Hops? or water?

New York Times: With Great Beer, It’s All in the Rocks (and That Doesn’t Mean Ice). Interesting article on the science of beer formulas. The argument is that geology influenced the development of beer, in the form of the mineral content of the local water, and that (among other conclusions) Irish stouts evolved to the depth of color and flavor that they did because of the local water. To get good “mashing” of the grain—to release enough phosphates from the grain to increase the acidity of the beer to make it suitable for mass production without spoilage—when blended with the local alkaline water, the brewers had to roast the malt until it was almost black.

Interestingly, the article also puts the lie to the claim that the high hop content in India Pale Ales is what allowed them to be shipped from England to India without spoiling. According to Dr. Alex Maltman, professor of earth sciences at the University of Wales, the trick was the water at Burton-on-Trent, which was not only the right pH for mashing the barley but was also rich in sulfides, which acted as a preservative.

What the water doesn’t explain is why the IPA style is hopped so heavily. That, I think, is more art than science. A brilliant brewer must have discovered that the additional hops balanced the extra sugar released by the more thorough mashing of the grain, resulting in a more balanced beer. But hops also contain various resins that help to preserve the beer by inhibiting bacterial growth and polyphenols that act as antioxidants, a point which the NYT article doesn’t address..