Snow Ale: Beer brewed from snowmelt water

Every fall-time, similar to a squirrel building up their winter storage, I store up enough nuts to last the winter; except in my analogy the nuts are my homebrew. In October I start a fury of brewing strong, fortifying beers to get me through the winter — Belgian quads, smoked tripels, strong stouts, and my annual Christmas beer. I brew in my garage, and as winters in Indiana are unpredictable, I generally don’t brew much from December through February. However, when the beer gods call, you’d better pick up the phone.

A January snowstorm last season provided us with over a foot (0.3+ m) of the pristine white stuff that winter lovers dream about. Kids’ excitement over having school closed in the morning transitions to thoughts of going sledding and building snowmen. Meanwhile adults toil at shoveling, snow blowing, and other snow-related chores. Then there is me, a homebrewer, whose thoughts turn to brewing with it. My phone was ringing . . . the beer gods had called.

Turned out to be a delicious beer that met no style guidelines but was fun as all get-out to make.

OK, so I do have a reverse osmosis water system, which is really pretty sweet. But why not make a beer with melted snow? There are several positives here. There is an unlimited supply after a big snowstorm like what just fell in my neighborhood. It’s pure, well at least it looks that way. And finally, how could I pass up the opportunity of spending hours scraping up snow into kettle after kettle while my neighbors watch in confused amusement? This was one of the most entertaining aspects of the whole endeavor. Finally, after arriving back inside from all that work, you get to crack a quad or a stout (usually both) or something else hefty to warm you up! My adult hot cocoa.

Now, onto the negatives. First off, it turns out it takes a TON of snow to melt enough brewing water for a 5-gallon (19-L) batch. I repeatedly filled every pot and kettle I had, brought them indoors, and slowly watched them melt over days until I had enough water to brew with. It takes just over 8.3 lbs. (3.8 kg) of snow to create a gallon (3.8 L) of water . . . that is a lot of shovelfuls of snow.

The author found out it takes a lot of snow to melt down enough water for a brew session. Photo by Jason Rich

But, as it’s winter and I had plenty of time, I decided to just let the ambient room temperature in my house melt the snow. And, as pure as it looks, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of dirt, leaf particles, bugs, and more dirt that is in “pure” snow. This required a coarse filtering while pouring into the main brew kettle. Still, I decided I would like to send a sample to Ward Labs, which revealed a pH of 6.7, calcium 2 ppm, sulfate <1 ppm, chloride 5 ppm, bicarbonate 5 ppm, and total alkalinity 4 ppm (among many other measurements that were also very low or negligible). A pretty good canvas to paint a beer with!

I had plenty of leftover ingredients from the autumn brewing frenzy; some light dried malt extract (DME), some amber DME, some crystal 90, and the malt I absolutely cannot live without, Special B. Some leftover hops and some dry American ale yeast, a pinch of this salt and a teaspoon of that salt, and several weeks later, ta-da! Turned out to be a delicious beer that met no style guidelines but was fun as all get-out to make. Snow Ale! (No, I’m not very creative at naming my beers . . .)

Did I need to endure the stares of the neighbor kids out doing “normal” winter activities like sledding and making a snowman? Did I really need to go through the effort of collecting and melting snow over several days to make this beer? Of course I did! I’d never made a beer with snow, which made it fun! And isn’t that why we’re homebrewers in the first place?

Issue: December 2021