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Bourbon and Brew
Kentucky’s role as the birthplace of bourbon is no coincidence. The native spirit’s beginning had everything to do with location.
The unique limestone water in the region attracted the first bourbon distillers centuries ago. Kentucky’s connection to brewing is no accident either.
Even in the 19th century, brewers loved the Commonwealth for the quality of its water, which was known to produce excellent beer.
Since 1860, Louisville Water Company has played a significant role in each of these industries, resulting in a strong relationship with brewers and distillers across the state today.
History of Bourbon and Water
Louisville Water has helped master the recipe for bourbon’s best friend – water. Historically, distilleries built near water sources such as creeks, riverbanks, and streams. Distillers chose to locate in Louisville for its proximity to the Ohio River.
The unique conditions created 450 million years ago resulted in deposits of thick sections of relatively iron-free limestone in this region, providing the abundant, clean groundwater needed for bourbon production.
We credit chief engineers Charles Hermany and George Warren Fuller, an innovative chemist, for many early advancements in water processing.
Fuller became known as the “father of sanitary engineering,” conducting research that led to the standard practice for water purification around the world. Our advancements in the science of water transformed the future of bourbon.
Distilleries first used Louisville Water for fire protection, keeping those wooden warehouses and barrels safe. In 1869, Louisville Water reported its first distillery with a service connection. Today there are more than 20 distilleries using Louisville Water.
If you visit Louisville Water for a tour, we gladly serve you a glass of our award-winning water, Louisville Pure Tap®. But when you toured in the 1800s, stories say we didn’t serve you water after the experience, we gave you a shot of bourbon!
Why Water is Bourbon’s Best Friend
Just like the garnish in your favorite cocktail, Louisville Water plays an essential role in creating Kentucky’s signature drink. The calcium and alkaline content of Louisville Water is great for high quality bourbon production. Our treatment and quality control processes minimize levels of problematic metals, such as iron, which must be removed to maintain an acceptable color profile.
Louisville Water’s great taste also comes through in the flavor of bourbon – that’s why 95% of bourbon is distilled in Kentucky.
Even after bourbon is bottled, water is central to the way consumers experience it. Bourbon connoisseurs will often taste a product neat and then add a few drops of water or an ice cube to change the flavor profile.
Plus, a glass or two of water paired with your bourbon is key to safe drinking.
Our Bourbon Footprint
Nearly 20 distilleries use Louisville Water in their recipe. These distilleries include well-known names like Brown-Forman, Heaven Hill, Michter’s, and Jim Beam, and they make a wide range of products including Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, and Old Forester, America’s first bottled bourbon and Louisville’s “house bourbon.”
Louisville Water is also a proud partner and member of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA), the first and only nonprofit association dedicated to protecting Kentucky’s bourbon legacy.
Our history and collective pride in our products and the link to social responsibility truly make Louisville Water bourbon’s best friend.
To highlight that connection, we frequently do water and bourbon tastings, pairing Louisville Pure Tap® with one of the brands that use our recipe.
History of Beer and Water
The beer industry has deep roots in Kentucky, dating back to the 1800s. Before the Prohibition Era, Louisville was one of the top brewing cities in America due to its vicinity to the Ohio River and mineral rich water. In fact, one of very few beers native to the United States, the “Kentucky Common,” was developed in Louisville in the mid-1800s. By the early 1900s, it had quickly become the most popular beer in the city.
In 1860, when Louisville Water began operations and the board approved the company’s first water rates, brewers were charged three cents for every barrel of beer they made. Breweries quickly recognized the value of this water supply.
In 1861, six breweries and no distilleries were connected to the 26-mile cast-iron pipe system. By 1906, 24 distilleries and 25 breweries had service connections with Louisville Water.
Since that time, Kentucky’s beer scene has exploded with now more than 60 breweries in cities across the state, and nearly half of them use Louisville’s water. From IPAs to dark stouts and sour ciders, you can certainly find it at a Kentucky brewery.
Why Water Matters in Brewing
In its simplest form, brewing is a fermentation process that begins with water. Brewers start with the malting process, transforming grain starch into sugar. The raw grain is soaked in water until it’s fully saturated and can sprout.
This process typically takes two to three days and requires the water to be changed once a day. The malt is then dried, ground, and steeped in hot water to dissolve the sugar.
After the hops are added and all is boiled for several hours, a copper coil is used to cool the product and yeast is then added to the equation. Fermentation takes place, the beer is filtered and then aged for taste.
Large quantities of water are extremely important not only as an ingredient, but also for maintaining clean brewing equipment.
Today, the craft beer industry estimates it takes three to seven gallons of water to make one gallon of beer. For distilling, an estimated three gallons of water are used for every gallon of distilled spirits. Brewing is therefore a much more water intensive process.
Our Brewing Footprint
Quality beer needs quality water. We’re proud that nearly two dozen brewers use Louisville Water in their recipe. Louisville Water often collaborates with local breweries to ensure our water is consistent, leading to great-tasting beer every time.
Louisville Water is also a proud affiliate member of the Kentucky Guild of Brewers (KGB), a coalition of 60-plus breweries that serves as the primary voice and advocate for the Kentucky brewing industry.
Drink Locally, Drink Responsibly
Our community loves to drink local! Louisville is home to legendary distilleries and growing craft breweries that should be enjoyed responsibly. After one beverage, make sure to add in two glasses of Louisville Pure Tap® to your drink rotation.
In addition to the personal responsibility that comes with the beverage industries, comes environmental responsibility. These industries rely on natural resources made from high-quality sources of water and rely on healthy ecosystems.
We can only succeed when the communities where we live and work thrive, as well. Please drink responsibly, and locally.