle. Is this energy preserved or is it lost over time? What is the process for selecting specifically rock crystal (clear quartz), amethyst and rose quartz and in what quantities/proportions to correctly energise a batch of beer on brew day? How careful do beer drinkers need to be about dosage of energised beer?
As long as the effects of “energised water” cannot be measured and the mechanism cannot be explained, this hokum practise should be avoided and certainly not publicised.
Industrialised Snake-Oil: Grander Water
It is not only at the free-spirited craft breweries where such practises are carried out in-house. This pseudo-science can also be specialised, outsourced and applied at a scale! The well-known Stiegl brewery (Salzburg, Austria), Ladenburger brewery (Baden-Württemberg, Germany) and Memminger brewery (Bavaria, Germany) all promote better-tasting beer thanks to revitalised water, made possible with Grander technology, that does not use gemstones.
Grander corporation provides “Water Revitalization Units” to at least ten breweries across Germany and Austria that “work with natural energy – without the need for electricity or chemical additives. They are service- and maintenance free.” These black-box units have a poorly documented mechanism and are made from stainless steel. When used in the food industry, Grander corporation claims that its units produce water that keeps fresh longer, gives a fresh and more intense taste, protects machinery by cleaning the water, and allows for reduced use of detergents and cleaning agents
The only references on the website to independent scientific verification are that water processed by these inline units is not harmful to health.
Stiegl, the well-known, privately-owned brewery in Austria, is also a customer under the Grander spell. The brewery has been careful not to make claims that are too outrageous. Today, the website only claims: “Stiegl takes preventative measures to protect the water.” Ladenburger brewery is a little more daring, nominally mentioning a pseudo-mechanism of “information transfer” on their website. All content and sources are all from Grander.
Memminger are the most daring of all, stating that Grander water makes yeast feel better, so that fermentation is faster and better, saving in costs. Costs are also saved in sanitation – apparently yeast thrive, while bacterial growth is inhibited! The mechanism behind the hocus pocus remains an unquantifiable and unqualifiable mystery.
Once again, as long as the effects of “revitalized” Grander water cannot be measured and the mechanism cannot be explained, these breweries must be challenged for making any positive claims at all.
Why It Matters: The Harm Being Done
When contacted to comment on this article, Brlo founder Christian M. Laase freely volunteered that it can’t be said for sure what is happening, that it is possible that no phenomenon is taking place and but that no harm is being done, for sure; that this is an opportunity for a “no-risk chance to get a well harmonized beer – and why not give it a try”.
Of course, this water poses no risk to the individual person. But rather than being harmless, I argue that this is genuinely quite harmful on two fronts (in addition to the damage done to the Brlo brand):
Harmful to the German brewing industry: The German brewing industry was built on hard science and tested theories, not on gut instinct. Statements such as water “harmonisation”, “energising” and “transfer of information into the water” are so vague that they cannot even be put to the test. They are meaningless and in this sense, are not even wrong! For good reason, few breweries use these pseudo-scientific processes. If beer tastes better, this can be tested – in randomised blind trials, if you wish.
Society is being harmed: More importantly, by furthering the idea that water has a memory or inexplicable harmonic properties, German society is confused and tolerates alternatives to western medicines, that need to be grounded in testable theory and accountability. Homeopathic remedies have been debunked and are ridiculed in other countries, yet these are widely promoted in Germany, at the expense of medicines that have genuine therapeutic value, beyond placebo. Every mention of “harmony” and “energised water” confuses the public more. In 2017, it is shocking that this is even a debate.
We shouldn’t tolerate the hypothesis that 2+2=5
Although I shall continue to strongly champion for the freedom of brewers to use whatever safe ingredients and processes that they wish, I encourage lovers of beer and lovers of reason (not mutually exclusive groups) to challenge ‘woo woo’ mysticism and the technologies provided by snake-oil-salesmen when it appears in the industry.
Critics of these practises will doubtlessly be accused of intolerance; that we should remain open-minded about alternatives to hard science and engineering. However, playing the ‘intolerance card’ does not work here. We can reject these processes outright, for the exact same reasons that we do not have to tolerate the hypothesis that 2+2=5.
How come Brlo, the Berlin brewery that achieved two second places in the annual 3B Top 50 Awards ranking, is not a laughing stock in wider circles for this practise? How can the Stiegl, Ladenburger and Memminger breweries make blatantly false, unverifiable claims about their brewing water and their beer? I refuse to drink beer from any of these breweries, until this nonsense is removed from their marketing materials. (In the end, whether they continue to dangle gemstones in their brewing water or keep the water revitalisation units attached to their water source is inconsequential and irrelevant!)
The slightly altered German version of this article was first published in our print magazine Bier, Bars & Brauer Issue 1/2017.
Notes: When requested for comment on this article, Brlo graciously answered all questions and provided complete transparency on their water process in their partner breweries and in their own Brwhouse. The representatives of Stiegl Brauerei and Ladenburger Brauerei have declined to comment. The author has chosen to donate the writer’s fee for this article to GWUP (Gesellschaft zur wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften e.V.).
Post Production : TIm Klöcker