Welcome back to Better on Draft’s Beer Reviews! It’s been over a year since a beer review has graced the website and I thought for my one year mark as a blog writer for Better on Draft, I’d bring this part of the website back.
The first beer for me to officially review is Old Nation Brewing Co’s recent addition to the Woodshed Pilot Series – M43 with Untreated Williamston Water.
The backstory to this variant of M-43 New England IPA was inspired by a trip to Europe this summer by Old Nation’s marketer, Mark Logusz. He shared his desire for the European beer feels in a blog post for Old Nation and the rest is history for this beer as it is the same recipe of M-43. The only difference in this beer is the water. Instead of it being treated with various levels of calcium and adjusted pH, except during mashing (wait, doesn’t that make it treated?!), the water was directly from the Williamston tap.
This beer was a limited release by Old Nation and allowed ticket holders with a half case allotment via pick up in the taproom. I was able to snag a half of a half case by splitting an allotment with Better on Draft host, Matt.
M-43 with Untreated Williamston Water was very similar in taste to the original beer. It was juicy and hoppy yet it was missing the sharp, acidic finish that M-43 and it’s sister variants (Tart Strawberry, DDH, etc.) have. This version was more subtle and had a softer mouthfeel with a smooth finish.
As of late, craft beer enthusiasts get too caught up in the ingredients and adjuncts added in beer recipes. I think that Old Nation’s intentions were genuine, especially with the beer’s placement in the Pilot Series, but I think there was a small flaw in how the beer was marketed.
When I told friends and family about the new variant of M-43, I got the same reaction – “Gross. Why would you want to drink a beer with untreated water?”
We in the state of Michigan are surrounded by water from the Great Lakes and the watershed that feeds into it. Most of us are spoiled with the quality of water we have at our fingertips when we pour water from the tap. Flint citizens, on the other hand, were not so lucky with the water that was available from their taps. Portions of the city are still affected as of the date of this blog post. I think both of these angles play into the reactions I received about the “untreated water” branding being used by Old Nation Brewing Co.
The cans provided a mixed message about water being the most important ingredient of beer. The side of the can reads:
“Water, by volume is the most important ingredient, and most overlooked ingredient in beer.
Brewers should always modify their local water to mimic the water from the original location of that style. This is what happens when you don’t do that.
We think it’ll be interesting to see what you get when you take raw Williamston water and otherwise make M-43.”
None of these branding sources (blog post, social media posts, and the can explanation) are talking to each other. Sure, they are all pointing to water as an essential ingredient to beer, but none of them are weaving together a strong case for why this beer was created. I think an opportunity was missed across platforms to cohesively educate the craft beer drinker on why water is the most important element in beer. This is why I took away one star from my rating.
I saw that both Old Nation’s social media and Untappd description attempted to make up ground with their description of the beer:
“…We used the same malt, hops, and yeast as the original recipe. Then, instead of treating our awesome Williamston water with different kinds of calcium and exactly adjusting pH at every stage like we normally do, we went with pretty much straight Williamston water…”
Overall, it’s just beer, right?!
This variant of M-43 is delicious and has subtle differences between the original recipe. This variant should provide blind taste testers with a fun challenge to see if they can tell the difference between the original M-43, the infamous Detroit M-43, and all of the other variants of this beer. Do you think you will be able to taste the difference?
Disclaimer: Ed purchased this beer for this review.